As of January 2009, the online social networking application Facebook registered more than 175 million active users. At the same time, every minute, 10 hours of content were uploaded to the video sharing platform YouTube. And, the image hosting site Flickr provided access to over 3 billion photographs. According to Forrester Research, 75% of internet surfers used “Social media” in the second quarter of 2008 by joining social networks, reading blogs, or contributing reviews to shopping sites. This is a significant rise from 56% in 2007. The growth is not limited to teenagers, but people in the age of 35-40 years old; increasingly populate the ranks of joiners, spectators, and critics. Based on this information it is reasonable to say that Social media is a revolutionary new trend that should be of interest to companies operating in online space – or any space at all. Many firms seem to be uncomfortable in a world where consumers can talk to each other; this is because the businesses have less control over the information available about them in cyberspace. Today, anyone that has internet access can Google the name of a leading brand, and what comes up on the top five results are not only the corporate webpage, but also the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. On Wikipedia you can in many cases read both positive and negative things about a brand or a company. Historically, companies had the power to control the information available about them by placing press announcements strategically and with good public relations managers. Today, the firms have been ejected more to the sidelines, and are often more of an observer over the information available about them. They don’t have the knowledge, nor the chance – and sometimes even the right – to alter publicly posted comments provided by their customers. Wikipedia forbids the participations of firms in its online community.
This evolution may not be surprising. After all, the internet started out as just giant Bulletin Board System (BBS) that allowed users to exchange software, data, messages and news with each other. In the late 1990s there seemed to be a popularity rush in homepages, where everyone could share information about their private life; today we would call this a weblog, or a blog. The era of corporate web pages and e-commerce started relatively recently with the launch of Amazon and eBay in 1995, and only 6 years later it really took off when the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. The current trend that is going on towards Social media can be related back to the internet’s beginning, because it is retransforming the World Wide Web to what it originally was created for: a platform where users can exchange information among themselves. The technical advances that have been made over the past 20 years now allow a form of virtual content sharing that is very different from, and more competent than, the BBS of the late 1970s. This article will discuss the challenges and the opportunities for firms using Social media, and it will create a structure to better understand the evolving field of Social media. We are going to provide a definition and classification of Social media by looking at the historical roots, technical specificities and differences from other material such as Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. We are going to focus on collaborative projects, blogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds and virtual social worlds – and show the companies how to use Social media in an efficiently way. Then we will provide a set of 10 recommendations companies should follow when developing their Social media strategy.
(Illustrations: Benedicte Pettersen)