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A Crash Course in Social Media

By September 18, 2018February 12th, 2020Social Media

Social media has certainly changed over the years, especially in the years I have been a professor. It has become its own industry, profession, and even a major at universities worldwide. It is no longer just a “fad” or something easy to do. Social media is the perfect blend of art and science, blending together to create experiential stories, innovative campaigns and sustainable communities for brands and individuals.

Teaching social media is a lot of fun. It is one of my favorite classes to teach and inspire students to pursue a career. Social media has also given me many opportunities personally and professionally. We are seeing more classes arise across universities around the nation and the world that specialize in social media. Yet, we still have to understand the nature of what exactly is social media and why is it important? What are the biggest issues we need to be aware of? Where are social media going next? In this post, I hope to shine a light on these points.
What’s social media exactly and why’s it important?

Social media provides a personalized, online networked hub of information, dialogue and relationship management for which brands and individuals to participate. The days where brands and other gatekeepers were controlling messages and access to opportunities are over. The power now resides in individuals. This is why we are seeing the rise of creators, influencers (celebrities and micro-influencers) and ambassadors being used everywhere for campaigns to formulate these new partnerships. We are seeing a paramount shift in how we approach our audiences, content and what experiences we can create to surprise and delight our communities.

How big is social media?

According to the latest digital report by WeAreSocial and Hootsuite, there are approximately 3.3 billion people who’re using social media today worldwide. In the same report, there has been an 11% increase in users who are now on social media (or an additional 328 million users). Understanding this growing trend of having more people around the world joining various online communities will continue social media’s evolution. With more people joining, more stories, perspectives, ideas and in some cases challenges will arise. It is essential to be responsive and agile in this ever-changing environment.

Social media is about creating experiences through stories.

The overall, fundamental use and motive behind social media have been to establish personal connections and virtually tell our stories with others. Why do we share what we share online with the world to see? Think about the last time you used social media– what did you share? Why did you share this on this particular platform? It is not only important to explore where you shared it, but how and why you decided to share this information with one, a few or everyone in your respective communities. Sometimes, it can be for the entire world to see. Each action taken on social media has a specific purpose–whether we are creating the content ourselves, or we are consuming the content to then be shared on our behalf with our communities. Yet, we also have the power to comment and engage with the content as we see fit.

Platforms are constantly changing, so you have to be responsive and agile in learning new things.

Social media platforms are in constant flux and evolution. Analyzing these changes could become your job in addition to your other responsibilities. What you want to keep in mind is to have a tier system approach when you are looking at social media in general. Social media platforms are divided by function and overall purpose. That being said, social media first and foremost needs to be social. It is about engaging with the content, conversation, or community that sparks your interest and you want to take action based on this information. Engaging with audiences is more important than broadcasting a message to them. We have to adapt our messaging to fit these expectations while noting the constant algorithm changes we are seeing coming from these platforms.

Evaluating the state of content.

The new model for content creation and marketing regarding social media has shifted from just pushing content for the sake of promoting yourself to become more personalized, interactive and focused on storytelling. Develop messages and content that your audiences want to get from you. The ideal situation is to think about pieces of content your audiences want but do not realize they want from you.

Bringing “social” back to social media.

Social media can not only be used personally but also professionally. Many times, we are seeing how one group may be able to use it for one community or group they are interacting with, but forget about how this is perceived from other perspectives. On social media, you need to find the balance that allows you to interact and create content that educates and informs your professional audiences of your level of expertise and thought leadership, but you also want to be personal enough so you are not perceived as a robot.

Best practices and principles to follow.

Here are some universal principles you want to remember as you practice, teach and work in social media:

  • Social media is owned by everyone. Social media’s not owned by one person or platform. It is owned by the community. Brands can be participants in a conversation, but they are not the ones controlling it.
  • Engage > Broadcast. Social media is not about audiences just “seeing” your content. It is about your audience engaging with it. Evaluate what is working and what is not working on a regular basis through metrics. Listen to what audiences are talking about online to generate some ideas and brainstorm with your team.
  • Actions speak louder than words. It is one thing to say something on social media, but it is another to take action based on this. What you do on social media needs to be consistent and aligned with what we are doing offline. If there is a disconnect, this is where problems and challenges come forward.
  • Quality over quantity. Whether it is followers, content, conversations, or the health of your community–quality always wins.
  • Create experiences. Content and messaging strategies are great, but what audiences are craving more than ever are stories they can experience. Thinking about ways to surprise and delight audiences to formulate memorable bonds for your brand or cause can help foster stronger relationships and communities for the long term.
Karen Freberg

Karen Freberg, Ph.D. (@kfreberg) is an Associate Professor in Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville. Freberg recently published her first solo social media textbook with SAGE titled Social media for strategic communication: Creative strategies and research-based applications.


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