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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thinking Social

9:58 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
Anyone following the technology scene for the past couple of years would have definitely noticed the increased frenzy around social networking. Many big and small companies are thinking of or trying to leverage this phenomenon. However, many enterprises are still jumping into this bandwagon without really understanding what social means for their business. They think that creating a Facebook page/application or a Twitter handle or a LinkedIn group makes their company social, or integrating with these networks makes their product social. Social networking is obviously bigger than that. Companies can use social networks primarily in two different ways: marketing and product development. 

Thinking Social In Marketing 
Companies use existing social networks (such as Facebook and Twitter) for marketing, to promote themselves and their products and engage their users. This engagement [hopefully] matures overtime, and can be broadly classified into four different levels (shown below). Though each of these levels are logical progressions of engagement (with each level encapsulating the features of the ones below it), these are not completely dependent on each other. For example, the user can reach from level 1 to level 3 without going to level 2. 

Levels of Engagement on Social Network 
  1. Discover - The initial and minimal level of engagement, in which the user gets introduced to a product or an organization. This is like getting to know about a new product for the first time, when it shows up in your social network stream because your friend tweeted or liked it. 
  2. Share - The next level of engagement, in which the user shares content (generated or shared by others) within his network. It is equivalent to you 'Like'ing or 'Re-Tweet'ing about a company or a product. 
  3. Contribute - At this level the user not only shares but also creates the content, in the form of reviews, feedback, comments or stories, which are published in his network. 
  4. Engage - The highest level of engagement in which the interactions between the user and the organization are like a dialogue. The company shares news, products and offers with the user, considers his suggestions and highlights and rewards his contribution, while the user shares feedback and promotes the brand. At this stage the users become ambassadors of the organization within their own social network. 
Most of the organizations trying to leverage social media marketing are only able to reach the second level of engagement (Share), few reach Contribute, and even fewer reach Engage. These are the organizations for whom social media marketing is about having a Facebook fan page. They fail to create a dialogue between themselves and their users. The reason for doing so might be lack of time or lack of knowledge or sheer lack of commitment. No worries, though, help is on the way. There are a lot of applications and services available on the internet that enable companies to launch and manage social media marketing campaigns. Wildfire is a pretty good example of such application. You can launch and manage campaigns on social networks, creating a dialogue and engaging users. The overwhelming level of information generated on the internet everyday and the decreasing attention span of users means that sheer presence on social media is not enough and companies need to find ways of getting mind share. 

Thinking Social In Product Development 
There are many enterprises that just create a Facebook application, or incorporate 'Like' button or the comments feature and believe that their application or website is now social. They fail to realize that social networking is a lot more than just Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. It is a more fluid concept that extends beyond and goes deeper than these platforms. Organizations who want to leverage full potential of social networking in their products and services need to go back to the drawing board and understand how their product or service can enable people to connect, communicate, express and collaborate; giving users incentives to not just listen but also add to and start the conversation. 

Facebook or Google+ or Twitter are great social platforms - some of the most articulate online representation of social networks to date - but they are just means to the end. In fact, you do not even need them to leverage the power of social networking in your offerings. Successful brands have been leveraging social interactions even before social networking became a fad. eCommerce platforms such as Amazon and eBay built and leveraged what may be called loosely-held interest graph based social networks. Email lists and blogs are also examples of social networks. 

The current big daddies of social networks are so successful because they articulated social and interest graphs really well, becoming the most obvious examples of social networking. However, there are many products out there that have developed their own social platforms by enabling human interactions. These "vertical social networks", such as Tumblr, Quora, Instagram, Jive, Chatter and TurnTable.fm, cater to different needs and interests of people, and have done really well in the process. Though all these platforms are very different in their user interface, design, target audience and concept, all of them allow people to connect, communicate, express and collaborate. And this is what social networking is about. Companies looking forward to leveraging social networking in their offerings need to think in these terms.

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