One of the most daunting tasks that businesses face is adapting to new consumer trends. An important aspect of this issue is determining what relationship, if any, one will cultivate with social media. A significant challenge that social media poses to businesses is the fact that it is driven largely by user-generated content that is highly contextual and difficult to measure in any meaningful way. Standard measures, such as using “likes” or “retweets” as a proxy for determining consumer approval is a dangerous move: at best, it simply informs one that communication of some sort is occurring between firms and consumers. At worst, it can foster a false sense of engagement that can potentially harm long-term growth. Although each industry, and each company within these industries, requires a very specific social media plan, there are universal phenomena that all businesses should be aware of. Specifically, firms should recognize the primary demographic of each social media platform and the ways in which consumers use different platforms to interact with businesses. Moreover, businesses should understand their own role as a social media actor. By understanding how consumers relate to different platforms, and that they themselves are merely participants in the field of social media, businesses will develop the foundation that is needed for a solid social media plan.
Recognizing How Users Engage with Social Media
As with any commercial endeavor, recognizing the intended consumer is a crucial step to ensuring success. Regardless of difference in production, firm size, or industry, all businesses must recognize and fundamentally understand their intended consumer. With respect to social media, approaching this problem is predicated on identifying the ways in which individuals approach various social media platforms, as well as how these platforms operate.
A recent report published by Pew Research Center’s Internet Study sheds some light on the different user groups across various social media platforms. According to their work, Facebook is the clear leader of social media platforms with 71% of online adults identifying as regular users. LinkedIn is the next most popular platform, and is regularly used by 28% of online adults. Furthermore, 52% of online adults report using multiple platforms. These findings, specifically, the immense popularity of Facebook and the spike in multi-platform use is quite telling of consumer activity as a whole. For many, Facebook acts as a “home base” for all social media interaction, while more specialized communication such as responding to visuals, and informal conversation is relegated to other platforms. Put simply, although the vast majority of online adults use Facebook, to interact with each other on a regular basis, they make frequent use of other platforms depending on the messages they hope to exchange. Recognizing which groups use additional platforms, and what they use them for, can further strengthen a firm’s social media approach.
Identifying Your Own Needs
In many cases, social media platforms also each seem to have their own niche in terms of their primary use. From a business perspective, for example, Facebook serves as a place for testimonials about overall experiences and can reach a small selected group of friends. Twitter often serves as a platform to voice discontent or extreme approval directly to a business. Instagram serves almost exclusively to demonstrate a particular brand’s aesthetic, and LinkedIn allows a business to craft an identity that positions them as an approachable entity. Whereas some companies would benefit greatly from Facebook, others may solely rely on Instagram. Understanding your own needs is crucial to making this decision: different organizations will have very different needs, which will lead them to focus their efforts and allocate their resources differently.
Despite the varying character of these platforms, the common thread is that consumers desire to participate directly with companies. Furthermore, context largely drives which platform is utilized. There is one primary implication, which follows this realization. One should only employ a social media approach that is tailored to the identity of each platform. For example, Instagram is not the most feasible platform to introduce the specifics of new products, or introduce a great deal of information to the masses. Using social media platforms in ways that do not match consumer’s expected experience can greatly harm a firm.
Realizing That You Are A Social Media Actor
In many respects, businesses are simply social media actors in the same way that consumers are. Although businesses have control over what they choose to communicate, the response by consumers is fundamentally different than the expected responses of traditional advertising. Consumers engaging on social media platforms view firms just as anyone else. While this level playing field makes communication easier, it can also have negative effects. If particular content does not resonate it can be ignored, or shared to others in a mocking fashion that can actually hurt companies. A firm that wishes to successfully use social media must be cognizant of the landscape of various platforms, the motivations and expectations of consumers, and that the firm itself should be viewed as yet another actor in an evolving and sophisticated field of communication.
Andrew J. Albert