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Introduction to the Evolution of Social Media

Social media is a growing field used to connect, communicate and network. Although websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, and LinkedIn are often used for pleasure and to keep in touch with friends and family, they have recently been used by companies both small and large to connect more directly with prospective customers.

Social media is the newest way to advertise and get the word out about a company’s most recent activity. By "liking" a page on Facebook, one enables the ability to track what is going on within the company. Instead of having a customer call and wait on the phone, companies are able to send direct messages to get customers' problems solved more efficiently.

Social media can be an effective method for improving customer service and enhancing the interaction between customers and the company.

Although social media's original intent was to help keep people in touch through the Internet, it has become a marketing tool for businesses of all types. As social networking has evolved, businesses have begun to use it as a threshold for marketing, advertising and direct interaction with target audiences.

From Fortune 500 companies to small, local businesses (or for any institution looking to make a profit), social media has become an essential aspect of everyday operations.

Benefits and Implementation of Social Media

In an attempt to attract new customers following the economic downturn of 2008, banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America began tweeting their customers about everything from bank fees to product features, major bank events, economic development, and market news. Banks claim taking part in social media sites enables interaction with a growing demographic and helps control the public perception of their brands. However, others suggest that the recent economic turmoil has made it more important than ever for banks to reach out to customers by any means necessary.

Although most people come in contact with both social media and banking almost every day, the two are still mutually exclusive entities. The general social media audience often turns to sites such as Twitter and Facebook to read what is trending in sports and gossip: not to read about their latest bank fee. Therefore, banks have been tailoring social media messages towards reporters, businesses, and financial analysts. In this case, social media proves very useful to the banks, as they can keep their followers updated as quick and easy as making a Facebook status or sending a tweet.

According to the Business Insider, several large companies such as Procter and Gamble, Kellogg, and Nestle are spending their money into social media as an innovative method of advertising. Fortune 500 institutions like American Express have been at the forefront of advancing social media in a business setting. At SXSW 2012, AmEx stole the show, launching Sync for Twitter and offering up Jay-Z tickets for SXSWers that completed the sync. Partnering with companies like Whole Foods, McDonald’s, and Best Buy, AmEx announced that after linking an AmEx card to their Twitter accounts, cardholders can tweet strategic ‘hashtags’ to load deals onto their cards.

American Express is using innovative ways to connect with their customers and reward them for engaging with them via social media. In an article from Forbes, contributor Juliet Barbara says that social media can be used for “good or evil.” Juliet also says that “Social media builds brand awareness in ways that no other form of media can and reaches customers who would be otherwise unreachable.”

Potential Drawbacks of Social Media

There have been certain instances where social media has shed negative light on on a company.

In one instance, McDonald's was victim when their customers were tweeting and sharing stories with a trending “#McDstories” to share negative experiences that they have had within some of the McDonald's food chains. This was bad publicity for McDonald’s: by just clicking a button, anyone could view pages of negative stories. So while company Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are definitely useful, they can also be used to harm the company if not managed properly.

Due to the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, many businesses have begun enforcing social media lockdowns for fear of how their employees will represent the company in an online environment. Although some companies have enforced preventive social media policies, others have banned its use altogether. However, studies show this trend does not apply to small businesses. According to an online survey conducted by The NEWS, 64 percent of small businesses use social media for reaching out to potential customers. The small businesses that responded to the survey came from a wide range of industries such as HVAC, plumbing, construction, sales, and services.

However, another issue concerns whether the time spent on social media sites translates to a profitable investment. According to the survey, 75 percent of respondents said spending at least 30 minutes on social networking sites a day has generated business for their company. Of those that responded, 70 percent said social media has helped accumulate 10 percent or less of their total sales. They indicated Facebook as their most popular source because it allows them to put a personal face on their company.

As the potential use of social media continues to evolve, companies have began creating specialized positions for persons trained to effectively communicate to a mass audience. The art of managing a Fortune 500 company's social media page requires a trained team with a deep working knowledge of the target audience, social norms, and company interests.

References

Barbara, J. (2012, November 11). Forbes.com. Is Social Media Bad for Business?

Belicove, M. (2012, September 11). [Web log message]. http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/224386

Ball, Lorraine. "Small business and social media." Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News 28 Mar. 2011. General OneFile. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Nunnery, Nash. "It's a part of doing business: Twitter, Facebook and other social media just another way banks can reach their customers." Mississippi Business Journal 24 Jan. 2011: 26. General OneFile. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Adopted by Paul Tierney, Bria Schirripa and Brianna Dinan