It goes without saying that social media, if used correctly, can propel a business into becoming a financial success. As a result, companies have begun to approach social media on a much more analytical level, one that relies on methods of decoding and data collection as a way to tap into what users are saying on public forums. “Merely being present on social media is no longer sufficient for some of the world’s largest corporations, who are turning to young technology ventures in India for help in decoding social chatter for business gain. These companies are using insights gained from conversations on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to shape entry strategies in new markets, address consumer grievances and communicate directly with target groups.” (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com)
The approach of “decoding social chatter for business gain” is what allows companies the opportunity to “listen in” on current social media conversations; the method used for collecting data is a new tactic for companies to gather personal insight into the mind of the consumer. However, the manner in which companies are now able to collect information that is solely based on the activity of a user/potential consumer, is not only a form of eavesdropping but also could be considered a legal form of insider trading. “Companies are using conversations on social media platforms to shape entry strategies in new markets, address consumer grievances and communicate directly with target groups.” (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com)
Companies are not only using analytical methods to forecast which direction would be most beneficial to the companies’ long-term goals, but they are also using social media to capitalize on the unplanned, spur of the moment situations as another way to interact with users on a much more day-to-day basis. Such was the case in the 2013 Super Bowl blackout. “Two big-name brands that have been in the news because of their in-the-moment social media posts are Oreo and Poland Springs. Oreo made delicious waves during the power outage that took place in New Orleans during Super Bowl XLVII when it posted one of its signature cookie images with the note, “You can still dunk in the dark.” (http://publiclibrariesonline.org)
Social media has not only given every user the opportunity to have a voice, but has done so for companies as well. Because of this, companies have managed to cultivate their own identity or personality as a way to showcase what their corporation represents. Zappos is just one of many companies that uses Twitter to engage with consumers on a daily basis, and, as a result, its presence on the social media forum has been quite successful and entertaining. When it comes to Zappos, “They encourage their employees to post on Twitter and then all of the streams are fed to the company website. The Twitter posts typically feature fun and witty facts about the brand and company. The CEO of the company really lets his personality show through on his Twitter account, and this helps achieve brand loyalty.” (http://tweakyourbiz.com)
Social media has given companies the available resources to build a presence in a user’s daily life, offering a much more personal level of interaction. Companies can now post questions for users to answer or directly ask what their favorite product is as well as feedback on which product needs improvement. This type of interaction, in turn, establishes a relationship between the company and the consumer, a feeling that the company values the opinions of the users. The result of such direct and personal interaction is that company now becomes humanized, thought of as an individual in which consumers can have direct contact with and the ability to exchange dialogue and thus, can help develop brand loyalty. “Graco manufactures and sells baby accessories, such as strollers and car seats. Their successful social media marketing campaign involves collecting pictures of customers using Graco products and then displaying them on their Flickr account to humanize the company.” (http://tweakyourbiz.com) Corporations needed a way to relate to the consumer, and through the means of a casual dialogue, developed a certain rapport between it and the user, is exactly what social media has allowed these companies to do.
Corporations have undoubtedly benefited immensely from social media; the same could be said of movements that have also used social media to establish a presence amongst the viral community, using it as a device to raise awareness of certain situations that could potentially spark enough interest to help further a cause or inspire a change.
However, while social media makes it easier for users to participate globally in a certain cause or movement, it still sometimes is not enough to generate the momentum needed to ensure its success. Malcolm Gladwell states that when it comes to activism, social media “makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.” (http://www.newyorker.com) While Gladwell is a bit bleak in his opinions regarding activism and its place in social media, I tend to agree with him to a certain extent. It’s a lot easier to disregard public opinion or stance on a certain matter when it is done through the Internet, given that a computer does not have the same impact and presence as a gathering of individuals marching alongside one another, whether in a protest or showing up at a political meeting.
As a user of social media, I follow movements that are important to me, one of them being animal rights, such as the petition to make it illegal to keep orca whales in captivity for the sole purpose of entertainment. This particular situation has captured the attention of many and, as it stands now, it seems as though efforts in changing the law to make keeping orca whales in captivity illegal seems to be gaining traction. However, it goes with out saying that while social media has helped further the cause, it was actually the documentary film Blackfish that became the catalyst for raising public awareness on the issue.
I also follow “Urgent Dogs of Miami,” which is a social media group that posts photographs of dogs that are “in the red,” canines whose times are up at the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter, and are now scheduled to be euthanized within 24-48 hours. The purpose of “Urgent Dogs of Miami” is to hopefully get enough “shares” that a rescue or potential adopter will come forward to pull the dogs before they are put to sleep. While it is heartbreaking to see the photos of these dogs, social media has greatly benefitted this particular movement to where now dogs are being given the exposure that they so greatly need during the most crucial of times.
Users that follow “Urgent Dogs of Miami,” tend to be official rescue groups and animal lovers alike. When a certain dog is “in the red” and is in dire need of medical treatment (broken leg, open wound, etc.), users tend to post comments, pledging to donate money toward the dog’s vet bills, hoping that their act of generosity would increase the dog’s chances of having a someone come forward and pledge much needed help. I work with several rescue groups in Miami, and last week I became aware of an elderly German Shepherd that was scheduled to be euthanized in a few hours. It was through social media that brought this particular dog to my attention, and luckily, we were able to pull the dog out of the shelter and a certain death just in time.
This particular dog garnered the attention of hundreds of users, and his photo had dozens and dozens of comments of users “pledging” to donate money to help cover the cost of his vet bill. Such “pledges” are not uncommon when it comes to “Urgent Dogs of Miami” and every dollar goes a long way towards rescuing a dog; in fact, it is the “pledges” that make these rescues possible.
In the case of Bruce, the elderly German Shepherd, there were over $500 in pledges -certainly a generous amount- but also immensely helpful as he was in need of immediate medical care. The vet gave an estimate of how much it would cost to treat Bruce, somewhere around $900. Based on that rough estimate, I set up a link through the fundraising site, youcaring.com, so that users who had pledged money toward Bruce’s medical bills could quickly and easily donate to the cost.
Once Bruce was safe at the vet’s and receiving the care he so urgently needed, I reached out to those users who had vowed to donate towards payment of his medical bills, giving them an update on his condition. I also posted a link to the dog’s donation page. I suspected that some of the users who pledged would not follow through with their donation, however, what I did not expect was that almost three fourths of those users would not follow through at all. The total donation for the dog ended up being $200, with my mother contributing half. It is through this particularly sad experience that I have come to the realization that relying on social media to further a cause requires constant attention. Social media makes it quite easy to get caught up in the momentum of a certain cause but once the goal is achieved, interest all but fizzles. I had reached out to those users who pledged to donate less than twenty-four hours after the dog had been pulled from the shelter. By then, “Urgent Dogs of Miami” had already featured twelve more dogs that were now “in the red.” And, along with the photos, were the “pledges.” I could not help but wonder how many came through on those.
To me, seeing those, it seems as if users are on to the next rescue, quick to sign up their support without having to do the hard work required to assure the dogs’ wellbeing and safety. When it comes to social media, there is no obligation or requirement to follow through on one’s word and that can be problematic, especially for the “Urgent Dogs of Miami” who are in a life-or-death situation.