Feb. 6, 2010

By: Christine Leon, Director, Marketing & Communications, Tyler & Company (Atlanta, Ga.) and Allison A. Morris, Consultant, Tyler & Company (Austin, Texas) 

For thousands of years, people have used tools to ease their sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas. It’s been about two decades since the birth of the World Wide Web, and its evolution has brought about many changes – from the way we purchase goods to how we communicate. This technology has greatly enhanced the spread of information. In the United States, coupling the Internet with networks of people has created an information frenzy that keeps growing by the day – social media.  

Social media’s popularity in the States has branched into the commercial sector with many corporations asking customers to follow them on Twitter and Facebook. These seemingly once “just-for-friends” applications have morphed into more vehicles for public relations and marketing departments (among others) to reach their audiences.

Just how popular is social media? Interestingly, according to “Social Media Revolution” by Socialnomics09 (which you can watch on YouTube): 

  • Social media has overtaken pornography as the No. 1 activity on the Internet.
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest. 
  • People spend 5 billion minutes on Facebook every day.
  • Eighteen new articles are posted to 20 million active blogs every second.
  • Twitter grew 1,382 percent between January and February 2009.
  • YouTube, the second largest search engine in the world, currently has more than 100 million videos. About 65,000 are uploaded daily.

Nevertheless, don’t be fooled; some social media are still wobbly. Despite the added boost from celebrity exposure, Twitter still needs strong legs consisting of loyal followers to be able to stand the test of time. For example, according to Nielson Wire, “Currently more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month” (Martin 2009). This abandonment rate is true even when we take into account the more than two dozen applications and sites that feed into the Twitter community. For a comparison among Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, see figure 1.

While Twitter feeds from engaged followers who respond themselves, Facebook isn’t so thirsty in this regard. Coffee giant Starbucks uses Facebook to share everything from discontinued concoctions to photos. Its discussion threads keep the buzz going, which also makes for virtual real-time feedback from its 5.7 million (mostly) caffeine-loving fans.

The vast majority of consumers trust peer recommendations. An open platform can be a double-edged sword.  Nevertheless, organizations are seeing the value of social media though increased product, service and brand visibility and familiarity. They attempt to use social media to build credibility and trust. 

For example, Hyatt and Comcast have been using social media to recruit, provide customer service, further establish their brand, develop employee relations and promote customer success stories. Healthcare organizations, on the other hand, have been slower on the adoption curve. We now are starting to see the growing popularity of Facebook pages for hospitals and healthcare systems used for recruiting, morale building, employee engagement and marketing. Leading healthcare professionals are building their networks and reputations via blogs and online profiles. And, healthcare professionals are communicating the latest information and press releases via Twitter. By following the Tweets of those you respect, you are able to follow those they trust and gain access to limitless knowledge. Socialnomics09 estimates that 80 percent of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool of finding employees.

On that recruiting subject, yesterday’s background checks consisted of thorough credit, criminal and educational reviews and verifications. Now it involves “Googling” a name in the hunt for digital dirt. Thus, “Google” your own name, and tidy the profiles you own. The future is upon us, and very little (if anything) will be private in the social media world.

Tools of communication are evolving at lightning speed. Join Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Register today to avoid having an exponential amount of numbers after your username. Don’t get left behind.

If watching “Social Media Revolution” by Socialnomics09 on YouTube doesn’t make you a believer, keep typewriting and stay strong. Tomorrow is here and we’ll be Tweeting about the past this afternoon. As Sinatra sang it, “The best is yet to come,” and we can hardly imagine what lies ahead.