by Tom Keefe, ABC
We sometimes focus so sharply on the person riding the crest of the newest communication technology wave that we forget to look at the person standing on the shoreline, hesitating about dipping in a big toe. A veteran IABC/Chicago colleague recently reminded me that many chapter members aren’t sure how to dive into the social media discussion and remain uncertain of what social media can do for communicators.
So consider this article a brief primer on the various components of “social media,” along with some points to help you focus your planning and discussions regarding how these components may, or may not, fit into your communication strategic planning.
The concept of social media is quite simple. Social media tools allow people to create and share information and opinions in digital format through channels that include the Internet, company Intranets, and software that acts like an “automated messenger service” to find and deliver information electronically.
A stumbling block for some of us non-techies has been the non-intuitive technical implementation of some social media tools—and the difficulty in seeing the benefits of these tools. The water is further muddied because “social media” can include:
- The written word (the primary form of communicating on blogs, wikis, instant messaging)
- The spoken word (primary on podcasting, videoblogging)
- Digital images (photographs and graphics posted on photo-sharing sites)
- A combination of graphics, audio and messaging (common on sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Second Life)
You can keep it simple in your mind by remembering that the unifying link is the electronic sharing of information and opinions—regardless of the medium used. It’s called “social media” because these tools and technologies allow people to collaborate and engage in conversations. Those collaborations and conversations might be in real time—as in a conversation with a coworker using instant messaging, or they may occur over time – even without the participants having ever met – as in a series of comments on a blog post.
A related but distinct technology that typically is included in any discussion of social media is RSS. This technology allows you to subscribe to information from different websites and gather that information in one place. This is the “automated messenger service” I mentioned earlier.
I have created a chart where I’ve listed some of the more common social media tools and technologies, provided information on their cost, and then shared examples of how they can benefit a communications professional. You’ll see that the “entry fee” is nominal to exploring the emerging world of social media. The next step is to think about how it all applies to YOUR business.
|Tool or Technology||Summary of Purpose||Examples||Cost||Comments|
|Blog (weblog)||For companies and communicators, blogs provide a forum for publishing news and opinions online.||WordPress||Program is free, Hosting cost depends on separate vendor plan chosen||Biggest hurdles for most of us are getting company support for publishing a blog, and keeping content (posts) fresh.
Blogger is very simple to use, but offers less features and add-ons than programs such as WordPress and TypePad.
|TypePad||Single, personal use can be free|
|Blogger||Program and hosting is free|
|Social Networking||These online sites help individuals and companies connect. All require you to register and provide some basic contact information that is viewable by others.||LinkedIn.com||LinkedIn is free to join. Offers three levels of “upgrade” accounts priced at $19.95, $50 or $200 per month.||Business communicators can establish and maintain professional contacts, and share videos and photographs with others.
Some company firewalls may be set to block access to some of these sites.
|MySpace.com (share messages, files, photos and experiences with “friends.”)||Free to join.|
(videos are uploaded for viewing, and comments/reviews are collected.)
|Free to join.|
|Flickr.com (store, search and share photos online)||Free to join.|
|Secondlife.com (create an animated character and explore a make-believe world, interacting with other players)||Membership is free. An online currency, purchased with your real money, is used to purchase land, products and services within the make-believe world.|
|Podcasts||Because you can subscribe to receive podcasts automatically, this tool is more than just downloadable audio files. Like a radio broadcast, mose podcasts have a distinct opening and organized content.||Search for “podcasts” and you’ll have your choice of podcast sites.||Content is free.
The cost to create your own podcast is minimal–a few hundred dollars will buy a recorder, a microphone and the software that you will need to edit and publish your shows.
|To be successful a podcaster needs to offer quality content in a quality production.|
|RSS or Atom||RSS and Atom are two technologies that allow your computer to talk with other computers via the Internet. They allow you to subscribe to information from different websites and gather that information in one place.
You can organize the information into categories. Unread entries typically are highlighted for easy spotting.
|Ranges from free to about $30 for a single license.||You can pick from more than 2,000 applications known as “news aggregators” (for text, mostly) or “podcatchers” (for podcasts).
I’ve set up feeds through My Yahoo! at work to find news items related to Volkswagen, automotive finance and technology. In addition, it alerts me when some of my favorite podcasters have posted a new “show.”
|Wikis||Wikis are websites that can be edited with little knowledge of web code. A good example is Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia created and maintained through the contributions of numerous “authors.”||Wikipedia||Open Source code can be free. Otherwise, the packaged solutions range in price from a few dollars per month per user to nearly $100 per person, per month–based on a sliding scale.||Potentially great for collaborative knowledge-sharing. According to SocialText’s usability research, expert users love wikis for their power and flexibility, but new users needed simplicity and orientation.|