by karen on October 13, 2012


A good question, and one suggested to me for my latest blog, written for www.bromleyhub.co.uk, a brilliant local community website for businesses and residents in the Bromley area:

Social networking (sometimes referred to as ‘social media’) was regarded half a decade ago as a somewhat ‘geeky’ pastime. Today it has risen to a position of prominence, and demanding increasing attention in our already busy lives.

Initially, some of us thought (and a few still do) that it was just a gimmick, a passing fad… So what’s it all about? And how can we make the best use of it without allowing it to ‘take over’?

Some of its offerings seem bizarre to the uninitiated; products such as toilet rolls and teenage spot cream want us to ‘like’ them on Facebook, you can ‘follow’ the weather presenter from the TV and watch endless videos of people giving demonstrations and having mishaps on YouTube (NB: Jeremy Beadle had great foresight on TV back in the 1980s).

Social networking is really just 21st century word of mouth and everyone can benefit from it, whether for business or for personal use. It’s a myth that it’s just for young people (actually, the fastest growing user group are the over 55s), and it’s definitely about listening, getting involved in conversations and engaging with relevant people. Erik Qualman, of consultancy Socialnomics, firmly believes that “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it”

Anthropologists, of course, would say that social media merely imitates our human instinct to group, share and learn.

From a business perspective, it is where increasing numbers of most businesses’ customers are ‘hanging out’ these days. And not just on Facebook – which is especially successful for consumer-based activity – but also on other established networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Foursquare and newer ones, such as Google Plus and Pinterest.

If your website is an online shop window, then social networks are the shopping mall of activity. It’s a great way to build awareness and exposure to your brand, and to connect with existing and new customers. It offers transparency and the opportunity to ‘humanise’ your brand. For professionals, networks such as LinkedIn offer an unrivalled place to network with other business people and to generate referrals to potential customers and suppliers.  The ‘Beckenham Bromley Follow Ladder’ (#BeckBromFL ) on Twitter is a great example of an ongoing local business community conversation.

Interestingly, a credible presence on certain social networks also helps to build Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), which influences how easy your company or brand name is to find on an internet search.

However, this is not to suggest that ‘online’ and ‘social media’ are the only marketing tools available for businesses, but that they do have an important role to play in the wider marketing mix , embracing both traditional and online channels.

From a social perspective, meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends and connecting with others around the globe with a shared interest or hobby are all compelling reasons to use social networks. Social networks are increasingly being used as a means of raising awareness of a cause, calling for positive action and lobbying for change. The main challenge for users is reaching out to relevant people. Those participating in social networks benefit from a greater sense of community, friendship and belonging.

Consumers are more likely now than ever before to research a product or service online before making a purchase, and an important part of this process is seeking  recommendations and referrals from others, whether they be Facebook friends, Trip Advisor users or a wider community. Not forgetting the sharing of offers, discounts and promotions. You can now send a friend a virtual drink, flowers or gifts, using  ‘apps’ linked with social networks and websites. You can ‘check in’ to venues, including  theme parks, train stations, hotels, opera houses and restaurants, see which of your friends are in nearby locations and gain loyalty benefits from patronising certain retail establishments.

An excellent example of how social media has been used to good effect can be seen during the recent 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. These events together contributed to a massive upsurge in the use of social networks, with Twitter particularly being used by millions for sporting progress updates. Ordinary people have been using social networks to convey good luck wishes to athletes, to congratulate them on their achievements and to share in their moments of glory. People from the UK and around the world have been sharing their experiences and photos with those not lucky enough to attend, extending the incredible atmosphere from inside the Olympic venues to others at home, work and across the globe. It has been a huge success for the Olympic sponsors, who have seen a  big increase in their ‘fan’ numbers and levels of brand engagement through using various social media networks.

It’s all been a very exciting journey to date, with much potential still to explore. Those of us ‘on board’ with social networking look forward to future developments, with the likely emergence and demise of different networks, the integration of new technologies and the opportunities arising from the roll out of Web 3.0.  Whilst, on the other hand, some of us have some catching up to do…

Want comment or join the discussion? Click here to visit the Bromley Hub website.


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