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Succeeding in social media

Globe and Mail Update

Maggie Fox is easy to get a hold of—she answers her e-mail instantly, maintains a Facebook page and writes a blog that appears on the website of her Dundas, Ontario-based company. Ms. Fox is the very personification of Social Media Group, a two-year-old company she created to capitalize on the reinvention of the Internet as a place where businesses develop relationships with their customers rather than just show them ads.

In July, her nine-employee agency became a major player in the fledgling social media industry after it was awarded a global contract from Ford Motor Co. to handle its online image and outreach. Her firm followed that up by landing German software giant SAP as a client.

Ms. Fox was here earlier to discuss social media strategies, and what businesses need to do today to succeed in the world of Web 2.0. To join the conversation, please click here. To read Globe and Mail reporter Steve Ladurantaye's article on Ms. Fox in the latest issue of Report on [Small] Business Magazine, please click here

Noel Hulsman, Globeandmail.com, writes: Maggie, thank you so much for joining us today. Whether it is due to MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, something else, or all of the above, the issue of social networking online has rapidly moved from being most about connecting with your pals, to becoming a key marketing and communication tool for companies today. Had we had this discussion even two years ago, I think it would have largely elicited, at best, a confused silence. Today, people are lining up to get more information. And on that note ...

Neil Vidyarthi from Toronto writes: When a business looks to get into the online space, they're often bombarded with terms like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Cost-Per-Thousand (CPM) Advertising and Web 2.0. How do you clarify the term 'Social Media' to potential clients? What sort of value does Social Media have to offer a business interesting in promoting their brand? What technologies do you use? Thanks!

Maggie Fox writes: Hey Neil, I usually start off by making the joke that asking someone to define social media is a little like asking someone to define art. Many have tried, and most of the explanations are less than satisfactory. Then I offer the Wikipedia definition, which used to be something like, "Social media are defined as the online tools and platforms that allow people to communicate and share text, video, images and other files online." The new definition is incredibly confusing, which should tell you something about the difficulty in explaining what is essentially behaviour by focussing on technology.

But I digress. The important thing about social media is that it is enabling a fundamental social shift. The technology is irrelevant. Statistics Canada, in their ongoing study (started in 1995) called "Our Lives in Digital Times" has been tracking this shift, started by email, of all things, and hyper-accelerated by social media. What they found was that access to the Internet began allowing people to reorganize themselves.

For all of human history, our social circles were geographically based. That is, we had relationships with people because they were in close physical proximity. Email in particular, and the Internet in general, began to change that in the late 90's. Suddenly, people all over the globe were able to connect with each other based on common interests. As you know from meeting people who are interested in the same things you are, these can be very powerful, meaningful and fun relationships. Social media has heightened and encouraged the trend to organize by interest, and so what we're beginning to see is a reordering of the way our relationships and social networks are formed. Different layers and levels of friendship and different norms of behaviour are also evolving - it's a new level and way of socializing, and humans, being incredibly social creatures, have embraced this evolution. I like to talk about this because it helps people answer the "why?" question about Web 2.0 - why is everyone doing this? Is it a fad? My answer to that is a firm NO - this is a profound social and cultural shift, and it's only just gotten started.

As far as business value - social media is changing the way people communicate to one another, which means it's changing their expectations, which means that if you (as a business) are trying to communicate your message, you'd better have a good understanding of how the rules of engagement have evolved.

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