Social networks are collections of folks who want to build and maintain a relationship. Social media is a communication channel.
Social networks are collections of folks who want to talk about their lives, share photos of their kids, find out what their friends are doing … Social networks stand in for the communities we enjoyed in a by-gone age when people met in physical spaces to talk about these things — their church social, PTA meetings, Brownie troop meetings, soccer practice … According to recent research, these old fashioned communities are gone — squeezed out by long commutes, two-income families, and TV.
Social media involves spreading commercial messages through these social platforms rather than paid commercial media such as TV and radio. Part of the appeal of this channel is that transmission is free, which is important for small businesses who are often strapped for cash to spend on advertising. However, social media are not free. However, they are still an excellent tool for small businesses.
Large businesses also use social media as a way to supplement their traditional paid media, especially as the ROI (return on investment) for paid media is dwindling.
The reason social media CAN be an effective communication channel is the care consumers have exercised in constructing networks of friends, relatives, school chums, and random people whose lives have intersected their own. Network folks call this your social graph. In order for commercial messages to spread across social platforms two things must happen – individuals must be willing to spread the message to their social graph and members of their social graph must be influenced by the message to alter their attitudes, their behaviors, and/or spread the message further.
If properly motivated, consumers will pass your commercial message to their social graph. Often motivation simply takes the form of celebrity and status that accrue to consumers who are “in the know” about developments such as new products, special offers, interesting brand facts, or other tidbits of information. It’s the same factor that makes people become new reporters or gossip – the feeling of specialness that comes from knowing what others do not. Being the first to share information also makes the individual feel special and the center of attentions – they become a minor celebrity.
Members of the individual’s social graph changes their attitudes, behaviors, or shares the message in exchange for social capital. Thus, influence is based on the amount of social capital a person holds. Because there are ways to assess SOME types of influence online, measures of influence have been developed, such as Klout and PeerIndex, which both measure observed behavioral changes such as opening a link or passing on a message in one or more social networks.
Since social capital is the currency that pays for social media, its important to understand where it comes from. Social capital comes from positive interactions with others that lead to respect, authority, trust, and based on norms of reciprocity – tit for tat. Social capital is often thought of as a personal brand.
An important element underpinning the value of social networks for social media is the similarity between the individuals making up the social graph. This means the individuals are likely in the same target market thus having similar problems and needs. The more similar the individuals in the graph, the more likely they are to share a common social lens – or way of looking at things – have similar experiences, and have a common vernacular to aid communication.