The grassroots effect of social media
By Brigitte Merten

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Sometimes the best new thing is actually a fresh twist on a tried-and-true method. Such is the case with social media, which is essentially the 21st-century version of the oldest method of influence in history — the grassroots effect. But what makes social media so effective in connecting people? It's the same reason politicians hit the road during campaign season — to meet you where you are, in your environment, surrounded by the things you've deemed as important to you.

INDUSTRY PULSE

What type of Twitter user are you?
  • 1. I'm heavily active daily
  • 2. I only tweet occasionally
  • 3. I'm on it to read only
  • 4. I never use it

Social media is a different animal than online communities like user groups or trade organization communities. Online communities are formed by individuals who share a common industry or business objective. As such, it would seem that those online communities would be the optimal channel of influence and sharing information for businesses. However, because social media is designed to group people by relational categories (college alumni, trusted friends and family members), the sphere of influence is actually much greater.

There's no denying the prevalence of social media. These days, social media users break more news than NBC's Brian Williams. When my friends and colleagues in Southern California suspect they feel the ground shaking, a look on Twitter or Facebook will confirm whether there was an earthquake much more quickly than even the local news website. Not only is the information immediate, it's trusted.

For businesses, putting social media to work can seem like putting a square peg in a round hole. How do you make your business social, relatable and relational? And are business initiatives something the social community is even willing to embrace?

A recent study by Edison Research found that 33 percent of Americans followed a brand on social media in 2012, up from 16 percent in 2010. While clearly a growing trend, there is still tremendous opportunity for businesses to connect to customers and fans through social media.

The same report showed a notable increase in how people are participating in social media:
"In 2010, the Social Habit research found that just 47 percent of Twitter users actually sent tweets, with more than half the user base in listen-only mode. The overwhelming majority of new Twitter users are active tweeters, driving the overall average to 76 percent."
The reality is, long ago the World Wide Web began to shrink our world, and social media has dramatically accelerated that phenomenon. We are becoming accustomed to connecting online in a relational way. Businesses should embrace this concept and the opportunity it provides to not just reach people, but truly interact.

Brigitte Merten is a marketing director for KeyedIn Solutions, a global software as a service (cloud) solutions provider for sign and manufacturing organizations.