The rise and multiplication of social networks
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By James Matthews-Paul
23 July 2010
Social networking provides sales, marketing and brand awareness opportunities for businesses of all sizes
It will probably come as no surprise to read this month’s statistics from The Nielsen Company (via the BBC) about use of social media platforms, and to find out that Facebook is still on the ascendant. Five hundred million users are signed up to the internet’s largest network, equalling some 7.1% of the world’s population; half of them, or 3.55% of all the planet, logs in on a daily basis.
What’s also interesting is how much time we spend on Facebook, with the UK’s 24.2m users (39.3% of the population) spending an average of six hours, nine minutes and 32 seconds each every month interacting thereupon. Flanking this online community are two others which have had to stake out their own spaces as pop culture-specific and professional platforms respectively – MySpace (2.7m British users) and LinkedIn (2.1m). Bebo, MySpace and photo-sharing site Flickr have all suffered recently.
I’ll come to why these statistics are relevant momentarily, but we need to consider the role of Twitter, too. Mark Evans’s blog (‘Twitterati’) from January this year notes that only 20% of Twitter users are active and that many never use their accounts after opening – but that it appears to have a highly addictive model, with the most loyal users becoming more active.
As a community the sign and display world has been slow to catch on, but we are now turning our attention to these platforms as we realise their potential value for both sales and marketing. This is particularly true of Twitter, where relevance is determined by common topic and popularity by repetition, making for an organic phenomenon.
There are two issues surrounding the use of Twitter for sign-makers and display producers. The first is that there aren’t many people in these companies who can actually spare the time to undertake the creative, logistical and marketing planning they feel is required. The Fastsigns branches are rather good at this and the Leeds franchise has even appointed a full-time social media manager; sales promotions, such as time-limited offers, are used to lure in customers, while maintaining general activity updates keep the account noticed.
The second, and perhaps the more important consideration, is the difficulty in finding a growing community on the site. Commonality on Twitter is determined through hashtags, and the sign-making and wide-format world is badly represented. I made a push in my previous position to encourage #uksigns and #wideformat, but #print is still prevailing as a catch-all. Users in our market should concentrate on building these hashtags together to make sure that a real global community can be constructed, and that relevant sharing can take place.
It’s this idea of relevance that brings me on to my next point: Facebook. Even with a growing population of US users in the 35-54 age bracket it can’t be forgotten that people are, generally, reticent to mix their personal and professional lives. The 13-35 bracket is more likely to have photos of their family, friends and the inevitable drunken monkey business somewhere on the site, and therefore photos and facts that they simply don’t want to share with clients and colleagues.
For that reason, marketing through Facebook works best for bigger brands which don’t need to build communities, such as Marmite and Oreo (although it backfired spectacularly for Nestlé); industry-specific fora tend not to do very well. My feeling is that it will take a massive change in the idea of advertising for Facebook to become relevant to the sign and display sector – for example, communities paying for larger poster sites which are currently prohibitively expensive – and that we’re not there yet.
I would encourage anybody in our curious, technical yet creative trade to give Twitter a go. Spend ten minutes every day hunting around for ideas, adding people of interest and following trails. Forget Facebook but get LinkedIn – this is a much more worthwhile professional network with well-defined groups for interests across all sectors, including sign and display. And don’t forget the various sign-specific fora out there – SignPig, The Sign Site and UK Sign Boards provide a vital undercurrent for small business owners to discuss issues, many of them based around production issues and costs for alternative media and inks.
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