Tomorrow’s Social Media: Perspective from an MBA Student

There are few things that are certain today, and from my perspective as an MBA student, I believe social media will be an ever increasing part of our lives (personally and professionally) going forward.  According to Li and Bernoff’s groundswell, the groundswell is the transformation of how people get information.  I wrote about this in my blog on 7 Social Media Tools in early February.  Bernoff writes in his blog that social media was founded by Friendster in 2002 and in the 10 years since, we have learned a lot about the transformation.  But there are still many uncertainties for the future.  What is certain is that social media is here to stay.

Virtual Communities

Social media allows people to get information directly from each other in a virtual community atmosphere.  Prior to social media, people received information directly from corporations.  With social media, people still receive information directly from corporations (for example, a company can have a Facebook page, Twitter handle, or blog), but the information is more transparent and perhaps more believable because other people have the opportunity to comment on it and question it.  What is certain is that effective use of social media is all about developing relationships and engaging your audience.

History

What do the social media communities, networks and tools of tomorrow look like?  To answer that question, or at least hypothesize, it is best to begin with the transformation we have seen in the last 10 years.  To start, let’s consider the definition of a virtual community.  According to Wikipedia’s entry on the subject, “a virtual community is a social network of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals.”  What I get from this definition is that virtual communities are groups of people interested in common activities and goals that never need to be side-by-side.  To be successful, virtual communities need to be sustaining.  What is certain is that these communities will use social networking services and tools that are most popular at the time.

From my personal experiences with social networking sites, I saw the transformation from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, and how only one of these three was popular at any one time.  Jolie O’Dell has an interesting Infographic on the History of Social Media that highlights these three networking sites.  Below is a section of that Infographic.

I recall receiving my first request through Friendster after a semester studying abroad in college.  I signed up but didn’t really use the site – I still communicated with my study abroad friends via email.  Then MySpace came along, and I thought:  its just the new Friendster and why should I sign up if another is going to come along soon?  Then Facebook.  Facebook does not seem to be diminishing its dominance, and instead seems to be growing without bound.  I do not know of any competing sites that can threaten Facebook.  Do you think Facebook is too large and too popular to be overtaken by the next networking site?  Have individuals and businesses invested too much in Facebook to be open to changing?  I think, at least for the foreseeable future, that Facebook will be the most popular social networking friend-to-friend site.  What is certain, I believe, is that at any point in time there can be only one dominant site serving a particular purpose.

Today

If Facebook is the dominant friend-to-friend site, Twitter is currently the dominant micro-blogging site, LinkedIn is the dominant professional networking site, YouTube is the site for video sharing, EBay is the site for auctions, and PayPal is the social payment site, what holes are left?  My hypothesis is that once a site becomes a dominant site, there will not be any others within that same space unless and until a new site can rise above the current one, and then that new site will take over while the old one goes away.  Therefore, new sites have two projected paths:  find a hole without a current dominant player and fill it better than anything else or try to take down a dominant player.  There are fewer and fewer holes to fill, and taking down the giants will be harder and harder as the dominant players establish themselves as leaders.  So, what is certain, I believe, is that new superstars will be fewer in the future.

The rise of Pinterest complements this model.  Pinterest fills the gap of a visual-based social networking site.  Pinterest is mostly used by women (April Fehling reports 58 – 97% of Pinterest users are female), so the gap it could be filling could be both a visual image-based social networking site as well as one targeted toward females.  Will there be a male equivalent of Pinterest, or will men start using Pinterest in a way that serves their purposes and change the site in doing so?

Future

What is certain for tomorrow’s social media is that growth in new social networking sites will undoubtedly slow due to both the current dominant players as well as the diminishing gaps to be filled.  What is also certain is that many businesses and consumers are coming to rely heavily on the current giants, that if one were to be replaced or go away suddenly, the social media landscape would change quickly.  For example, many websites and other social networking tools use Facebook to allow visitors to sign-in and receive communications; if Facebook isn’t around tomorrow, these tools would have no way to interact with their users.  What is certain is that we are relying more and more on the giants, but are they really too big to fail?  And what happens if they do fail or are replaced – how quickly will social media change?

My thoughts are simply thoughts, and I do not think that I (nor anyone else) can accurately predict the future of social media.  But, I do think that the more discussion there is around this topic, the more we can shape the future with innovative ideas and strategic thinking.  I welcome your comments!

Sources:

Bernoff, J.  (2012, January 27).  How social networks make money.  Retrieved from http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2012/01/how-social-networks-make-money.html.

Fehling, A.  (2012, February 22).  So Pinterest is a woman’s world.  Does that matter?  Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/22/147222619/so-pinterest-is-a-womans-world-does-that-matter.

Fitch, C.  (2012, February 28).  How Pinterest’s female audience is changing social marketing.  Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/02/28/pinterest-women-marketing/.

Li and Bernoff.  (2008).  Groundswell.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business Press.

O’Dell, J.  (2011, January 24).  The history of social media (Infographic).  Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/01/24/the-history-of-social-media-infographic/.

Virtual Community.  (2012, February 26).  Retrieved March 3, 2012 from Wikipedia wiki:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_community.

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Maintaining Control in Social Media – How to Learn from CVS

For a company, deciding to go social and begin using or expanding the use of social media is a big step.  One of the challenges described in digital communications and social media today is the loss of control that companies face when moving to social media marketing.  In the Watson-Helsby Report, loss of control refers to the loss, or perceived loss, of control by the company of its communication message.  Once the message is live, people can comment on it, copy it, forward it, etc.  Companies have to deal with the reality that they will need to constantly monitor to be sure their message is clear.

Loss of control may be a great challenge, but it can also serve to be a great strength for certain organizations.  Companies with loyal consumers and followers can count on those followers to stand up for the company when the message is relayed incorrectly.  Have you ever experienced a consumer jumping in on behalf of a company when someone posts or tweets a negative message?

CVS and Twitter

CVS is a pharmacy retail store across the country.  According to Sprung (2012) and Fenwick (2011), when CVS launched a Twitter account @CVS_Cares, it decided to protect its tweets.  This meant that consumers wishing to follow the feed had to request approval to do so.

Privacy and control are important, but when a company decides to use social media it must commit to doing so to take full advantage of a particular tool.  CVS may have maintained some control by approving those who could follow it, but lost a great benefit of social media:  transparent connections that develop into meaningful relationships.

Would you follow a brand which protected its tweets or otherwise tried to control access to its social media networks?  Why or why not?  Is your response different for an individual?

Learning from CVS

The lesson we can learn from CVS is that a company needs to commit to social media if it decides to start using it.  It is usually worse to have a social media presence but overly control and restrict content users can post than to have no presence at all.  The point of social media is to allow transparency in order to build meaningful, long-lasting relationships.  Companies must be willing to give up some control in order to achieve the benefit.  Even though CVS tried to restrict access to its Twitter feed and thus gain some control over the discussion, CVS cannot control the rest of the social media world and what people are doing and saying about CVS outside the realm of an official-CVS site.

@CVS_Cares Twitter was officially closed in June 2010.

What do you think?

Was CVS’ attempt to control its social media presence helpful or harmful to spreading the word about CVS?

In terms of control, there are certainly better ways for a brand to maintain control.  The first, and most important, should be to develop a plan for what to do in the event of a loss of control – a social media crisis plan.  What are some other suggestions you as a consumer have for brands? 

CVS now has a Twitter handle @CVS_Extra, and no approval is needed to follow these Tweets.  The messages are personable and reflect transparent conversations with consumers.  CVS appears to have changed its perspective on control, and the dialogue is much more positive.

Sources:

Fenwick, I.  (7 March 2011).  Marketing in Social Networks.  Retrieved from http://blog.digiaindra.com/2011/03/marketing-in-social-networks/.

Sprung, R.  (16 February 2012).  7 Rookie Social Media Mistakes by Big Brands.  Retrieved from http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/31310/7-Rookie-Social-Media-Mistakes-From-Big-Brands.aspx.

The Watson-Helsby Report.  (2010).  Digital communications and social media:  The challenges facing the PR industry.  Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/31722606/Digital-Communications-and-Social-Media-the-Challenges-Facing-the-PR-Industry.

RedLaser is Driving Products to Consumers One Scan at a Time

RedLaser is a mobile social media application driving business products to consumers and other businesses.  The basic premise of RedLaser is to allow a user to scan a product’s bar code and instantly receive pricing and availability information that the application pulls from its database.  The app works best when you allow it to use your GPS location so it can find retail establishments near your current location.  The app was acquired by eBay in 2010 from Occipital and according to the app’s website has over 15 million downloads to date.

My Experience

I downloaded the app for the purpose of writing this blog, and I have used it a few times this week with great success!  It is easy to use and simple to understand, and provides a real benefit to users:  information on where to buy products and how much it will cost at each place.  The app provides results of both retail locations and online sites, which is helpful when deciding where to buy products.  The app is most useful for consumers, but I can see how small businesses may be able to take advantage of price checking for purchases like office supplies and other consumer goods.  For example, contractors could use it to quickly find the cheapest and/or closest place to purchase tools, supplies, and replacement parts when working on a job.  I live in a condo association, and can envision our maintenance committee using RedLaser to find the cheapest place to purchase common replacement items like light bulbs, vacuum bags, and ice melt.  We could use the app to put together a list of local (or online) places and prices so that when we need to purchase a certain type of light bulb, for example, the maintenance person knows where to go to get it.  The committee would spend a little time up front to document this, and perhaps check in semi-annually to update pricing and locations, but it is a lot easier than driving around to local stores and browsing dozens of websites, and will certainly save the association money!

RedLaser also scans and creates QR codes.  For some great information on QR codes, please visit my classmate Lisa’s blog.  The RedLaser website makes it sound simple to create a QR code, so I tried it out.  It was!  I created the QR code below for this blog.  So if you are reading this on a computer and have a smart phone nearby, download the free RedLaser app, scan the code below, and you can view the blog on your phone!

Reviews

I went in search of reviews, and found that most were positive, but some do not find the app as functional as they would hope.  IPhoneBlogr reports great success with the app and gives it 4 out of 5 stars in its review.  On the other hand, reviewer John Gaarde reports it to be the best bar code scanning app available, but writes that there is some functionality lacking; he is especially frustrated when the app does not tell you if the scan is working or not.  The current version has 479 ratings averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Apple iTunes store.  Have you used RedLaser?  If you have, I’d love to have your review in the comment section below.

Success

Overall, the RedLaser app has enjoyed great success as demonstrated by its mostly positive reviews described above.  Success can also be measured by the number of downloads.  In March of 2011, blogger Leena Roa wrote that there have been 9 million downloads of RedLaser and the current RedLaser website indicates 15 million downloads to date.  In less than a year, the number of downloads has nearly doubled!

There are other bar code scanning apps available, including ShopSavvy.  According to ShopSavvy’s blog, it has been downloaded over 16 million times, which is higher than RedLaser.  The App Store’s rating for iPhone is 4.5 stars based on 6485 ratings.  See my classmate Kara’s great blog on ShopSavvy.  Another competitor I found through the App Store is barcodescan which has a rating of 2 stars out of 5 with 5890 ratings.  Bakodo is the other competitor I found with substantial ratings, and it had an average of 4 out of 5 stars over 642 ratings.  All these apps are free.  Overall, ShopSavvy seems to be RedLaser’s largest and most successful competitor, and RedLaser would ensure future success by making sure it keeps up with improvements that ShopSavvy and other competitors are creating.  Have you used any of these competitor apps?  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below if you have!

A final measure of success is Apple’s featuring of the app in its 2010 iPhone commercial.  The fact that Apple wanted to feature RedLaser in a commercial shows its widespread success!

I think that bar code scanning applications will help make comparison shopping easier and will be beneficial to consumers because it will make pricing more transparent.  What do you think?  Would you ever use an app like RedLaser to comparison shop online?  If you already do, please share an experience.  If you do not, are you inspired by this blog to download an app?  I look forward to hearing for you!

Sources

Bakodo.  (2010).  Retrieved from http://bako.do/

Barcodescan.  (2012).  Features.  Retrieved from http://www.barcodescanapp.com/?page_id=65

Bouchard, K.  (18 February 2012).  Bouchard:  Blog Post 3.  Retrieved from http://kbouch19.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/bouchard-blog-post-three/

Gaarde, J.  (2011).  RedLaser Review [Windows Phone].  Retrieved from http://www.knowyourmobile.com/smartphones/smartphoneapps/windowsphone7applications/1190556/redlaser_review_windows_phone.html

iPhone commercial with ProductWiki Good Quality [Video file].  Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFdjXzvBgCE

iphoneblogr.  (1 April 2011).  App review: RedLaser [app store] – barcode scanner.  Retrieved from http://iphoneblogr.com/2011/04/redlaser-review/

iTunes.  (30 January 2012).  RedLaser bar code scanner and QR code reader.  Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/redlaser-barcode-scanner-qr/id474902001?mt=8

Rao, L.  (14 March 2011).  eBay’s barcode scanning app RedLaser nearing nine million downloads.  Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/14/ebays-barcode-scanning-app-redlaser-nearing-nine-million-downloads/

RedLaser.  (2011).  Retrieved from http://www.redlaser.com

ShopSavvy.  (April 2012).  ShopSavvy is mobile shopping assistant for nearly 12 % of smartphone users.  Retrieved from http://shopsavvy.mobi/2011/04/11/shopsavvy-is-mobile-shopping-assistant-for-nearly-12-of-smartphone-users/

The Food Industry is Hungry for Social Media!

Social Media is a relatively new marketing and public relations strategy for companies.  It allows companies to create conversations with their consumers, and to promote products from a grassroots perspective.  Not joining the social media movement will likely prove detrimental for companies, as those non-joiners will be left out from an important movement.  For food manufacturers, usually a business-to-consumer industry, connecting with consumers is key.  The benefit of social media for food manufacturers is the direct conversation with the consumer which can lead to quicker realization of quality issues, product ideas and innovations, and promotional activities.

Measuring Return on Investment

A summer 2011 study by just-food and just-drinks found that over half of executives in the food and drink industry do not measure or monitor the return on investment on social media. However, approximately the same percentage of executives did report in the survey that their companies have a formal social media strategy, but only half of those had a specific portion of their marketing budget devoted to social media.

Just-food writes that most companies in consumer-facing industries, such as food manufacturers, are embracing social media.   Although there is consensus that these companies should utilize social media, there is no agreement on what a social media strategy should involve and how it can be used effectively.

Two examples of food manufacturers using social media are Peanut Butter and Co. and Annie’s Homegrown.   After evaluating both companies’ use of social media, I believe Peanut Butter and Co. uses social media more effectively.  Here’s why:

Peanut Butter & Co.

Peanut Butter & Co operates a restaurant in New York City, and is also well known for its unique and natural peanut butter flavors like Cinnamon Raisin Swirl and Dark Chocolate Dreams.  At the bottom of PBC’s website, www.ilovepeanutbutter.com, there are links to many of PBC’s social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and various blogs.  The social media sites were also easy to find when doing a Google search.  In addition, I found a Yelp page for PBC, as well as many unique bloggers using PBC products in their blog recipes.  One blog even discussed the return on investment from a single PBC tweet – it made the blogger Amanda MacArthur (bio/blog) purchase $35 of PBC peanut butter.  PBC’s founder, Lee Zalben, also has a personal blog prominently featured on the PBC website.  The company is actively using social media and makes it easy for consumers to engage with the company.

PBC seems to be a company that values social media, and perhaps it has not figured out a way to calculate its social media ROI, but at least one of its customers has.

Are there any food manufacturing companies that you connect with occasionally or regularly on social media sites?  Which companies?  Which social media sites?

Annie’s Homegrown

Annie’s Homegrown manufactures organic and all natural foods like macaroni and cheese, granola bars, fruit snacks, and salad dressings.  Annie’s website, www.annies.com has easy links to Facebook and Twitter, but not to its other social media sites.

I was able to find Annie’s YouTube site and Flickr site.  Additionally, Annie’s hosts a recipes section on its website which allows consumers to submit their recipes, but the recipes are not posted live and there is no comment section.  Backbone completed an analysis in 2005 on corporate blogs which discussed Annie’s blog as written by its mascot Bernie, but I could not find any current blog authored by Annie’s.

In summary, Annie’s is using social media, but it is difficult for a consumer to connect with Annie’s on some social media sites.  I would guess that if Annie’s could compute its ROI of social media activities, it would be less than PBC’s ROI because the extent of its social media footprint is much smaller.

Are there any food manufacturing companies that you wish were easier to connect with on social media?

Social Media in the Food Manufacturing Industry

Most food manufacturers are consumer-driven companies and thus are using or at least starting to use social media as part of their marketing and public relations strategy.  However, top executives do not know what the ROI of their social media investment, if their company even dedicates a portion of its budget to social media, is.  For the manufacturers like Peanut Butter & Co., the next key step will be evaluating ROI so that concentrated social media strategies can be formalized.  For others like Annie’s, expanding its message on social media would be a worthwhile strategy even before considering ROI so that the company can have a diverse background from which to calculate statistics.

Do you have any suggestions or feedback for food manufacturers that you, as a consumer, want to make these companies aware of?  I look forward to your comments!

Sources

Backbone Media.  (2005).  Corporate blogging:  Is it worth the hype?  Corporate blogging case studies.  Retrieved from http://www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/44-Case-Studies-Annies-Homegrown.htm#AnniesBlogging.

MacArthur, A.  (2011 March 14).  How social media made me buy four jars of peanut butter.  Retrieved from http://www.mequoda.com/articles/social-media-strategy/how-social-media-made-me-buy-four-jars-of-peanut-butter/#.Ty8yKsXpHNU.

PR Newswire (2011 August 3).  Food and beverage industry failing to grasp social media potential.  Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/food-and-beverage-industry-failing-to-grasp-social-media-potential-126665353.html.

Thomas, J.  (2011 June 30).  Social media – the landscape from Facebook to Twitter.  Retrieved from http://www.just-food.com/management-briefing/social-media-the-landscape-from-facebook-to-twitter_id115808.aspx.

Peanut Butter and Co. social media sites

http://ilovepeanutbutter.com/
http://ilovepeanutbutter.com/recipes/
http://www.facebook.com/PeanutButterCo
http://www.flickr.com/groups/peanutbutterco/
http://www.seriouseats.com/thats_nuts/?ref=columns
http://www.yelp.com/biz/peanut-butter-and-co-new-york
http://www.youtube.com/user/PeanutButterCo
https://twitter.com/#!/PeanutButterCo

Annie’s Homegrown social media sites

http://www.annies.com/
http://www.facebook.com/annieshomegrown
https://twitter.com/#!/annieshomegrown
http://www.youtube.com/annieshomegrown
http://www.flickr.com/photos/annieshomegrown
http://www.annies.com/recipes

7 Social Media Tools you may not think are connected but really are!

Overloaded by the prolific number of social media tools available today?  Some seem to play well with others, but do they all have anything in common?  If you answered yes to question one or were intrigued by question two, keep reading!

What is the overarching common thread between all social media tools?

Li and Bernoff write in their book groundswell:  winning in a world transformed by social technologies that the groundswell is the transformation of how people get information.  Prior to social media, people tended to get information directly from corporations.  With social media, people can get information directly from each other.  Effective use of social media is all about developing relationships and engaging your audience.  The seven tools evaluated in this blog all have this in common!

So why should you keep reading now that you know the commonality of all social media?  To learn to discern commonalities among subgroups of social media tools, as well as differentiate between subgroups.

Seven Social Media Tools

The seven tools that I have considered are:

 Consumer Focused

The first four tools are consumer-focused.  Meetup allows individuals to connect with groups and groups to get organized for get-togethers.  Yelp allows consumers to rate local businesses.  Turntable creates an online space for individuals to congregate and listen to music.  Finally, Doodle is an easy way to poll and schedule groups to mutually select good dates and times for activities.

These four tools are all consumer-focused, but what else do they have in common?  They allow consumers to interact with each other and make some element of life easier and enjoyable.  Meetup and Doodle are activity based, while Yelp can help make decisions based on reviews and feedback.  Turntable is a bit different from the others in that it is more about enjoyment and learning about new music, but it still allows interaction between individuals to create an online space that is “safe” for self-expression.  People may want to expand their music listening horizons but their close friends do not appreciate their taste in music; Turntable is an option for them because it allows people to connect who otherwise do not interact in life.  The same could be true with Meetup, except with Meetup the goal is that the people do actually get to interact.  Meetup and Doodle encourage real interaction, while Turntable focuses on online interaction only.  Yelp is a way for people to get information to make informed decisions about where to connect.

Can you think of any social media applications which are used only by consumers and not by business?  Do you think this will change in the future and business will start taking advantage of the applications as well?

Consumer and Business Joint Focused

The other three tools are used by both consumers and businesses.  Twitter enables people and businesses to share information in short text-message like communications.  With Digg, people can “digg” or “like” a piece of media (story, photo, video, etc) and the most popular media are highlighted on Digg’s website and app.  Finally, LinkedIn is a way for individuals and businesses to professionally network.  Although all three have consumer-to-consumer uses, I will focus on the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) applications here.

Twitter is a constant stream of information, and from a business perspective, it can be used to keep up with industry trends and customer habits.  Business professionals enjoy the short nature of the messages both in composing and in reading.  Digg allows bloggers and businesses to rally their engaged consumer bases to “vote” in support of their news or media in order to generate further publicity.  LinkedIn is a digital network space where businesses can keep prospective employees as well as other businesses up to date on current happenings.  Businesses can also use LinkedIn to use shared connections to find potential candidates as well as check references.  All three social media tools encourage constant feedback and chatter between businesses and their consumers (which may be other businesses) to stay connected and updated.

The tools discussed here can be used by both consumers and businesses.  Are there any social media tools you use that are designed to be used primarily for business-to-business applications only?

Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how distinct and dissimilar social media tools are all connected by the common thread of building and maintaining social relationships and interactions.  In all 7 tools, users need to be engaged in order for the social media tool to be successful.

What other tools do you see as interconnected?  How are they similar or dissimilar from the 7 discussed in this post?

I welcome your feedback and comments, please leave them below!  Stay tuned for my next post about social media within the food manufacturing industry.

Sources:
Digg.  (n.d.)  Welcome to Digg.  Retrieved from http://about.digg.com/
Doodle.  (n.d.)  About Doodle.  Retrieved from http://www.doodle.com/about/about.html
Li and Bernoff.  (2008).  Groundswell.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business Press.
LinkedIn.  (n.d.)  About Us.  Retrieved from http://press.linkedin.com/about
Meetup.  (n.d.) Help.  Retrieved from http://www.meetup.com/help/
Turner, J. (2010 April 9).  Top 52 Social Media Platforms Every Marketer Should Know.  Retrieved from http://60secondmarketer.com/blog/2010/04/09/top-52-social-media-platforms/
Turntable.  (n.d.)  About Us.  Retrieved from http://turntable.fm/about
Twitter.  (n.d.)  About.  Retrieved from http://twitter.com/about
Yelp.  (n.d.) About Us.  Retrieved from http://www.yelp.com/about