Darren Yan | November 19, 2010
It’s probably safe to assume that one of the first reasons why companies are rushing to establish a presence in social networking sites is the increasing number of online users who are actively participating in these online domains. More importantly, these social networking sites are starting to attract an increasingly matured demographic whose age profile may be previously ignored as a possible online user of such sites.
Popular social networking sites like Facebook are beginning to see a more broad-based participation, signalling that such sites are evolving into a mainstream communication channel.
Indeed, Nielsen Online suggested in a March 2009 report that social networks and blogs are now the fourth most popular online activity, and ominously ahead of e-mail which is the incumbent communication protocol since the evolution of the Internet. These sites collectively host online member communities which are visited by 74 percent of the global online population. In particular, Alexa reported that an average global Facebook user spends more than 30 minutes on the social networking site, representing the period where companies on these social networking platforms can potentially reach out to.
Not surprisingly, Facebook is the dominant social media platform in Asia that is accessed by more than 86 percent of online users in the region. Consider these stats from StatCounter:
Clearly, the social media platform is no longer an experimental customer engagement media, but a necessary channel to reach these users at their convenience. This convenience is extended beyond the confines of the PC/laptop/Netbook where major mobile platforms such as the iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and even the BlackBerry now have customised applications and online sites designed and formatted for mobile handsets.
In fact, Facebook is one of the very few BlackBerry applications by RIM to have the necessary clearance to be installed on any BlackBerry device, despite the high enterprise security features associated with such business-oriented devices. Not surprisingly, the number of Facebook users worldwide accessing the social media platform on their mobile handsets increased by more than 700 percent to 200 million in the last 24 months, suggesting that mobile users today are increasingly comfortable to view, update, and share information on-the-move.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that the size of these online communities should not be the sole motivating force for companies to establish their presence on these social networking sites. Social networking sites are a conduit for online communities to interact on issues which may be relevant to the nature of the company’s operations; this interaction forms the opinions and feedback which companies can use as a basis to improve their value proposition to their target audience. Crucially, the near ubiquitous access to these social media platforms on mobile handsets is expected to increase the speed of soliciting valuable customer feedback. This speed is expected to accelerate as users of tablets such as those using iPad applications like Flipboard to access and respond to comments made on popular social media platforms today.
Companies should therefore set aside resources such as a dedicated team that is focused on reviewing issues discussed on these social networking sites and if need to, respond to such feedback that allows the company’s position to be delivered with ambiguity. This is important as the nature of such online interaction is uninhibited and is not moderated by anyone on these social networking sites. As such, it is critical that companies respond unequivocally to issues which may adversely influence the public’s perception of the company. For instance, most social media users in China tend to share relatively more negative comments about product experiences vis-à-vis other Asia-Pacific countries, according to Nielsen.
Thus, a proactive and well-thought through process to interact with these online communities will reinforce the brand positioning of these companies, and foster a situation where relationships with their target audience can be built over the long run.
As mobile users actively interact with their social media network through their handsets, uploading and sharing of photographs and discussions through dedicated group forums and bulletin boards, companies will get to experience a richer set of data about these users. As a result, the converging mobile social network is expected to increase the depth and breadth of customer engagement with brand owners. It is incumbent on the latter to remain agile and responsive to the desire of today’s social media users to interact on their increasingly sophisticated mobile handsets and devices.