Dear Social Media: Sorry I took you for granted

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Sorry - On Australia DayImage by spud murphy via Flickr

Hi I’m Nick - the FreshNetworks marketing intern. Sadly, my time as an intern at FreshNetworks is quickly drawing to a close so I thought it might be of interest to talk a bit about what I’ve learnt – particularly around social media. Even though I may not have known it before, social media has had a huge impact on my life. Here are four things I’ve learnt during my internship:

Web 2.0 is part of an internet revolution…
So what is Web 2.0? A meaningless marketing buzzword, tech jargon for computer geeks, or an internet revolution? I never really understood the full meaning of the phrase. However since being here I have definitely gleaned a clearer definition. Web 2.0 refers to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in ways previously unavailable. On the web, people can publish whatever they want, when they want and this has led to the growth of social networking sites, wikis, support forums and online communities. My answer now? Internet revolution.

Could I live without social media?
Being part of the Nintendo generation I’ve grown up with the worldwide web so I’m an avid user of web 2.0 and social media; sharing photos on facebook, discussing my travelling plans on tripadvisor.com, providing feedback on ebay, downloading an mp3 and finding out how to fix a computer problem through online forums. The ability of the internet to allow users to share and discuss information has definitely been beneficial to web surfers like me. No doubt I’ve taken social media for granted up until now, but now I realise that without it my life would surely have been much less productive, organised and social!

Social media can make companies $$$
Next week I jet off to do the typical backpackers route – Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam. The unbiased, user-generated content provided by Tripadvisor.com has been an invaluable planning tool – yet another benefit of social media. But I was fascinated to learn that this website generates its owners (Expedia) a third of their revenue. And here I was thinking it was just for fun.

Word-of-mouth is four times as trusted as TV advertising…
Word-of-mouth is the most trusted decision-making tool for consumers. And today, more and more people use the web for word-of-mouth - reading other users reviews and comments on particular products and services. In fact, online communities are increasingly a first choice for this sort of research. As a result, marketers are adapting their campaigns to allow for this change in consumer behaviour; it makes a lot of sense, as online communities allow one person’s recommendation to reach thousands around the world.
Without me knowing it, social media has become and integral part of my life. Could I live without social media? Probably not, but at least now I know it!

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Getting your online community right from the start

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I’ve got an article over at iMedia Connection today: Getting your online community right from the start.

The article is based on our collective experience at FreshNetworks of building and managing online communities and suggests five ways that we think will help you get your community right from the start.

  1. Remember you are building a community - get the social dynamic right before your think ‘online’
  2. Start small and build rapidly - people can’t think about lots of issues at once, get a discussion going on a few topics then build rapidly
  3. Seed your community first - nobody likes an empty restaurant, make sure there are some people there before you go public
  4. Manage as well as moderate the community - to help grow and develop a community is much more than to moderate
  5. The community owns the community; you need to be part of it - only the community really owns the community, so the brand needs to be involved

To read more go and check out the article, or look at our previous posts on online communities.

Videos engage - include them in your online communities

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The written word is great. You can express ideas in many ways, you can enter into an exchange with people, you can tell them what you think and hear what they say. But online, video is just more engaging. You just have to look at the power and reach of YouTube and growth of the Flickr community to understand the demand and use of media-sharing functions online.

We try to include media as much as possible in the online communities that we build and manage at FreshNetworks. We find that different community members will want to engage and express themselves in different ways, and so allowing them to do this will maximise participation. It’s also a great way to build engagement between the brand and the community - letting them see inside an organisation; video can break down the barriers between brand and customer. It’s an effective way of conveying content as it often encourages more personal and more efficient presentation of ideas. Finally, video can be easily shared and so has a great viral effect.

Somebody who we think has got the use of video right online is Gary Vaynerchuk and his daily wine blog: Wine Library TV. Gary’s enthusiasm is palpable, his knowledge about wine is significantly greater than mine, and his ideas are easy for me to take away. But what really makes his site work is that every day I can watch a short clip and learn something. Rather than read some text describing which wines go with oysters, I can just watch and learn. The videos are easy to pass on to friends and they make me feel like I am really engaging with Gary. I can see him, hear him, watch and learn his mannerisms and habits. I get to know him better than I suspect I might be able to just reading text. So, his ideas are great, the content informative and this information useful. But I suspect it is the fact that he delivers this by video that really makes Gary’s site a success.

So what can we learn about this when we are planning and building online communities? The answer is simple - use video, include video, interact with video.

If you haven’t seen Gary in action, then take a look at this video below of him in action at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York.

  • Gary Vaynerchuk
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  • Web2Open New York - Get Involved!

Social media is changing the shape of scientific debate

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An article in this week’s Economist looks at how science and scientific debate is being changed by the rise of social media tools. In the days before the Internet, a peer-reviewed scientific journal was the best (and maybe only) way to get your opinions and ideas heard by a large number of people. The process of reviewing and publishing articles was long, meaning that the time from idea to publication can be quite significant. As the Economist puts it:

With luck a paper will be published several months after being submitted; many languish for over a year because of bans on multiple submissions. This hampers scientific progress, especially in nascent fields where new discoveries abound. When a paper does get published, the easiest way to debate it is to submit another paper, with all the tedium that entails.

Even today, this is still the process followed by most scientific journals, although as the Economist article points out change is afoot.

The drawback of the journal process is that it doesn’t allow a space for public and open debate and discussion of ideas in a convenient and quick way. This isn’t necessarily their fault, that’s not what they are designed for. But there is a space in the scientific community for this kind of reviewing, commenting and evaluation of ideas, allowing groups of scientists to work together to refine and improve ideas. It sounds like the perfect place for social media - scientist blogs where their ideas can be revealed as they emerge, online communities where people can discuss and work on a shared interest or goal, wikis where multiple parties can contribute towards knowledge. The opportunities are vast and, of course, alongside the traditional peer-reviewed journals there are a plethora of such social media initiatives out their in the scientific community.

One such example, cited by the Economist, is Seed Media‘s Research Blogging, a site designed to act as a hub for peer-reviewed science. The aim is to bring together in one place all of the many discussions that are happening all over the web, to allow more people to get involved in the discussions and to organise them in a way that makes it easy to search. This seems like a really effective way of integrating the benefits of social media and online community tools with the existing, peer-reviewed science.

I spoke earlier this year at a conference about how to combine editorial and user-generated content in publishing, and this approach does seem to follow some of the best practice ideas we discussed then. Allowing the expert (in this case the peer-reviewed) content to sit separately from the discussions and debates but to encourage and facilitate the latter. This is the first stage many take to fully integrating crowd-reviewing into their expert content and allowing experts and readers to interact fully in the original content.

Of course getting to this point takes time. For it to be a real success it requires a significant proportion of the target audience to be able to join in and contribute. At the moment only 35% of scientists blog, and there are sometimes perverse incentives to not join these debates. The Economist cites Jennifer Rohn, a biologist at University College London, who says that:

There is a risk that rivals will see how your work unfolds and pip you to the post in being first to publish. Blogging is all well and good for tenured staff but lower down in the academic hierarchy it is still publish or perish

So change like this may be sometime coming, but developments to maximise the use of social media and community discussions are allowing scientists to debate issues more quickly and more conveniently. Ideas can be disseminated and debated more rapidly, and that has to be a good thing.

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Social networking more popular than porn

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It’s official. Where once pornography was the most popular thing searched for on the Internet, social networking has now taken its place. So says research reported in today’s Daily Telegraph. The finding comes from the the work of Bill Tancer, Head of Research at HitWise, and is based on analysing the search habits of 10 million Internet users.

Porn has long been the most popularly searched subject on the web, indeed Tancer’s research shows that a decade ago one in every five searches performed was porn-related. Today that figure is closer to one in ten, with a significant drop in searches among the 18-24 year olds. More people are searching for social networking. As Tancer observes:

As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased. My theory is that young users spend so much time on social networks that they don’t have time to look at adult sites.

I agree in part with Tancer’s observation. It is probably true that young people are spending more time on social networking sites than on adult sites. But I am not necessarily convinced that it is because they are spending so much time on social networks that they don’t have time for porn. Rather I think that this research reflects a growing maturity in the way we use the Internet.

The real progress we are witnessing with Web2.0 is that we are moving from an environment where information (be it news, product information or even pornography) is pushed out on the web by publishers, to one where the web is more about the way people interact. When it was just about pushing out information then the main reason people used the Internet was to find something that they couldn’t find elsewhere, or that wasn’t easily available to them. This was fertile ground for pornography, making it easier for people to find and view in relative privacy. Now the web is about interacting, about finding people and answers to questions rather than just information that others have put online. In this environment there are so many more things that people can do online. They can find people like them, they can ask questions of people in similar situations and they can interact with real people rather than just with content uploaded by publishers.

So while I agree that people spend more time on social networking than ever before, I think the real reason that social networking has overtaken porn on the web is more to do with the ever increasing opportunities that the web now presents. It is suited to more things and to interactions rather than just viewing content. The web has developed and it is no longer the place it was.

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