The first and most recognisable of social platforms are networking websites such as Facebook.com. Facebook has more than 750 million active users and is a huge interactive environment of people from all walks of life, ages and interests.
There are other similar platforms such as MySpace (www.myspace.com – over 19.7 million active users) with a common theme, that is, people can create a space that is their own but which is dynamically interactive with other people which they accept as their friends.
These friends live vicariously in each other’s lives.
They share often private and discreet moments as well as the moments of excitement and joy. To a certain extent, it is even more intimate than the chat you have with the popular guy at the party.
At a party you will eventually leave until the next function. With these social networking platforms life goes on 24 hours a day. You learn to share the highs and lows of many of these people mixed, inevitably, with a large helping of trivia.
Social platforms extend further than Facebook and MySpace on which the public view recognizable and utilisable facilities. The popular social networking platform LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a place where businesses and entities tend to communicate and fraternise.
And then you have the White Label groups which have been specifically designed by companies in order to connect a group of like minded people ready to discuss and share experiences in a specific niche.
We have already mentioned wikis. Wikis are a social platform where users generate much of the content. Although, typically, the majority of the content is decided upon and generated by an individual or a company, the end users can edit it as necessary. The end result is often a conglomeration of views and experiences which, surprisingly, mirrors real life.
The underlying characteristic of all these platforms is that they are not maintained or fed by one single group or entity. Both customers and businesses interact to create an amalgamated whole.
The picture is one of a conversation rather than a statement. Along the way there is a struggle for mutual benefit. If both parties can win, then any outcome will include satisfied customers and increased profits (or other important measurable parameters).
It is relevant here to mention something about the advertising methods and promotional activities on social platforms.
If you look at Facebook you will see a number of advertisements and banners. These are paid advertisements and do not represent what we are talking about here. They more closely represent the type of offline advertising that this book has been downplaying. Traditional marketing methods such as this, although they may have a place to play in social media, are not our focus.
What is our focus, however, is the type of integrated promotional activities that the social networking sites can carry. Here, think applications. An application is a piece of software which can be added to a social networking platform in order to engage the visitor in some specific way or other.
This might be in the form of the game, a quiz or any other form of interactive process but which at the same time can promote a brand, product or service. These can be entertaining, novel and sometimes addicting. And there are many thousands of applications such as this which can be individually characterised and branded for businesses and companies.
These applications provide a way for businesses to develop interaction with customers. Think of the applications (often called “apps”) that you see on the iPhone and iPad.
Whilst these third party social platforms provide a facility for potential interaction between businesses and their potential clients they, only form part of the possible social experience. For companies with the budget and time, there is the possibility of developing White Label sites.
These have a lot of the functionality and characteristics of third party social media sites but can be specifically organized and developed to fit in with the aims and objectives of the particular business running it.