An exploration into how online virtual communities could contribute to the marketing potential and development of small businesses in the current climate of local economic downturn and multi corporation dominance.
Introduction How can small businesses better harness the power of the Internet? What is the future of online marketing and social networking sites? Can they or even, should they converge? Would this be a positive or disastrous move in respect to both small businesses and consumers? How businesses can leverage the potentials virtual social networking offers them for development and growth is an area of research that has not been explored in any thorough manner.
These and many similar questions have prompted me to instigate this research where I have undertaken a close inspection of a variety of primary and secondary sources of data and set up my own social network for my Public house business online. The subject also compliments my Final Major Project for my degree where I am investigating and developing the concept of a convergent media strategy for the development of small businesses. Web-based communication trends have seen a rapid increase over recent times than could have ever been predicted in previous years.
The growth of the use of the internet has allowed a plethora of social networking sites to emerge, some of which are namely: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, CyWorld, Twitter. In 2009 we began to see an exponential growth of social media. Consumers are beginning to blend their own needs and behaviours with novel online activities. An example of this is how businesses are using and setting up Face-book groups and pages and becoming known via the wider social networks of their small user or consumer bases already in place.
An early example of social networking, SixDegrees. com was a social network service website that lasted from 1997 to 2001 and was based on the Web of Contacts model of social systems. It was named after the six degrees of separation concept and allowed users to list friends, family members and acquaintances both on the site and externally; external contacts were invited to join the site. The following Chapters will be an exposition of my research done in this area. Chapter One – Research into Trends
It is argued in this research paper that having a basic website and logo is no longer enough and hoping for customers, either by recommendation or accident, to stumble across your site is not enough. How can your service or products reach the right audience? Research into this area has illustrated that by not solely establishing, but by continuously maintaining an increasingly personal link with the customer base any business can maximize sales and profit better than was possible ever before.
It is believed that customers want options, interaction, efficiency, and suitable advertising tailored to their needs. To deliver this, I believe businesses need to identify their audience better, and operate on a more personable level. Most businesses online tend to bombard potential customers with information that is unsuitable, and Social networking sites. We are currently witnessing certain trends and developments in the virtual world that we were unable to predict at the inception of the Internet or worldwide web.
As we watch the future unfold at such a rapid rate, with the uptake and daily growth of people using, sharing, connecting and disseminating personal information, shared interests and activities on online community networks the possibilities for computer-mediated social interaction and what it could mean for businesses are only beginning to emerge. “Although social media adoption is increasing, many brands are still struggling to be effective with it. Businesses have to understand what consumers are doing now in order to be successful moving forward. ” http://blogs. hbr. org/cs/2009/11/six_social_media_trends. html
Portable devices, products that are web-enabled are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the global market. The compulsion for mobile dominance, with renowned companies such as Google and Apple battling it out producing device after device and saturating the market has set the tone for the advent of a networked society with information at their fingertips. This, of course naturally has its downsides, in regards to driving a materialistic consumerism culture, negating a sustainable future etc, which unfortunately I will not have time to delve into during the course of this paper, but is certainly worth a mention.
The psychology behind individuals who may get immersed in interacting via social networking sites is rather complex on deeper inspection. Arguably, people don’t want to be entertained as much as they want to belong. “A fundamental open question in the analysis of social networks is to understand the interplay between similarity and social ties. People are similar to their neighbors in a social network for two distinct reasons: first, they grow to resemble their current friends due to social influence; and second, they tend to form new links to others who are already like them, a process often termed selection by sociologists. http://doi. acm. org/10. 1145/1401890. 1401914 Businesses Human beings naturally form networks. Whether this is because they share a space or a common interest, it is the interaction and communication within these networks, which constructs and maintains growth in every business or organisation. It is believed that the future trends of small business marketing and advertising capacity is growing towards social networking, due to the increase in the average household’s online activity. For some small businesses it is a struggle for survival on a week-to-week basis at times.
From giant overheads to one real earner, companies can spend most of their energy levels on simply staying afloat. For local small businesses in this global economic downturn and multi corporation dominance era, online social networking is a greater way to advertise in comparison to the previous major mediums of newspaper, radio and television. Social Networking is arguably collectively a greater output for marketing potential as it offers a more complete form of marketing in relation to those before it, due to its local interactive communication lines and up-to-date personal and seasonal capacity.
It is the future avenue for small businesses for marketing to reach and benefit the most clientele and has already begun to replace local radio, newspaper and television in a community capacity. Small, local businesses have the opportunity to adopt and apply the personal touch with their customer base. By re-engaging with regular clientele, taking the time to understand their particular, individual needs, their likes and dislikes, wants and hopes they can aim to listen to their outlook, blog their future and empower their past.
Any form of advertising would be catered and targeted to the appropriate individual or group of people. Local and global communities with shared interests would be offered solutions and services to benefit them specifically. In theory, with the right form of legislation in place, it could be a win-win scenario. Of course, there will be some possibility for abuse of any such system as there is with any new technological development but it could be refined in stages to limit these.
Freely given and available information on potential consumer interests will be invaluable knowledge for local independent businesses. By utilizing the Internet and these already available media platforms to help disseminate their marketing campaigns advertising could become more tailored and less intrusive. Much of advertising is ignored and seen as a nuisance due to the fact that it is blindly targeted at random consumers with no need or desire to purchase the product or service in question. A convergence of online social networking sites and local small businesses would begin to eradicate this issue.
It may even encourage the existing customer-base that some small businesses have built-up and nurtured over the years to stay local as they will be seen as moving with the times, awakening and revamping the online marketplace and providing an 24-hour, easily accessible virtual layer to their profile. Another benefit would be that it could also even out the stronghold from established global and international companies who are currently monopolizing the retail markets such as Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s supermarkets.
Running a business, no matter what scale, can take up a substantial amount of time throughout each day. Many people worry about and find that their small business can very quickly take up all of their much-needed headspace – therefore using the powerful interactive features of online social networking, regardless of whether they are a seasoned developer or continually learning via novice mistakes, will allow them still connect with and target thousands upon thousands of customers.
International Markets will logically then suddenly appear reachable, enabling company growth, increasing profit and revenue margins and increasing the existing consumer base to a target mass never before viable. This new communication platform will not only more easily facilitate board members in the management and financial decision-making process, but also help equip front line employees on the ground with the tools, opportunities and market knowledge. Communications will be auto-logged and it will allow management and staff work off the same platform, empowering employees on all levels with the in-house social network.
Business managers will be helping all levels of staff to consistently recognize the company’s forward thinking goal, saving time on repetitive weekly meetings that a simple click of a mouse can deliver. Individual employees will be able to construct profiles and begin to post relevant content, publish twitter-like status updates and exchange information between specific user groups and contacts. This will allow a strengthening of working relationships between employees therefore theoretically strengthen the organizations identity.
Posting the companies profile, key information and contribution to an ongoing virtual blog can raise the companies profile and keep it in circulation continuously, not to mention encourage and empower the employee to grow and develop day by day, helping develop team building and leadership qualities, increasing their core training and other key development skills and collaboration techniques. In today’s evolving economic market place, with the right attitude small local companies can become transformed and most importantly compete, enabling them to adapt and evolve on a worldwide scale.
This global process can help develop and conjoin established local institutions with the ever-expanding tourist social communities. At the touch of a button, via viral marketing’s enhancing possibilities and together with the channels social media communication provides, the procedure by which a fledgling business (whilst in the earliest stage of erosion) can now start to develop at an international level, operating and reaching out to a vast network of potential customers has rapidly heightened its chances of success. Chapter Two – Emerging Social Platforms
Twitter The name twitter emerged from the concept of birds twittering to each other. Twitter is a simple way of keeping the customer informed of the business and community identity and interaction elements of online connections. Twitter like any new form of digital communication brings about a certain element of fear and privacy settings, involvement, and trust issues. Incorporating this virtual habit on a necessary daily basis doesn’t take the time that the greatest of doubter’s or anti Internet skeptics could imagine.
The usage of mobile phone technologies, being the precursor to Twitter, helped to shape and develop Twitter’s designing features. Text messaging was also instrumental in the processing. This is what compels Twitters ever growing legion to follow through their individual, personal, professional and social lifestyles. The tool that is twitter enables and limits users to 140 characters a a comment, which then transfer’s into a post, enabling your selected group of follower’s to consistently view your thoughts. This is the same structural compound of a mobile text message.
Giving you the right of restriction and participation, this open chat room/forum allows and evolves the instant messaging era to higher level. Interesting opinions whilst traveling are lost and found throughout our life times, but thanks to twitter the hectic work schedule of a Managing Director for example, enables the Executive to update short comments, without feeling the necessary need to reply to those who are in receivership. Due to it’s 140-character limitation, means it automatically shortens the amount of text for those who regularly communicate and think along the general lines of marketing out-put vocabulary.
The business-to-business opportunity is unprecedented, as this simple tool saves again on time factors and travel expenses to simply relay a message, eradicating the need for meetings, updates and niceties. This simple way to follow extremely influential people via twitter saves on emailing those contacts that appear out of your current professional circles. Again this linked to personal blogs and other media outlets, improves and shares more day-to-day knowledge than ever before. Also, Twitter doesn’t have to be subscribed to.
This near perfect small or large business tool can be used as a monitoring system for the company by viewing what people are saying once this standpoint and the vast twitter search engine have emerged. Positive gossip can enhance and contribute to an ever-increasing online business profile. A list of who has mentioned your company is at your fingertips – revolutionising the market place into dimensions never before seen or utilized. This cross-virtual conception alerts those who have been recognized and develops positive encouragements, further opinionated features, educational, marketing and gross development.
Each thought is a click away from drawing the industry tighter and allowing the global interaction to become one. This helps to eradicate previous corporate barriers and lessen over-spending on employee wage bills as any information is there for all to obtain. Announcing a special offer, seasonal promotion is another tremendous plus where by the CEO of a small business can utilize on twitter’s instant audience and open chat forum. This aspect is a vital form of announcing sales, clearings in stock and services, as small businesses rely heavily on structured rotational turnovers.
Sale products need to sell, or a weekly loss can result an increased amount of financial inventories, having a domino effect on much needed company stability and growth. Events together with last minute marketing tools all participate side by side letting individual decision maker’s benefit from live updates. Promoting viewpoints connects the customer and company closer and influences relevant articles via twitter’s outstanding PR heaven. New customer relationships float from cloud to cloud to soar higher and higher, increasing as never before.
A link connected to your professional post can spread via the information super highway in a direction that reins the power of communicative trends previously never imagined. Gone are the face-to-face service pleasantries today and in future those connecting will be expanding far quicker through a no-nonsense efficient service provider. Users can find you through their friends, search, and more. To follow a newfound friend, you simple click the box at the bottom of most websites, online blogs, or facebook profiles. Clicking the follow button connects businesses to relentless productive possibilities.
Most of the time they will follow you back, making it easy after surfing the Internet. It’s like having a global open day, a marketers dreamland. This concept and others like it will enable small businesses to survive, grow, develop, educate and also avoid environmental obstacles that can cripple a company through no fault of its own. Chatting independantly between like-minded, responsible professionals aids the sometimes isolating world of a small business owner. Newsreels can be recognised across the world with the importance of media channels and with the speed of critical consumer information being already so obtainable.
Common interests are an intelligent, motivational use of online social networks, along with hunger for development and materialistic instinctive wants and needs that dictate the driven world we live in today. The form of medium to which your valuable message is transferred on needs to be easy to transfer in connection with the required downloaded software, configured email and multi tangent url, link, website and/or graphic logo. It’s simplistic in that messages are limited to solely 140 characters thereby curbing the necessity of the content and avoiding sending the recipient into information overload.
Online options of new marketing strategies can follow a number of diverse pathways to obtain maximum publishing potential, therefore a mindset needs to be adapted to compete with the designers, researchers and investigative assets of multinational corporations and to enable the small business to survive in such markets. Suggesting an over-haul is not completely necessary – as by following simple principles it is an area whereby not only will the small business prosper, but the knowledge and expertise of the manager in charge will blossom beyond imaginings.
Taking advantage of online resources and informing your customers will highlight a trusting element, which has kept small structured companies in relatively comfortable financial positions throughout decades of change. This can also be used as a channel to get your ‘word out’. Companies who initially release free programs devised from personal expertise attract an inquisitive virgin customer base. Listing free news and local current affairs can keep the customer closer to businesses in the virtual and environmental sense.
Many multinational and corporative businesses such as “Tesco” and Argos, to name but a few, have expanded to include many diverse products and services for financial gain. From insurance, to materials that were once sold on a specialist platform, it is a sign that the personal understanding and communication of the small company must utilize and develop to maximize a collective spirit between their audience. By linking and connecting global customers together and empowering all aspects of what their service area of manufacture may be, will it benefit all.
Chapter Three – Convergence Between Business and Social Networks Online social networking benefits small businesses in longevity standings – due to its web based international participation and due to the customers’ increased consumer knowledge and power and choice. It demands a higher leverage in the marketing and advertising leagues. “This revolution will play out differently in different parts of the world, and it will probably play out differently than we expect, unless we truly understand the new hybrid consumer.
It poses new convergence challenges, but raises the same timeless questions: How will consumers interact with the technology? ” file:///Users/useruser/Desktop/Social%20Networking%20Research/Convergence%20Marketing. webarchive South Wales local businesses could benefit greater from online social networking than any previous medium of advertising, due to its diverse residential area’s of valley’s, villages and the growing trend in online participation as promoting has never been easier.
Much of the primary research I undertook in relation to this subject matter involved the popular social networking site Facebook. Having physically worked and developed a family business namely a public house named Molly OD’s, over the last two decades, I have frontline experience in the development and progression of a small companies struggles and growth. I took into account the local community’s identity and the environment’s strong ties, and for want of a better word, it’s obsessive connection towards Facebook, of which a large area of the community post and interact daily.
The particular aim of the research I set out to gather was to discover more first-hand knowledge of social networking and its relationship with a small business, then to devise a Facebook Group dedicated to the virtual online representation of the company to track it’s development. The group formed fairly easily, as I allocated administrator and began adding our regular clientele. By beginning with a timely seasonal event, Halloween, I posted many other events as and when the time arose.
As a communal, up-to-date marketing platform, it gave me the opportunity and relevance to publish new real-time information at its creative launch. As one of four administrators, I engaged with online Facebook friends by inviting them to participate daily in relevant activates. Posting photographs and video footage of events, commenting on real life information, which subsequently and increasingly brought the chosen clienteles attention to the group thereby elevating the identity an PR of the business.
Rapidly the membership grew at a pace that reflected my input, the time spent adding and inviting customers, manipulating organised event’s and graphically presenting the style format of the Group, reflected the researched view point of social networking expert’s, who’s strong suggestion’s to follow rules guidelines and principles, led to a sky rocketed membership number of 390 rising daily. I would say that the feedback from the revenue has reflected its success. http://www. facebook. com/group. hp? gid=192346526981 The Internet and ubiquitous computing has altered the manner in which we work and live. Individuals can now wake and tune into whichever commercial and community informative direction their minds desire. This will be in tangent with their mindset for each and every moment, enabling them to investigate, explore and arrive at a destination from a simply initiated thought process. Online communities are central to a small businesses sustainable model for business ideals.
The development and examination of the relevant communities may develop in time through interaction between the customers in tangent to the business’ staff and breaking trends. Due to previously narrow barriers that were originally in place between security, opening times, distance, and commitment – there will now arise an empowerment of the rights, enjoyment, decision-making elements of the customer. Together with future involvement on a more personal base, it can be argued that people will buy with their Hearts and emotions rather than their heads.
In the future it is envisioned that both the interests and common passions embedded in small businesses and their product and service identities will be built around local knowledge, together with peace of mind, of which environmental closeness is a choice and a plus factor in opposition to larger multi national corporate business platforms. Small businesses have survived over time due to local activities with a collective purpose. Real world communities serve a purpose, exchanging and assisting information and transactions.
Online platforms however, provide value for each customer, whether they are considering, reflecting of partaking in the shared collective experience eg. Amazon, Ebay, etc. Shared purposes together with circumstance enable collective trends to develop through awareness and shared experience. Participants are incentivised and rewarded through higher participation levels. Businesses could look to incentivise activity within their internal or external networks.
Communities can educate companies and small business – their specific outlook can form the initial link, along with relevant attitudes built on value due to collective approaches. The participation of viral marketing is a key simplistic process of online communal behaviour that is argued in this research paper neither the business nor its cliental can pass up. ” There’s no question that the Internet has changed the way we do business – especially when it comes to marketing.
Consumer environments are short on trust and populated by consumers who are cynical, savvy, and informed. Though it’s easier than ever to reach your customers, it’s less likely that they’ll listen. Today, the most valuable online currency isn’t the dollar, but trust itself. At the same time, social networks and personal connections have far more influence on consumers than your marketing messages ever will – unless your business knows how to harness them ” http://www. totalpicture. com/shows/online-savvy/chris-brogan-podcast-trust-agents. tml Linking popular social networking sites such as Face-book with twitter is one prime example of taking your Profile to a larger audience. “Users’ interactions with your Page spread naturally to their friends ” http://jobsinpods. wordpress. com/category/facebook-recruiting-tips/page/2/ Your friends on that profile can subscribe with a simple click to a posted group page that you have joined, connecting your worlds, becoming socially compatible. Structure inside these social networks is forever being updated, continuing the trend of up to date online knowledge and current trends development.
Inside most sites are applications that are becoming second nature to those who use them, teaching and learning the forgotten interactive generation, an age group who I. T knowledge and awareness was lost for a decade or so, there social skills to day are what give the majority of group, fan pages and business/service add there strength in depth. Via viral distribution and users’ interactions with your Page spread naturally to their friends. To do this Facebook pages exists which enables you to create Fan pages and badges at: http://www. acebook. com/note. php? note_id=208890659821 This sort of activity enables you more control in your small business mass marketing options. Some people say that social networking will be the only way to advertise in ten years from now – where as the opposing camp argues that it’s simply a fad and another form of market will replace it in time. It is however, free, which is one of its benefit’s as it doesn’t cost a penny and navigation is key. Brand awareness can make it easy to spread your business grand globally.
Social networking requires a daily commitment to sustain your brand awareness. Time and effort can be wasted if you feel that this fad will fade. A commercial will not do – viable information about the subjects you market can be as creative, imaginative and entertaining as possible. You would need to find a software or site that you are comfortable with to send the message out and post what you are an expert in to reaffirm your expertise. Posts need to be kept limited – by staying steadfast on how your postings are doing and sticking to a limit time wise, ie.
Possibly one blog post a day would maximise efficiency. Retweets can be sent out of something else of interest in relation to tweets. It is important to keep your ear to the ground as social networking needs to be considered for the future as it covers all aspects of individual and changing market forces. Tips and rules I have gathered in my research for successful social networking marketing would include: – Abiding by rules and protocols and common practice to make it effective – One site? Or many? – This depends on how much time you have! it’s better to make a really good profile that is strong and interactive – Look who’s already talking – research – build a whole sphere – there are topic’s that you can join, put your energy in sites that have a group like you – Prepare your site before you construct it – don’t waist peoples time – if people see that your site is under construction – get your stuff together before you invite them – like a house – keep it tidy and ready – Invite your supporters who you already have – to be invited over to be your friends at the new site – they will be already connected to you – Post your most viral content – the content that most interesting – that’s fresh and new – before your old info will be then better received – Test the water first – test your page to see how you can innovate it best – take the time to look at people – you wouldn’t do it with your home – take it seriously – out a couple of questionnaires, get a feel for the market before you jump in feet first – recover for the market is possible – social marketing can help you – its not worth it – test first – Don’t waste your time – don’t just sit there trying to create the wheel all over again – it’s most probably already out there – Send them to your Market place – give them information – direct them – don’t leave them sat out in limbo waiting for more information – easy prominent links, interact at the end of each effort via website and social networks, that you’ve taken the time to build. – Keep track of who comes to your site and from which particular links Conclusion Social media – has in itself turned into an online small business. Be it independent companies such as http://www. chrisbrogan. om/about/ (describing a successful multimedia practitioner who uses social media and both web and mobile technologies to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals) or people selling house-hold goods via ebay…the world is there to be marketed and sold – yet the community structure of a business – the specific elements of clientele information and data – is what makes it worthwhile. A final example is Starbucks, which is in principle a simple coffee shop, is yet such a huge global factor – yet you socially interact there – you – come and go from there – its brand is well designed through eye candy and a certain trend setting manipulation – that is what they all want – your time. Promoting your products and services as an online knowledge platform to discuss relevant issues, would result in possibly not the customer purchasing or enhancing the small businesses financial revenue daily, but what it will do is raise and establish the profile in a way that only good public relations work can do.
The customer’s time is a valuable asset to possess – to manipulate, to empower, to participate – to do all these things from your own home – via mobile networks – or simply watch others do so – is where the future trends of small business survival lies in my opinion. However, on the flip side of this, nobody wants or needs over exposure – and dying a death from too much exposure – it’s a simple case of waiting for when people are ready to engage in your small business and only then taking it to the next level. Bibliography URLS: [WWW] http://twitter. com/Vimeo (10 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://vimeo. com/channels/search:social+media/page:2/sort:relevant (13 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://thenextweb. com/2010/01/11/starbucks-formula-social-media-success/? awesm=tnw. to_12MmX&utm_medium=tnw. to-twitter&utm_source=direct-tnw. to&utm_content=tweetmeme (16 Jan 2010) WWW] http://twitter. com/cianmcloughlin1 (17 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. ramius. net/products/sixent/how. php (17 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. socialgo. com/is-it-for-me. htm (18 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://cashflow. rbs. co. uk/? DCMP=KNC-RBSCSHFLWPPC&gclid=CLec5ZSUrZ8CFRyFzAodhSAk0A (13 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://twitter. com/SmallBizForum (13 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://twitter. com/#favorites (13 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. socialmedia. biz/2010/01/11/2010-predictions-for-web-2-0-and-social-networks/ (16 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://thenextweb. com/2010/01/11/starbucks-formula-social-media-success/ (16 Jan 2010) Videos [WWW] http://www. youtube. com/watch? =br00vpBEccI (16 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=gQmlQFsy1ds (16 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=qbkqQmGIyi0 (16 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. facebook. com/l. php? u=http%253A%252F%252Fwww. youtube. com%252Fwatch% 253Fv%253DbgWTFYKv0U0&h=edf4e1c5b5650ebd3706f555122fd23e&ref=mf (16 Jan 2010) [WWW] http://www. blonde2dot0. com/blog/ (16 Jan 2010) Amazon. com – books http://www. amazon. com/Social-Media-Marketing-Hour-Day/dp/0470344024/ref=sr_1_1? ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264000006&sr=8-1 http://www. amazon. com/Social-Media-Marketing-Book/dp/0596806604/ref=sr_1_2? ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264000006&sr=8-2 http://www. mazon. com/Social-Media-Bible-Strategies-Business/dp/0470411554/ref=sr_1_3? ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264000006&sr=8-3 http://www. amazon. com/Social-Media-Marketing-Dummies-Singh/dp/0470289341/ref=sr_1_4? ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264000006&sr=8-4 http://www. amazon. com/Facebook-Marketing-Leverage-Social-Business/dp/0789738023/ref=sr_1_9? ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264000006&sr=8-9 References “Although social media adoption is increasing, many brands are still struggling to be effective with it. Businesses have to understand what consumers are doing now in order to be successful moving forward. ” http://blogs. hbr. org/cs/2009/11/six_social_media_trends. html A fundamental open question in the analysis of social networks is to understand the interplay between similarity and social ties. People are similar to their neighbors in a social network for two distinct reasons: first, they grow to resemble their current friends due to social influence; and second, they tend to form new links to others who are already like them, a process often termed selection by sociologists. ” http://doi. acm. org/10. 1145/1401890. 1401914 “This revolution will play out differently in different parts of the world, and it will probably play out differently than we expect, unless we truly understand the new hybrid consumer. It poses new convergence challenges, but raises the same timeless questions: How will consumers interact with the