Social Networking - The Future is Now

“Social media is the next revolution in the printing industry and business in general.” So read a recent discussion post for the Quick Printing group on LinkedIn.

Is the social media phenomenon really a revolution? Some are convinced that it is. Others think it is something that is evolving. In any case, the rise of social media is making its mark on the printing industry. In fact, Printing Industries of America recently released “Social Media Field Guide – A Resource for Graphic Communicators.”

For quite some time, QP has addressed the issue of social media use by printers in the columns of John Giles and Tawnya Starr. They have been providing both practical advice and reasoned advocacy for those printers who are entering or considering the world of social media.

The authors of the “Field Guide” seem to think the term “social media” is somewhat of a misnomer. They prefer the term “social networking”. Their reasoning is that media refers to a means of communication and is a noun whereas networking is a verb “and is the interaction between people to exchange information and develop contacts.” That said, they give in to the inevitable and use the term social media throughout the book.

The Players

The most often cited players in the social media space are Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but there are many others. At the time the Field Guide was published, by far the largest of the players was Facebook with 500 million users. Some others were MySpace (130 million), hi5 (80 million), Twitter (75 million) LinkedIn (75 million), Plaxo (50 million), BeBo (50 million), YouTube (48 million), and Flicker (32 million). Of these, LinkedIn and Plaxo have a decidedly business focus while Facebook has both a personal and a business focus.

Since the Field Guide was published, some of these entities have grown quickly and considerably. For instance Twitter now has an estimated 145 million users.

According to the Field Guide, the world of social media can be roughly divided into six categories: Social networking (Facebook, hi5, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buzz, Friendster, MySpace); Sharing/collaborating (Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Newsvine, FriendFeed); Image/video/presentation sharing (YouTube, Hulu, SlideShare, Flicker, Fotolog, SmugMug, Zoomr, Webshots); Microblogging (Twitter, Plurk, Yammer, Tumblr, StatusNet); Blogging (WordPress, TypePad, Movable Type); and Location based/social mapping (Yelp, Foursquare, Loopt, Gowalla, Brightkite).

The Rules

Despite the various specialties and emphases of the above players, there is one overriding caution when using any of them. Never put anything on any place on the Internet that you wouldn’t want your boss, your spouse, a client, a potential client, or anyone else to read. The Internet is forever and is eminently searchable.

A recent New York Times article reviewed software called Social Sentry, which automatically monitors Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn to let companies to keep tabs on their employees’ social networking. “Automating the process makes it more likely that monitoring will become commonplace, say both those who approve and those who disapprove.” Social Sentry is only one of many Internet monitoring options available.

Another rule of etiquette is remarkably simple but very often ignored. Never post anything when you are overly-tired, upset, angry, or intoxicated. Yes, people do use social media when drunk. The upshot may not be as serious as getting caught driving while drunk, but posting while drunk can have some pretty significant consequences. Just for fun, check out www.socialmediasobrietytest.com. It is a service that allows you to set parameters for your social media use and blocks you from logging on if you can’t pass a simple sobriety test. I’m sure there are lots of people who wish their social media keys had been taken away so they wouldn’t have been able to post something stupid.

For those who are using social media for business-to-business marketing, there are some other specific dos and don’ts. Chief among them is don’t spam. Blasting out blatant sales pitches or automated friend requests are a guaranteed turnoff and just plain bad manners. The converse is to offer information of value instead of talking just about yourself or your company. The object is to build relationships.

B2B and B2C

There are two main kinds of marketing that use social media, business-to-business and business-to-consumer. Most printers are caught somewhere in the middle. They are marketing to other businesses but they are also marketing to consumers of their products. Thus it is interesting to see how these two approaches use social media.

According to a study by business.com, B2B marketers and B2C marketer prefer to hang out in different places. Some 77% of B2B marketers use Facebook compared to 83% of B2C marketers. B2C also uses MySpace (23%) more than B2B (14%). However, B2B leads on Twitter (73% to 49%), LinkedIn (56% to 27%), and YouTube (43% to 30%).

That same study found that B2B more often maintained company profiles on social networks (81% to 67%). They also more often hosted blogs (74% to 55%), monitored brand mentions (73% to 55%), engaged in discussions (66% to 43%), participated in Q&A sessions (59% to 44%),  uploaded content (50% to 32%), and produced webinars or podcasts (46% to 22%).

The Goals

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. This holds just as true with social media as it does n the rest of your life. So before you jump into this social networking world, determine what you want to accomplish.

There are several advantages that can be gained through the use of social media. You can increase your brand awareness. You can grow your network and sphere of influence. You can build and nurture relationships. You can provide value to your customer. You can become a “thought leader.” You can drive people to your website. You can monitor what is being said about you and your company. And finally, you can increase sales. So pick one or pick them all, just be sure that you pick what your really want to accomplish.

The Reality

It is instructive to look at who all is playing in the Internet and social media space. According to a 2009 Pew study, 95% of people between 18 and 29 are online. So are 87% of those between 30 and 49 and 78% of those between 50 and 64. The only age group with less than half participating online is the over 65 group with 42%. That said, more than three quarters of the population of North America use the Internet. Worldwide, an estimated 1.97 billion of the world’s 6.86 billion people are online.

In other words, online is where it’s at and where it will be, and social media is a major online component. It is becoming ubiquitous and is changing the way we communicate. Companies of all sizes are including social media in their marketing plans. According to a study by the American Marketing Association, marketing budgets for social media grew from 1% to 9% between 2009 and 2010 and are predicted to rise to 17% by 2015.

As the authors of the Field Guide point out: “Social media as a marketing platform is growing, becoming not just viable but also an essential part of reaching out to customers and, ultimately, selling our products and services.” (The “Social Media Field Guide” can be ordered from Printing Industries of America. More information at www.myprintresource.com/10013918.)

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