Social media encompass communication possible throughout all of the forms of social communities online. Social-media communities include forums, virtual worlds, social news organizations, social opinion-sharing sites, and social networks. Social networks are built around site platforms that enable members to develop identity profiles, interact with other members, and participate in various site activities. Social networks are 2D environments with identity representation limited to one's profile rather than by visually detailed avatars common to virtual worlds. Although interactions with others can seemingly approximate synchronous real-time communication, the messaging structure is static rather than dynamic. Networks can be thought of as utility-based tools. They are an elegant but fun way to organize content, socialize, and promote one's self-identity.
Despite this, social networks have grown in popularity from their ability to provide a platform for information sharing, communication, and relationship development and maintenance. In a world where individuals may have reduced physical contact and heightened time spent interacting with electronic devices, social networks have evolved to provide an online platform for personal, intimate, informal neighborhood and office chatter. They offer a sense of "contact comfort" in a society where many of us spend less time with actual people than we do with machines. Contact comfort helps to meet individual needs for affiliation and socialization. Social networks meet our need for contact comfort while also providing entertainment and information sharing.
Social networks are above all else communication hubs. While they all offer the core product of networking capabilities, networks do find ways to differentiate themselves. Myspace and Facebook support relationship building and maintenance. YouTube offers a venue for sharing and promoting videos and related opinions. Flickr enables photo sharing and reviewing. LinkedIn provides a form of self-promotion and career networking. There are niche sites as well focused on any number of hobbies and personal interests. Catster, for example, offers tips and information on caring for one's feline companion with the added benefit of being able to talk with others who define themselves in part by the pets they love. Several social networks will be described in this chapter.
Social networks, like other online communities, are participatory, conversational, and fluid. Members produce, publish, control, critique, rank, and interact with online content. On Facebook, for instance, the second most popular social network, members can build a profile that includes information about their education, habits, favorite movies and books, and other personality indicators. They can send and receive messages to members, "friend" people, and join groups and networks. Profiles can be complemented with pictures, news feeds on member activities (e.g., Tracy just went shopping), and a variety of widgets. Widgets are small applications made up of code embedded on a Web site. Facebook widgets enable members to virtually hug, wink, smile, and engage in a host of other behaviors. Most sites offer similar features, with messaging, profiling, and friending being the core functions of any network site. The interaction with others enhances the need to return to the site and continue the process of generating new content. The result is an online community of friends who may spend hours in the network each day.
Mashable, a social-networking news Web site, claims more than 350 social-networking sites exist. It wasn't terribly long ago that social networking was thought of primarily as a teenage pastime with general Internet population statistics suggesting only about 15% of Internet users visited social-networking sites.' Since those early days of online communities, social networking has taken off as a cultural phenomenon among youth with 70% of teens reporting use of online networking sites. These days adults, too, are social-networking online. Social-networking sites are among the fastest growing and most commonly visited sites online. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the top ten most-visited social networking sites reach 45% of active Internet users. Despite the diversity of sites targeting Internet users based on a host of hobbies, interests, and demographic characteristics, two sites, MySpace and Facebook, reach more than any of the others. It is reported by comScore that MySpace reached more than 40% and Facebook near 20% of Internet users in the United States. The raw figures amount to hundreds of millions of unique visitors at these sites.
There is no doubt that much of this growth can be attributed to the attractive features social networks offer members. At the same time, the flat learning curve for new adopters surely plays a role. Most networking sites have advanced options for members, but the basics of joining, completing a profile, and sending and receiving messages are simple enough to be mastered in moments. The ease of use has resulted in a steep rate of adoption for social-networking sites.
Given the audience size and the length of exposure time consumers spend in the network, it is no wonder that advertisers have embraced social networks for social-media marketing more than any other community environment. eMarketer estimates that marketers spent $920 million on social network advertising in 2007, including online display advertising, in-network community sites, and brand profile pages. What's more, the research firm predicts spending on social-network advertising to reach nearly $3 billion in less than five years. This figure may sound more impressive than it actually is given that social-network advertising is still under 5% of the total expenditures on online advertising. Additionally, the vast majority of spending is directed at the two juggernauts of social networks, MySpace and Facebook. More than 70% of ad expenditures directed to social networks in the United States is placed in these two networks. Though social networks are strong in international markets, social-network advertising is for now a phenomenon focused on consumers in the United States; U.S. spending accounts for 75% of all advertising in this venue.
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The above is an excerpt from the book Advertising 2.0: Social Media Marketing in a Web 2.0 World
by Tracy L. Tuten
Published by Praeger; September 2008;$24.95US; 978-0-313-35296-6
Copyright © 2008 Tracy L. Tuten
Tracy L. Tuten Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Marketing at Longwood University. She has authored more than one hundred journal articles, book chapters, and conference presentations; her research interests include Web-based survey methods, branding and identify, and online advertising. She serves on the editorial review board for the journals Psychology & Marketing and Gender in Management and serves on the academic advisory board for the Commercial Closet.