In the first part of my article on social media, we looked at how consumer demand is pushing companies and organizations into using blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media as a transparent, open form of communication.
This part discusses how these channels have truly become Distribution networks for news and information, not just from a marketing point of view, but from a personal one.
Full-on, epic essay-type blogging appears to be taking a back seat to microblogging, with status updates on Facebook and Twitter's economical 140 character blasts. Both sites allow for more information to be shared via links or other forms of drilling down into each individual's content.
However, Twitter stands out as an example of a perfect format for distribution of information. The BBC, the Center for Disease Control and many other organizations use Twitter as a news service, with each "tweet" containing just enough of a headline to quickly communicate what's behind the link. Each item is delivered right to a user's Twitter client, whether it's on a mobile phone or desktop screen. These bite sized chunks of info are so useful and addictive that there are hundreds of applications, both for phones and desktop computers, just dealing with Twitter feeds.
Given that Twitter offers these capabilities to everyone, it's not unusual to see important news updates mixed with the latest from friends, families, actors or even inanimate objects - the last Mars lander had its own Twitter account (updated by a NASA employee) and even some fictional characters send out Twitter updates. Fans of Stephen King's novel The Stand will be amused to discover that the recent Swine Flu outbreak inspired someone to start Twittering as characters from that book.
Seeing news mixed with social updates from friends does something to that information. In terms of technology and urgency, it makes all of that information equally important. It makes the news more accessible, while elevating your friend's updates to the same level as the news you get from traditional sources.
This is an example of organizations going to where the consumers are and engaging them on their level, in their sandbox. Marketers are currently trying to learn what Twitter can do for them. In the case of the web hosting company, Moonfruit, they recently overwhelmed Twitter with a competition to win Macbook Pro laptops. Users were asked to "retweet" the term #Moonfruit in the hope of being randomly picked to win one of the laptops. Twitter eventually removed Moonfruit from their list of trends. The competition has worked wonders for Moonfruit, as they've gained a great deal of very cheap publicity without being overly annoying or obnoxious - a danger that any social media faces.
Facebook is a more established marketing tool, but is used in much the same way. Both established corporate marketers and grass-root organizations can set up fan pages or engage with their target demographic right on their level. In the case of Facebook, the integration into a consumer's life is even greater, as once they've signed up as a friend (or fan), they can receive regular updates right to their landing page. It also makes it very easy for their friends to view that information and a clever organization can market not just to the person who proactively added them to their friends list, but their friends too.
I've really just picked out two examples here, the ones I'm most familiar with. It's clear, however, that the two-way communication between consumer and company doesn't just stop with a blog. It continues into other forms of social media, where the corporate marketer now has the capability to disseminate news and information for almost free, into an environment where the consumer is actually hungry and grateful for the information.
That said, consumers are whimsical. Moods change and unless a company can keep up with their consumers in this arena, they run the risk of looking stale.
The third part of this article (if you're still reading!) will deal with consumers who are proactively looking for relevant information in this space, and how facilitating this Discovery process is a subtle and powerful way to market to those consumers.