Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: A Point of Social Etiquette

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: A Point of Social Etiquette

Article excerpt

Social networking is not the same as social networks - a difference that brands ignore at their peril.

Can big brands crash the social networking party? It's a question that is taxing digital specialists and brand managers alike. With more than 200m users, Facebook is a media phenomenon, and alongside MySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5 and Cyworld, some estimates put the number of people using these sites at half a billion worldwide. Not surprisingly, with all those conversations going on, marketers want to jump aboard, and pronto.

A research project by Workplace Media, a US ad agency that specifically targets people while at work, set out to answer this question, and in doing so fell victim to the most common misconception there is about social media.

The study examined US employees' use of social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. It found that 55% of office internet users said they have an account on one of these sites, and of these, 43%, admitted to accessing that account from work. Lastly, the report claims 78% use these sites for less than 30 minutes a day.

I'm a bit sceptical about asking people about how much time they bunk off work and expecting an accurate answer, but I can live with this methodology.

However, it all goes pear-shaped in the final section. Stephanie Molnar, chief executive of WorkPlace Media, says: 'The data shows that social networking still has a long way to go ... Most of our meaningful recommendations continue to be old-fashioned word of mouth from friends, co-workers, and/or family.' So here we are. Here it is. 'Social networking' is not the same as 'social networks'.

People do what we describe as social networking in a variety of environments: blogs, forums, review sites and, yes, social networks.

What they do in these environments varies widely. On TripAdvisor or Reevoo, they write or read reviews. On forums, they discuss hobbies and interests, which often means they're talking about brands. On social networks, they are mostly hooking up with friends - although some sites are aimed at work-related activity.

WorkPlace Media's survey has looked at one subset of the vast phenomenon we know as social networking, and drawn a conclusion from it that has then been applied universally.

Let's look at the survey's numbers. 96% of respondents claimed not to be influenced by a brand's lack of presence in social networks. Setting aside the fact that every survey ever conducted on advertising has shown consumers claim not to be influenced by it, if a brand doesn't have a Facebook page, that might not be an issue. …

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