June - 2009 issue > Technology
Social Media Trends & Growth of Digital Media
Vijay Rajapat
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Thanks to the new digital platforms like social media where technology is empowering people to create, participate, and share content on the Web, while having meaningful conversations around events, places, people, news, brands, and products through blogs, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, Social bookmarking, and sharing sites like Digg, social networking sites, social forums and review sites. Virtual worlds like YouTube, Second Life, and podcasts are a few new age tools to name.

Technology Aids Change People Behavior

What is really interesting to observe is that the growth of social Web is changing people behavior and induce them to become digital activists, as many consumers move from being passive consumers of products and services to the active participation age to voice their feedback, be part of product related discussions, and look for a dialogue about brands or products they currently use or need in future. While technology is evolving with new tools to simplify our online social interactions, at the same pace social media benefits are also increasing for individuals, businesses, and collectively for our society.

The Power of Social Media and its Impacts on Individuals, Businesses, and Society
Digital media doesn’t have an entry barrier; so any individual can become a news creator, subject expert, journalist, initiator, and digital activist using blogs, micro-blogs, social sharing, and networking sites. It provides an equal opportunity for anybody to voice their thoughts, opinions, and share information at their disposal. The popularity of social networks will also create a new trend of social shopping where individual can recommend to his group of friends products and services that he or she brought or used. So, what really drives people to engage online is the peer-influence factor and an instant re-colonization for their individual digital activities in the form of comments, video clips, retweets, sharing, and online polls. These visible feedback channels encourage people to be more participative in the social Web. Let’s take the example of Susan Boyle, the famous voice discovered in Britain talent hunt show; her video got more than 100 million hits on YouTube from people across the world, brought instant success for her hard work, and most importantly a recognition for her undiscovered talent by the world. This is a new trend of social media creating celebrities out of common people and if you have talent then the social Web channels like video sharing, blogging sites, and micro-blogging sites provide a platform to showcase it - the Web world will applaud your creativity, knowledge, and expertise.

It’s no surprise that micro-blogging sites like Twitter share the breaking news faster than the traditional media channels, as more and more people are using it not only for live streaming of their personal events but most importantly as an information sharing medium and a collective knowledge sharing channel with other people across the world.

Social Media as an Engagement Channel between Businesses and Customers

For brands and marketers, the social media opens up new opportunities and challenges, because using it means getting out of your brand comfort zone, listening to people who talk good or bad about your products, showing real commitment to your users unlike running a marketing ad for a couple of weeks or months, and importantly adding a human face to your brand. Recently, Zappos CEO, when asked why they are on Twitter said, “People relate to people not companies.” So having a humanized brand is very important in this new age. Consumers are increasingly using the Web to research before making buying decisions, so the online reputation of your brand or product has a key role in influencing people’s purchase decisions. It is no surprise that even in India, eight out of 10 people from the metros who buy cars use the Web to search for information on brands and products before making a purchase call.

The major adoption driver for businesses to use the social media marketing will be its low-cost model compared to traditional marketing channels. Unlike the traditional marketing monologue approaches, the social media marketing facilitates dialogues and conversations with target users or current consumers to have close proximity, better understand the brand’s online position, product or service feedbacks, and create a good online brand reputation - the art of success in the social media for brands is ‘listening’ and ‘engaging’ with consumers.

In the near future we will see most of the marketers adopting and building expertise in the social media platforms, digital media tools, and most importantly understanding the new medium as an engagement channel to interact with their consumers and deliver their product message. These marketers will in turn educate their clients on the power shift in the target user engagement and marketing models through digital media. In India, the lack of social media adoption among brands was largely due to the naivety of our marketers in using the social media platforms; but having seen the global adoption in recent times, many Indian marketers are very curious on learning about new media platforms.

Further, professional networking sites like LinkedIn have a great pool of experts across different domains, technologies, and businesses. What it means especially for small and medium businesses is that using LinkedIn Questions and Answers, your business can get expert advice and quick market research for free. This is one of the good social channels for the Indian SME’s to understand global perspective and get expert advice.

Social Media Benefits for Businesses and Brands

* Organizations can get quick feedback on their products compared to traditional channels (Social media monitoring tools like socialmention.com and additc-o-matic.com will help you track the current online reputation of your brand or product across social Web, while techrigy and radian6 provide much advanced tools).

* Low cost customer service and support: Look at how Zappos, Comcast, and the like are using Twitter to service their customers.

* Deliver your brand, product, or industry event news for interested people and manage good PR. No more email blasts or spamming to people; instead engaging with interested people, YouTube can get you more viewers than having billboards or even TV ads at almost no cost.
* Engage with the consumers as a community to provide more value. Look at the social media strategies of Ford, JetBlue, Dell, and Zappos.

* Build loyal brand advocates and promote your brand and products. Conversations with your customers will create brand loyalists.

* Market research and product or service features ideation. Tools like UserVoice.com and SurveyMoney.com along with LinkedIn and Twitter will simplify your market survey and product feature ideation initiatives.

For businesses, the most important thing to learn before using the social media is not in knowing tools like blogs, twitter, and YouTube but understanding the people engagement, social interaction behaviors, current online brand or product reputation, and managing the consumers’ and prospects’ expectations to build long-term relationships, create loyal community of brand advocates, and engage in conversations with people who are interested in your product, brand, or service.

Social Media Driving Social Changes for a Better Society

The heart of social media is people; it empowers us to spread social causes and change perspectives, participate in digital activisms (The recent PinkChaddi campaign and PubBharo aandolan were quite successful in India), and show support to crowd sourcing activities like ushadidi.com to share information in crisis situations with better reach, relevancy, and engagement. Recently votereport.in helped share irregularities in Indian elections in an unprecedented way with massive participation of members. But, success of community initiatives depend on multiple factors like cultural adoption and availability of technology apart from the reach and usage of technology by people.

The growth of social sites’ usage among people will open new doors of opportunities for researchers to understand people behaviors, consumers’ behavioral change patterns, market trends, content consumption patterns, and social changes through technology, and the same will add to the growth of behavioral economics.
Social Web allows people to form communities and voice their opinions for social causes and changes. In a similar vain it helps policy makers to deliberate on things like administrative irregularities. This can either be driven by common people or social activists or the government. One good example of using social media in administration is the initiatives of Obama administration in the U.S. to engage with people on various administration related issues.

The New Media and its Next Growth Story

The new media is growing at a rapid pace, there are already hundreds of millions of users; and with millions of new users joining social sites every month, penetration of the Internet and mobile phone in developing world provides a better reach for technology and creates adoption of technology usage by proving visible benefits. Standards like OpenId and OpenWeb encourage people to try new online services using existing credentials instead of getting overloaded by managing authorization information for each online service. These changes will drive more adoption of social Web by individuals, businesses, brands, marketers, researchers, and physical social communities around the world. Along with new technology innovations for mining online content across social Web to create structured information for particular search terms, online engagement and reputation measurement tools, real-time information retrieval and search, and social advertising and marketing measurement tools, with brands heavily using sociable ads to market research and engage with consumers in advertisements (In social ads people can customize advertisements with their profile data like picture, name, location, and why they like it, and share it among their network of friends to drive a ripple effect for brand ads).

We will also see software as a service (SaaS) providers integrating social engagement tools into their product offerings and growth of community based customer support sites for many products and services.

The growth of social media also needs standards and adoption of OpenWeb (having one authorization and access control on the use of complete social Web services) by online service providers, social user data usage, security and privacy policies, and social media measurement metrics and engagement (ads, campaigns, or community) guidelines for better utilization of new media potential and leveraging it’s benefits.

According to a recent article in TechCrunch, every minute more than 20 hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube, and Nielsen-Online reports that people spend a lot of time on video sharing and social sites on the Internet than anywhere else. What it means is that very soon production houses will use video sharing sites as a channel for their content sales like the early experiments of ESPN with YouTube. Also, there are tens of millions of bloggers around the world producing online content almost regularly, if not everyday, while their content may be not so good as that of a professional journalist they are good enough to draw the attention of online users to encourage people journalism trends.

All I want to say in conclusion here is that business conditions and people behavior are changing as technology evolves with new age digital platforms and tools; so it’s time for new media adoption, rather than resisting it to become extinct from business.

The New Digital Media vs Traditional Media

Does the rise of new digital media means the death of the traditional news and print media? Nobody knows precisely what will happen. However, radio didn’t die after TV came and it only went through significant change cycles. If you look at the blogs or micro-blogging sites most of the conversations are still powered by the content from traditional news or media channels, with the difference that people don’t want to pay for usual content delivered by traditional media as now they can get it for free on the Web. This is a significant shift in terms of how the changing digital technology can influence the way people consume content from traditional news and media channels. According to Indian Readership Survey-2009, there is a decline in news and magazine readers across the country, while Bangalore itself has noticed a decline of 7 percent in the readership of English newspapers.

The traditional media players have to leverage the power of new digital media to cut their distribution and printing costs (PCWorld became an online magazine from print media). Quality online content still can command users to pay, new services like Amazon Kindle where content feed is available on subscription are a good channel for news media sites to reach the target users and still get paid, using people-powered journalism and have a reach for news from across the world at minimal cost and focus on niche areas to beat the ‘hub of great content’ game on the Web.

Author is a software consultant and a social media enthusiast.

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