Over the last three decades, the Internet, as well as recent technology innovations, have transformed everyday life. From the way we communicate, to the way we shop for goods and services, the Internet has undoubtedly redefined how we interact with each other and even redefined our expectations. The Internet has not only helped the world overcome what was one of the biggest obstacles in communications, distance, but at speeds never thought possible. Most recently, technologically advanced devices such as smart phones and tablets as well as the continuous access to the Internet via wireless connections, just about everywhere, have accelerated our evolution. The result is a challenging environment in which businesses are relentlessly trying to keep up.
For businesses everywhere, one of the biggest challenges is navigating the world of social media. “Social technologies, in their relatively brief period of existence, have found favor with consumers faster than previous technologies did.” (Bughin, Chui, & Manyika, 2012) “Sweeping cultural, economic, and social changes have accompanied this accelerated pace of adoption by the world’s consumers.” (Bughin, Chui, & Manyika, 2012)
As a result, social media has become an essential day to day tool for all organizations. For many firms, social media presents the opportunity to reach more and more customers (a new sales channel), serves as an extension of customer service and support (24x7 online), and provides a new means to market products and manage brands (targeted advertising). “As tech companies try to build social applications that click, the business world at large is struggling to figure out where and how social networks fit into their overall marketing and customer relations strategies.” (Knowledge at Wharton, 2011)
Consequently, leaders must first understand how social media works, develop a strategy to leverage these new tools and standards of communication, and then effectively execute on those strategic plans. Achieving success using social media is not easy. In addition, the impact of a poorly executed social media strategy can be disastrous. Regardless, social media can no longer be ignored. Social media should be evaluated and considered by all business leaders seeking to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors.
Defining Social Networks & Social Media
In order to understand and define how social media technologies can be of value in business, we must first define social networks and what is social media. Social networks are groups of individuals that share or have a desire to share information, connections or resources (knowledge). (Wharton School - University of Pennsylvania, 2012) On the other hand, social media are the underlying tools and technologies used by individuals, groups or firms to communicate, or share information. Social media technologies facilitate the delivery and distribution of information to broad audiences; the established social networks. (Wharton School - University of Pennsylvania, 2012)
Although social networks existed before the internet, the Internet has revolutionized the way they function. First, the Internet has increased the speed in which social networks are formed and established (technologically easier than ever), and secondly, the growing number of people using the Internet provides easy access. What makes online social network sites powerful is their broad reach; spanning across geographies, unobstructed. In addition, social media makes two-way communication and conversation possible, in real-time. 3
“Since their introduction, social networks sites (SNSs) such as MySpace, Facebook, Cyworld, and Bebo have attracted millions of users, many of whom have integrated these sites into their daily practices.” (Boyd & Ellison, 2008) Social network sites can be defined “as webbased services that allow individuals to (1)...