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Friday, February 19, 2010

Online Cultures and Offline Behaviors - Part 4 - The Importance of Social Media and Social Media as Advertising

Part 4 - The Importance of Social Media and Social Media as Advertising

The Importance of Social Media in our society

The importance of social media is quickly growing; some cities have developed online community newspapers. Social media and online cultures do matter.  Online communication is just one medium in which to transmit information, exchange ideas, and meet people.  Here are some stories of how social media has affected something offline, both positively and negatively.

Case 1. Rock Art Brewery was sent a cease and desist by Monster (the billion-dollar energy drink company), over a Rock Art beer called Vermonster.  To make an incredibly long story short, fans of Rock Art Brewery united on blogs and Twitter urging people to boycott Monster products.  Hashtags ranging from #boycottmonster to #savethevermonster flooded my Twitter feed.  Even non-beer drinkers saw the inequity of the situation and pledged their support for Rock Art Brewery.  Just check out all the blog posts listed here. Those blog posts went up in just a matter of days after the word had gotten out.  Eventually, Monster backed off, and Rock Art Brewery was able to continue selling their Vermonster free of harassment.

Case 2. As I was watching CNN at the gym, Josh Levs was doing a segment about using social media to find missing children.  He showed this Facebook fan page called Missing Children, Let's find Them.  Imagine an entire city being alerted to a missing child via radio, television, news articles, Facebook, and Twitter.  Finding missing kids would be so much faster and more efficient.  If you know anything about missing children, the length of time they've been missing is highly correlated to the likelihood that the child is no longer alive.  Time is critical in these cases.  This is only one way that social media can be beneficial to society.

Case 3. is a very popular blog filled with secrets submitted on a post card.  While the submitters of the post cards are anonymous, the idea that someone can disclose deep and disturbing secrets has spawn into what amounts to an emotional support group.  Click on any of the comments and you'll see evidence of an online community within One reader's email on how she decided to not commit suicide was posted for a very long time on  Sometimes, we all just need someone to listen to us. 
Case 4. This story isn't about triumph or useful ways that social media can be used; this story is one of how social media can have powerful effects.  You might remember in late 2007, a young girl committed suicideCyberbullying. after receiving messages from a fictitious myspace friend.  The lesson that we should all learn from this story is that social media, though online, is powerful.  It can create strong friendships, and it can also hurt others to the point of committing suicide.  Please use social media carefully.  Stop

Social Media as a means of advertising

Now that we have established that social media is a mainstream mode of communication, let's look at what it means to advertise via social media.  Research (non-academic to my knowledge) has shown that people are more likely to believe word of mouth marketing (the recommendation of their friends on products) rather than traditional advertising.  The issue with this type of advertising is that - contrary to popular belief - some of the mouths doing the advertising are being paid by the companies for said advertising.  I personally feel that this behavior is misleading because the information is no longer coming from an unbiased source.  If you haven't already seen it, the Federal Trade Commission has just released guidelines on blogging.  It is common for bloggers to receive complimentary items, but there are some bloggers that are also paid for posts, tweets, or other forms of advertising.  In the food blogging world, there are marketing blogs that are set up to appear as if they were food blogs.  I feel that everything should be disclosed, allowing the consumer to decide who they want to believe.  Here are some links for reading.

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