Blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, and tag clouds: these are new words for new things and new ways to use words. You may be living in the world of social media, but to many it’s a jumbled jungle with no clear structure.

The many facets of social media are also called Web 2.0, consumer-generated media (CGM), participatory media, and new media.

Most simply put, social media are media (from written to visual to audio to audiovisual) that are designed to be shared. Sharing means  it is easy to comment on, it is easy to send, and there are no high costs associated with viewing the media. Because of the connected nature of the Internet, it means sharing, commenting, and viewing can all be tracked and measured.

The Internet, and the software developed to run on it, has made it simple for anyone to publish and distribute content. It has also made it simple for anyone to access that content.

The realm of social media is about collaborating, generating content, sharing, and most of all, connecting.

8.1 How it works

Social media have changed the world we market in and can be used as an integral part of an online marketing campaign. Social media are all about the ways that we create, connect, and share online.

8.1.1 Bookmarking and Aggregating: Sharing Things You Like

If there are Web sites, you visit often or  you would like to keep as a reference to come back to, it is easy to use your browser to “bookmark” them. This means that you store the URL (uniform resource locator) so that you can locate it again easily. It also gives you a personal library of Web sites that you can store on your computer.

Social bookmarking sites, however, allow you to store these links online, use tags to describe them, and share these lists with other users. Some of these sites let you submit URLs that other users vote on, while others allow you to use the saved tags to browse through the lists and libraries that have been generated.

Web sites that want to encourage users to submit content to bookmarking and aggregating sites use “chicklets.” These are buttons placed around the content that make it easier to submit and share the article.

These services allow you to see what the community of Web users finds useful, interesting, or humorous. You are able to find other users with similar interests to yours and explore Web sites that they have found that you might not have come across yet.

Social bookmarking allows like-minded people to share interesting and relevant content with one another easily. It can also be an excellent tool for members of a company or organization to earmark relevant Web sites and articles. Content submitted to a social bookmarking or aggregating site can dramatically increase traffic to a Web site and expose the site to many new eyeballs.

One such site, Delicious (http://delicious.com), was designed to be a site that would help Internet users organize online media in a quick, easy-to-access, and user-friendly format. Now owned by Yahoo! the primary function of Delicious is to allow users to store all their bookmarks online and then to access those bookmarks from any computer anywhere in the world. Compared to other social bookmarking sites, Delicious is more of a community-based tool, as it allows others to see your bookmarks. Essentially it lets you identify other people whose interests and concerns parallel yours and grants you access to all of their bookmarks as well.

Check out http://delicious.com/quirkemarketingtextbook to see some of the URLs we think are relevant to your online marketing studies and career.

Digg (http://www.digg.com), Muti (http://www.muti.co.za), and Reddit (http://www.reddit.com) are sites where users submit content that other users can then vote on. Popularity, based on votes, moves the submitted content up and down lists that are available on these sites. Submitting and voting requires registration, but there are many people who visit these sites to get an overview of content that is “hot.”

Appearing on the top of these lists generates a huge increase in traffic for content sites, so much so that servers can crash if the leap in visitors is unexpected. Getting into the top listings is a prize eyed by many a marketer, but any attempt to manipulate listings usually backfires and can generate plenty of community backlash.

The communities around these sites differ demographically, and this is reflected in the content. For example, Digg is technology focused, while Reddit tends to have more general news.

StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com) lets you explore the Web through your interests, based on how other Web users tag content. Users select categories of interest and bookmark URLs in those categories. You can then choose to “stumble” through the Web using the category of your choice. The service will randomly show you a Web site that has been submitted to that category.

StumbleUpon allows users to explore the Web based on the taxonomy applied by other users. Instead of looking to search engines for relevance, users are instead appealing to the knowledge of a community.

Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) started life as a real-time blog search engine but has since evolved to incorporate other forms of user-generated content, including images and videos.

Technorati’s core is a tag-based index that allows users to conduct searches on topics that interest them. Contributors are able to tag their individual posts, and the better a post is tagged, the better its chance of being picked up by a relevant search. Instead of contributors being separated into categories, the content of each individual post is indexed. Technorati not only searches the blogs of subscribed members but also operates as a normal search engine.

Technorati can also be used to keep tabs on Internet buzz, both to monitor online reputation and to see what trends are emerging.

8.1.2 Bookmarking and Aggregating as Marketing Tools

Seeing how users categorize your content will give you an idea of how your Web site and company are perceived by your audience. It might be remarkably different from how you think they see you. Look at other Web sites that are tagged like yours. You might find new competitors and new ideas.

You can also use these services to share what other URLs your company finds interesting. This can be a useful resource to add to an online press room as well as a utility that fanatics of your company would get really excited about.

To create link love and traffic, investigate what sort of content your target audience loves voting for and create that content. A word of warning: never submit content and then vote yourself. It’s one sure-fire way to incur the wrath of these communities.

Organic growth is the only way to succeed here. It might take time as you build your reputation and worth among the community, but the end result can be very worthwhile. As a content provider, make sure you have the appropriate chicklets added to your content to make it easier to share.

8.2 Content sharing: create and share

YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) may be the first content-sharing site that comes to mind, but users share images, audio, and information as well as video. If it can be created, then it can be shared. There are many sites that facilitate free sharing of videos, images, and audio, and they are exceptionally popular. From Flickr to YouTube, they have all tapped into the fact that we love to create content for others to view.

The key word here is “free”: there are no fees for joining, whether you are uploading content or viewing content (although premium paid-for memberships can allow access to further features). This means that these sites attract an enormous audience.

Many of these services also encourage distribution of their content. YouTube allows videos to be embedded easily into other Web sites, and Flickr has generated a number of applications and widgets that allows the images to be shown all over the Web (and even printed onto cards and stickers via http://www.moo.com).

Most of these Web sites rely on advertising to support the free services they offer, and some have a premium paid-for membership version, which is without advertisements.

8.2.1 Video sharing

YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) is essentially a Web site that, by using Flash technology, allows users to upload, view, and share videos with the rest of the connected world. These videos can range from music, movie, and television clips to homemade amateur videos and vlogs, or video blogs.

YouTube is a complex site offering numerous features, yet it is simple to use. While it is possible for unregistered users to watch most of the publicly available videos, a quick, straightforward registration process allows members to upload an unlimited number of clips, comment on and add video responses to them, and subscribe to content feeds that catch their attention and interest. Frequently enhanced functionality and clever features on YouTube continually push this site to deliver bigger and better services to its ever-increasing user base.

Many marketers have adopted the opportunities afforded by YouTube. There are two aspects of marketing through YouTube: self-promotion of people and products, such as music videos, movie previews, interviews, video advertisements, and sponsored advertisements, supplied by Google AdWords.

The medium of online video sharing also means that conferences are able to generate a far larger audience than ever before. The companies that sponsor or run these conferences are able to engage with a larger audience by making freely available videos of the various sessions held. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design; http://www.ted.com) and Nokia’s Nokia World are excellent examples of organizations that increase interest by making their remarkable presentations available for free.

8.2.2 Knowledge Sharing: The Wiki

Essentially, a wiki is a piece of software that users can create and edit online, using simple markup language via a Web browser. They support hyperlinks and have a simple text syntax for creating new pages and links between internal pages. In its most basic form, a wiki is a Web site that supports user collaboration through a variety of functions.

There are numerous types of wiki software available that share the following characteristics:

  • Create and update documents. Wiki users have the ability to create and update documents easily.
  • Review versions. Most wikis store each version of a document. This functionality makes it easy for users to view the various modifications that a document has undergone over time.

Build community-oriented tools. Most wikis provide users with an ability to engage in some form of discussion about the documents on which they are collaborating.

Wikis can be open to all, such as Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) and Wikitravel (http://www.wikitravel.org); they can be open to or aimed at certain communities only, such as Geek Dinner attendees (http://geekdinner.pbwiki.com); or they can be private and open only to individuals within an organization. Internal wikis are exceptionally useful for creating knowledge bases within organizations and companies.

8.2.3 Content Creation and Sharing as Marketing Tools

Content-sharing sites, from video to photos to music to knowledge, provide marketers with a snapshot of how users interact with and perceive their brand. Most of the sites have really simple syndication (RSS) feeds available, where marketers can keep a tab on mentions of their brand.

These sites and services allow marketers the opportunity to capitalize on the creativity of their consumers to further amplify their brand. By making content easily available and removing restrictions on use of that content, companies can nurture creative interactions that are likely to spread.

Wikis can be used when creating an event with a network. Encouraging users to interact allows them greater connection and ownership of the outcome and provides a tool for on-going communication.

8.3 Crowdsourcing: unleashing the power of the online community

A term first used in Wired magazine back in 2006, crowdsourcing has become a powerful and cost-effective method of achieving business goals through the use of the masses. Simply put, business and corporations invite the public to submit ideas and innovations for new and existing products in exchange for a one-off or a small percentage of future royalties.

Social media have spurred on this innovation and have allowed the business world to tap into the consumer psyche with little financial outlay.

8.3.1 Connecting: Social networking

Social networking refers to the forming and substantiating of online social networks for communities of people. The communities are people who share interests and activities or are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. The building of these social networks requires the use of software. Social networking is all about using the tools of the Internet to connect and build relationships with others. Social networking sites such as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com), MySpace (http://www.myspace.com), and LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) allow users to create personal profiles and then interact with their connections through sharing media, sending messages, and blogging. Social networking sites not only allow you to interact with the members of your own virtual Rolodex but also allow you to extend beyond your personal network.

Social networks have created new meaning for the term “friend,” as many connections exist solely online. In the realm of social networking, it is unnecessary to have met someone in order to connect with them. Personal profile pages remove much of the anonymity of the Internet. Users of social networks reveal a great deal of information about themselves, from basic demographics such as age, gender, and location, to nuanced and detailed lists of likes and dislikes. Although explicitly made known to a user’s connections, users are also divulging this information to the networks, and hence to the networks’ advertisers. Users tend not to be aware of the data that are amassing regarding their online profiles, and it takes features such as Facebook’s Beacon to reveal just how much information users are making available.

Social networks can be general, such as Facebook, or niche, such as LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) or Dopplr (http://www.dopplr.com). LinkedIn is a network for professionals. Members connect to others that they know professionally and are able to recommend members that they have worked with. Dopplr is a social network for frequent travellers. Members can share their trips and make plans to meet up when schedules overlap.

Many social networks, including Facebook, Orkut (http://www.orkut.com), and MySpace, have opened up their platform to outside developers, allowing the development of applications for the members of the social networks. Generally, use of an application requires a member to allow the application developer access to their personal information.

8.3.1.1 Social Networking as a Marketing Tool

Social networks, free for their members, tend to rely on advertising for their revenue. Because of demographic information collected by the social networks, advertisers are able to target their advertisements to a particular audience.

Applications are another way to market products. Creating a useful application that is relevant to a product can expose a whole new audience to a company’s offering as well as allow the company to collect detailed information on their users.

Profiles are not limited to people. Bands, for example, have found immense success creating MySpace profiles and using the profiles as a means of connecting with their current and potential fan base.

Facebook pages provide a venue for an online presence for groups, organizations, and small businesses.

Marketers can also use social networks to identify how users are perceiving or interacting with their brand and open up new avenues of communication with them. For example, if you are marketing a bar, look to see how many people are using a social network to organize events at your bar. Find a way of rewarding those who are bringing you extra customers.

Social networks are also an avenue for members to voice frustrations and annoyances, and these should be closely watched by marketers to gauge sentiment.

8.4 Creating content and opinion: blogging and podcasting

Everyone has an opinion, and the Internet allows for everyone to share their opinion. Blogs and podcasts have emerged as social media that are being embraced across the Internet population.

8.4.1 Blogging

A blog is a Web site where entries (blog posts) are typically displayed in reverse chronological order. Blogs usually allow for comments on blog posts. A typical blog will feature text, images, and links to other blogs and Web sites related to the topic of the blog. Blogs range from the personal to the political and everything in between. They can be written by one person or by a group of people. Some are aimed at the blogger’s immediate family and friends, and others rival leading newspapers in terms of reach and readership. Blogs are mostly textual but can be composed solely of images, videos, audio, or any combination of these.

The power of blogs is that they allow anyone to publish and share ideas, and anyone can read and respond to these. They have given consumers and companies a voice, and blogging has opened up a world of information-sharing possibilities.

The basic elements of a blog post are the following:

  • Author. The person who wrote the blog post.
  • Blog-post title. The title of the blog post, which is usually used to create a unique URL, or permalink, for the blog post.
  • Tag. The categories used to describe the blog post and aid services such as Technorati in categorizing blog posts.
  • Comment. Comments left by readers of the blog that are shown with the blog post.
  • TrackBack. A notification of other blogs linking to a post, often displayed below the blog post.

Some other elements of a blog include the following:

  • RSS feed. A way for readers to subscribe easily to the blog.
  • Categories. Blog posts can be grouped into categories by their topic.
  • Blogroll. A collection of links to other blogs or Web sites commonly read or used by the blogger.
  • Archives. Previous posts that remain available for visitors to search through. Archives are usually categorized by date.

RSS readers can be integrated with an e-mail client, can work offline, or can be online only. Some are free, and some are not. Look at your e-mail client to see if you can set one up there, or try http://www.bloglines.com, http://www.google.com/reader, or http://www.feeddemon.com. Find the one with the features that suit your needs.

RSS readers are a useful way to keep up to date with blogs, as most supply an RSS feed of their posts. Still confused? Take a look at http://commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english.

Whether blogging as an individual or a company, plenty can be gained from the process. You can do the following:

  • Create an online identity
  • Create a voice for yourself or your company
  • Promote engagement with your audience
  • Create a community

8.4.2 Blogging and SEO

Search engines value regular, fresh content, and by blogging you can create just that. The more you post, the more often search engines will spider your site looking for additional, relevant content. Basing your blog on your keyword strategy created in the search engine optimization (SEO) process can also aid your Web site in ranking for those key phrases. Blogs, by their social nature, can also increase the incoming links to your Web site. Using a blog platform that has been designed to be search engine friendly is crucial to harnessing the SEO power of blogging. Some features of SEO-friendly blogging software include the following:

  • Each blog post should be assigned a unique page that can be easily accessed and indexed by the search engines. This is called a permalink.
  • Pages should be able to be tagged with keywords relevant to your SEO strategy.
  • Each post should be able to have its own unique metadata (title, description, and key phrases).
  • Social-bookmarking functionality should be built in.

8.4.3 Corporate blogging

Blogs can be very successful marketing tools. They are an excellent way to communicate with staff, investors, industry members, journalists, and prospective customers. Blogging also helps to foster a community around a brand and provides an opportunity to garner immediate feedback on developments. This is an audience made up of players key to the success of a company: that makes it important to get blogging right.

Generally the tasks that a blogger undertakes include:

  • Writing posts
  • Replying to comments from readers
  • Monitoring other blogs within the industry
  • Keeping up to date with the latest industry news
  • Building relationships with other bloggers in the community
  • Commenting on other blogs

For corporate blogs, it is important to outline a strategy and establish guidelines before starting the blog, especially as there will most likely be a number of contributors. Transparency and honesty are important, but companies also need to be aware of sensitive information being blogged. If there are “no go” areas, they need to be clearly defined to the parties involved. While certain topics can be restricted, ultimately the bloggers should be granted the freedom to express both negative and positive points of view about the approved topics.

Positive claims are more believable if the blogger is able to express negative views as well. For example, Robert Scoble in his popular blog http://www.scobleizer.com admitted that the Firefox browser was better than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Robert Scoble was an employee of Microsoft at the time. This honesty gave him a credible voice, and so his positive views on Microsoft are respected by the community.

Corporate blog content should be:

  • Industry relevant
  • Appealing to your target market
  • Transparent and honest
  • Personal and entertaining
  • Related to what’s going on in the blogosphere
  • Posted regularly

8.4.4 Promoting blogs

Longevity rests in the hands of the blogger, but here are some tips to raise the profile of a blog:

  • List the blog in blog directories. While they are not as popular as search engines, many Internet users do in fact visit them while looking for information. Examples include Google’s Directory (http://www.google.com/dirhp) and BlogCatalog (http://www.blogcatalog.com).
  • Ping Web services with updated content. Sites like Ping-o-Matic (http://pingomatic.com) and Feed Shark (http://feedshark.brainbliss.com) offer a service whereby they ping multiple Web services, blog directories, and search engines to let them know that a blog has fresh content.
  • Use TrackBacks. If a blogger writes a new entry commenting on, or referring to, an entry on your blog, and both blogging tools support the TrackBack protocol, then the commenting blogger can notify your blog with a “TrackBack ping”; the receiving blog will typically display summaries of, and links to, all the commenting entries below the original entry. This allows for conversations spanning several blogs that readers can easily follow.
  • Participate in the blogosphere. You cannot expect anyone to engage on your blog if you are not engaging on theirs. It is all about fostering a sense of community.
  • Make use of aggregators. Examples of aggregators include Technorati, Amatomu, and Afrigator.
  • Use traffic-generating tools like MyBlogLog. The MyBlogLog (http://www.mybloglog.com) widget allows you to see who in the MyBlogLog community has visited your site and they can see if you have visited their site in return.

8.4.5 Microblogging

Microblogging is a form of blogging that allows a user to publish short text updates, usually limited to two hundred characters that can be viewed by anyone or restricted to a specified community as specified by the microblogger. This can be accomplished using various communication tools such as instant messaging (IM) via the Web, text messaging on your mobile phone, and even a Facebook application. Microblogging can also refer to the publishing of short posts using a limited number of images, audio, or video files. Currently, the most popular text microblogging service is called Twitter (http://www.twitter.com), which was launched in July 2006. Other similar sites include the likes of Jaiku (http://www.jaiku.com), Identi.ca (http://www.identi.ca), as well as Yammer (http://www.yammer.com). Examples of rich media-based microblogs include Tumblr (http://www.tumblr.com), Streem (http://www.streem.us), and Soup (http://www.soup.io). On Twitter, posts are called tweets and are limited to 140 characters. Despite frequent disruptions to Twitter’s service, its users are fiercely loyal. These posts are usually short thoughts or URLs to interesting articles.

8.4.6 Blogs as a marketing tool: listen and engage

Blogs are powerful because of their reach, their archives (information is seldom deleted and is thus available long after it has been posted), and the trust that other consumers place in them. For a marketer, they present opportunities to learn how others perceive your brand and to engage with your audience. Some brands get this right; some get it wrong.

Above are some guidelines for corporate blogging, but marketers do not need to be bloggers to use this tool. As with all other social media, blogs provide a snapshot of audience sentiment regarding a brand. Marketers can also listen to blog activity around competitors in order to gain market insights.

Although blogging is the best way to respond to and engage with bloggers, companies can also interact with bloggers by commenting on relevant posts. Demonstrating the capacity to listen to bloggers, and then respond using the same medium, can reap tremendous benefits with this community.

8.4.7 Podcasting

A podcast is a digital radio (or video) program downloadable from the Internet. Podcasts started as audio blogs. People then figured out a way of distributing them using the same RSS feeds that were being used to distribute blog post information. It was then possible to subscribe to a podcast. Suddenly you could listen to a whole range of programs and voices whenever and wherever you wanted. It was radio without a station telling what you could hear and when. Just as blogs have allowed people to become writers without having to deal with a media channel controlled by someone else, podcasting has allowed anyone who fancies it to become a broadcaster.

With the right kind of “podcatching” software on your computer, the latest edition of any podcast you subscribe to is automatically downloaded every time you log on. Most people use iTunes. Go to http://www.apple.com/itunes/store for more information on podcasting and a huge list of available podcasts. You can listen on your computer or transfer the file to an iPod or any other kind of MP3 player. You don’t have to have an iPod to listen; the name came from the fact that the iPod was taking off at the same time and the “pod” (play on demand) part fitted this new medium. Podcasts are usually free.

8.4.8 Creating a Podcast

Podcasts are usually recorded and edited using home equipment and done for the love of it. There is specialized podcasting software available like Apple’s Garage Band or QuickTime Pro. These packages make it quite simple to record, mix, and format the audio files correctly. Just like bloggers, though, many podcasters are trying to figure out ways of making money from their podcasts and turning listeners into revenue.

Many people are producing music podcasts. This has meant a huge move to circumvent traditional rights issues about downloading music from the Internet. There is now a large body of music that is classified “podsafe.” This has either been composed especially for podcasts (as jingles, etc.) or the artist has specifically decided that they want their music to be available via the Net for all who want to hear it.

8.4.9 Podcasts as marketing tools

Podcasts offer an incredible opportunity for marketers. The bottom line is that you now have a way of getting content to your target markets without having to persuade a media channel to carry it or to pay huge advertising rates.

Podcasts have the following traits:

  • Targetable. You can create highly relevant, niche content and then promote it to a specific target market.
  • Measurable. You can see exactly how many downloads and subscribers you have.
  • Controllable. It’s your content.
  • Responsive. Set up a blog alongside your podcast, alter content according to the comments, and you are actually having a conversation with your market.
  • Boundary free. It’s the Internet.
  • Relatively inexpensive. They don’t cost a lot to maintain.

However, the content must have the following traits:

  • Excellent quality. Like anything on the Internet, it is just as easy to unsubscribe as it is to subscribe. Quality content is what keeps listeners coming back.
  • Real. While there is value in having product or service information embedded in a Web site, there is no point at all in producing an audio version of a company brochure as a regular podcast. Consumers are losing faith in the content of traditional media. Even if editorial is not actually paid for, much of the time it has been influenced in some way by advertisers. Although there are podcasts that carry advertisements, people can fast-forward straight past them, and the chance of real success lies in branded content.

This is not about advertising or even just product information. It is about coming up with ideas for real programs that, through informing or entertaining, enhance your customers’ experiences of your brand.

Viral marketing

Viral marketing is a form of word-of-mouth marketing that aims to result in a message spreading exponentially. It takes its name from a virus because of the similarities that marketers aim to emulate:

  • It is easily passed on.
  • The number of people who have been “infected” grows exponentially.