In an era characterised by intense competition, it is important for brands to know how to engage their intended audiences
By FRANCOIS VAN DYK
Initially developed and used by small IT literate groupings in universities, the proliferation of technology and subsequent rise of mobile phone technology saw these first social networks growing exponentially, becoming part of everyday life within the space of a decade. Facebook, Google and others now know more about their users than the users themselves.
Whereas marketing and advertising was historically a one way process where brands targeted audiences through mass media such as newspapers, television and radio, the advent of social media gave power back to the consumers who could now communicate back to the brand and also a mass audience of their own. Brands should be wary of how to engage their intended audiences. Social networks were not created as a mass communication platform, but the huge adoption has created major economic opportunities. Here is a quick look at some of the major networks:
Facebook, launched in 2004 now boasts more than 1.3 billion active registered users. The site quickly surpassed its early competitor MySpace, mostly due to the customisation and ease of use. Much functionality has been added through the years and photo sharing has proved to be some of the more popular functions. Facebook has been criticised through the years due to the large number of data it has collected on its users and has continuously been improving the privacy settings of its users.
Launched in 2006, Twitter was initially seen as only a 140-character “status update”. It soon became very popular as an information-sharing tool. Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s founders said in a 2013 interview that the insight they eventually came to was that Twitter “was really more of an information network than a social network.” Today Twitter has around 300 million active users and it is mostly used to “tweet” links to news stories and articles.
LinkedIn is the most business and professional networking focused social media network. Launched in 2003, it now boasts around 300 million users in more than 200 countries. Its basic functionalities allow both individuals and employers to setup online connections focusing on real world business relationships.
Hence, individuals can create an online “curriculum vitae” and search for either new jobs or even identify possible clients. Businesses can use it for recruitment and to identify and create new business opportunities.
YouTube, launched in 2005, allows users to upload, share and view videos. It is now the third most visited website after Google and Facebook and sees an astonishing 300 hours of video being uploaded every minute. With more than 800 million unique visitors a month, it has become a massive player and by 2012, it was serving four billion video streams daily.
Instagram, only launched at the end of 2010 already boasts more than 300 million users. Its main functionality allows users to take, edit and then share photos via mobile devices to other networks like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.
The name is really a combination of the words “instant camera” and “telegram”. It became very popular and by 2012 about 58 photos were being uploaded every second. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012 for more than USD1 billion but continues to develop the network independently from Facebook.
Another very popular image-sharing network is Pinterest, launched in 2010. Basically it allows users to “pin” and sort images from across the web on their pages – allowing easy access to a wide variety of sources.
It also allows businesses to create pages and it has proved very popular particularly with the retail sector, which uses it for advertising and style trending. Several brand studies have concluded that Pinterest was more successful at driving retail sales than Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, around 80 per cent of users are female.
Google+ is a social network and layer, which allows users to easily interact with Google’s services like Gmail. Actually, it is Google’s fourth attempt to launch a user network. The site, which became operational in 2011, allows users to create specific interest communities and group different relationships. It also allows users to upload photos and video content and provides instant messaging services. Though it has quickly grown to 540 million active users, the engagement between these users and the network is relatively low with the average user only spending seven minutes a month on the site.
Brands entering these social networks need to do a lot of listening. Their consumers may prefer using specific networks and they can’t be engaged successfully across all the networks using the same methods.
Identify where your audience are, how they engage with these networks and what the best plan of action will be to speak to their needs and wants. Remember, they certainly do not want branding messages shoved down their throats but if you can engage them positively, they will be the best brand ambassadors you could ever cultivate.