What is Social Media?

It seems like an obvious question. You know what Twitter is. You probably use Facebook. But how would you define social media? Everyone has their own ideas about how to use it, but truly understanding social media will allow you to reach your full potential online.

Let’s start by examining the Merriam-Webster definition of social media.

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (such as web sites) through which people create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, etc.

Yet most marketers and businesspeople tend to think of social media as a marketing tool they can use to reach a massive audience. That mindset can result in an inauthentic and ineffective social media marketing program, which can turn users away from your brand. Instead, brands should be thinking about how and why people use social media in order to effectively communicate with and market to them.

What Type of Content Should I Share on Social Media?

While most users follow a brand, a Sprout Social survey found that 60% of them are annoyed by too many promotions. People sign up for social media platforms to share and receive information, ideas, and personal messages from their friends. They look for the same types of content from brands with 25% of people who follow a brand reporting that they are interested in having a two-way dialogue with that brand. Social media should not be a one-way conversation. Brands with dynamic personalities that consistently share relevant information provide much more value to their consumers.

People are social creatures who have been creating communities and sharing information throughout human history. Social media is unique compared to previous generations of social tools (like phones and snail mail) because of its speed and magnitude. We have the capacity to interact with hundreds of people in a single day, on the basis of shared interests or ideas, even if we don’t know them personally.

How Does Social Media Create a Social Network?

With this large scale connection comes the construction of large social networks. But social networks always existed in our lives. As Nicholas Christakis describes in a TED talk, the world is made up of “pairs of people connected to each other,” which were then “connected into foursomes with other pairs of people nearby. And then, in fact, these people were embedded in other sorts of relationships: marriage and spousal and friendship and other sorts of ties. And that, in fact, these connections were vast and that we were all embedded in this broad set of connections with each other.” All social media does is allow us to grow, keep track of, and leverage these networks.

The core of social media is the innate human desire to interact with others, to have conversation, to be appreciated, and to be liked. Social media affords us the opportunity to reach and interact with millions of people, but through these connections, we are merely transferring traditional analog social activities into a digital world.

It’s that simple.

How Should I Represent My Brand on Social Media?

So where do brands fit on social media? With their friends, of course.

The best social media content will integrate naturally with the stream of content your audience receives from their friends. It will be interesting and entertaining, providing your audience with exactly what they were looking for when they picked up their phone to check Twitter or logged into Facebook in the middle of a workday. Of course, you’ll really be there to promote your brand and ultimately drive your business, but your audience doesn’t have to know that.

 If you’re thinking about taking your brand onto social media, our first piece of advice would be to experiment with the platforms your audience is using. Create an account for yourself and spend time observing how others use the platform. This will allow you to understand why your audience likes the platform and what types of content they share. Then your brand can imitate them.

 As they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. It’s time for you to join your customers in conversation online.

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