Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be frivolous or useful. Frivolous: More than 724,000 kids (my son included) are Facebook fans of “Don’t complain about grading 140 essays over the weekend, you assigned it.”
Powerful: 18,000 people bypass the hype-steria surrounding the H1N1 flu by following the Center for Disease Control on Twitter. The CDC provides factual updates as information becomes available.
For most people, social media lies between the two extremes.
According to Forrester Research, almost 60% of Internet users use social media. Other research shows that a third of social media users are quite active, updating their statuses at least once a week. Their reasons vary, but 54% say they do it to stay in touch with friends and family. Less than five percent report they “regularly” use it to make buying decisions.
That will likely change. Nielsen says global consumers spent more than five hours on social networking sites in December 2009. That’s an 82% increase over December 2008. With that kind of growth, more and more companies are using social networking. They see an opportunity to build their brands and strengthen their connection with customers.
Carnival Cruise helped an unhappy customer locate the t-shirts he thought the cruise line stole from him. They only way they knew he was unhappy about it was that he tweeted about it. But companies like more than just broadcasting via social media. In fact, for the individuals who actually tweet for a company, the best part is hearing from followers.
Herman Miller uses Facebook and Twitter to share good news (such as its inclusion on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list), product information, and job openings, and to find out what’s on customers’minds.
What is on their minds? Sometimes it’s their chair’s warranty, but other times it’s a pet. Take the tweet from @stacyharmon: Apparently my cat finds my Aeron chair as comfortable as I do. http://post.ly/KL10. All of it helps “humanize the brand,” social media experts say.
Social media—especially Twitter, which doesn’t allow tweets to be longer than 140 characters—also forces companies to be clear, concise, and clever. That’s good news for consumers. If they don’t have us at hello, then we say buh-bye.
Photo via: Harmon Enterprises