What was once a simple method of keeping in touch with a network of friends and contacts has ballooned beyond all estimations and turned college students into billionaires.
Social media has grown beyond basic Myspace and Facebook posts into a tool for brands, advertisers, media outlets and governments, to push everything from questions to propaganda to a vast and connected audience.
As such social media is now becoming a key part of the business world and evolving in the role it plays within enterprises. This has been punctuated by Twitter making its analytics dashboard available to its entire user base, providing them with data on the performance and impact of their Twitter activity.
Once the domain of paying advertisers, the analytics service is now within the reach of small businesses and startups, which can exploit social media as a way of monitoring everything from customer service to brand popularity and sales leads.
Effectively, this will help firms bypass the need for expensive third-party analytics and business intelligence services and broaden the appeal of social media analytics. However, it is important to understand the benefits of this, beyond gaining followers.
More than just 'Likes'
Joseph Smith, general manager of social media management firm HootSuite, told V3 that businesses often make the mistake of seeing social media purely as a ploy to build brand awareness when it has much more potential, particularly with analytics.
"By aligning your social strategy with business goals, you immediately stop achieving numbers of 'Likes' and start demonstrating meaningful business ROI [return on investment] that directly impacts the bottom line.
"Social analytics provide insights into the latest trends and can be used to inform businesses of customer attitudes and challenges, a great way to analyse a market in real time," Smith explained.
While analytics are bolstering the appeal and scope of social media use within business, it has led to an odd crossover where very consumer-led networks are also being used for business.
In some cases this would lead to serious business information being sandwiched between holiday pictures and cat videos.
As such, more business-orientated social media platforms have risen out of the wake left by giants such as Facebook and Twitter. Notably, LinkedIn offers professionals and corporate users a way to network and share business-related content without encountering more personal material.
This evolution has progressed further, and now enterprises can set up their own internal social media networks to facilitate communication on a corporate scale, theoretically boosting employee and business unit communication and collaboration.
Internal social platform
As such, these platforms turn social media from an external communications network into an internal tool for streamlining operations.
Jon Mell, the UK and Ireland lead for IBM's Social Business division, told V3 that internal social media promotes "frictionless interaction between business processes", helping create real-time communication across large businesses.
Once internal communication was lumbered with long email chains, rarely updated intranet pages and even Post-it notes stuck onto monitors. Social media, though, offers a way to combine the real-time aspects of instant messaging with the ability to build up conversations and share ideas over time to a wide network of employees.
This has led to the rise of social media platforms dedicated to internal communication and facilitation of operations within an enterprise.
Mell referenced IBM's Connections service, which works towards this goal by creating an amalgamation of business software and a social media. Connections integrates features such as email, media content, blogs, wikis, forums and activity trackers into one platform.
According to Mell, such an integrated platform allows for ideas, feedback, ambitions and advice to be shared throughout a business, with an immediacy not possible through the use of siloed communications services.
In everyday use, this means that a group of employees from separate areas of a company, potentially hundreds of miles apart, can discuss and work together on certain projects in real time.
This repurposing of social media for corporate use is an interesting evolution from a once disparate and chaotic form of communication. However, Jenny Sussin, Gartner's principal research analyst, says its business use needs clear objectives in order to for such tools to be used effectively.
Sussin declared that social media is not a standalone part of business and should integrate with different divisions within an enterprise: "Social is a component of something bigger, something broader, like a discipline."
Sussin referenced a company using an internal social platform to work collaboratively on establishing why its product development lags behind that of a rival and discuss how such a problem can be solved.
Without such consideration and objectives the value of social media for internal business is eroded, and social media is then best left as an external outreach tool.
As such, Sussin believes social media needs to fit rather than be forced into a business. "You have to have a business problem first. And you have to have a business problem that can be addressed by social media."
It is clear that the business case for social media use internally and externally has grown significantly over the past few years.
And as businesses scrabble to find new ways to improve efficiency for a healthier bottom line, it can be predicted that more purpose-built social media platforms will emerge to snatch a share of this lucrative market.
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