Platforms offer organisations to promote their products/services.

The excitement surrounding the concept of social media marketing is spreading wildly across the Net. This edition of NetSpeak discusses the features of this fast evolving phenomenon, which has hit the mainstream in the recent past. It is common knowledge that a marketer makes use of a wide range of tools (such as TV/Radio/Newspaper advertisements and promotional write-ups) to introduce his product/service to the customer.

In addition to the media mentioned above, the widespread adoption of Net is offering yet another set of marketing channels collectively called social media.

The collection of on-line applications that enable people to store/communicate/share information is called social media. The plethora of blogs, social networking sites (like Facebook), content sharing sites (like Flickr, Digg and StumbleUpon) and social messaging/micro-blogging services (like Twitter) are some of the major constituents of this dynamic Net segment. The uniqueness of the applications in this class lies in its potential to draw people towards them. These services provide the necessary tools and motivation for people to interact and share resources.

On popular social media sites millions of netizens gather for exchanging messages and sharing resources. A majority of them are professionals and well-qualified youths with high energy levels.

At least a small proportion of this huge user-base could be the prospective customers of a company.

As a corollary, it follows that social media applications are excellent platforms for organisations to promote their products/services. The concept of social media marketing originates from this premise. Marketers, who understand this logic, rush towards those social media outlets to open up their stalls. And this phenomenon of piggybacking on various social media services to promote a business is called social media marketing.

The advantage of social media relates to its collaboration/interaction potential. As social media experts wax eloquently, it helps an organisation "engage" with its customers and other stakeholders. An organisation can leverage the social media in multiple ways. A business outfit can share informational content (useful/valuable to the customers) on services like YouTube and Vimeo. By actively participating on blogging/micro-blogging services an organisation can build relationships with its potential customers and enhance its visibility. Blogs and other real-time search services can serve to locate experts/people in your niche.

By closely monitoring the relevant blogs, Twitter feeds and the like, the organisation can sense the mood of the customers/public about it, along with its competitors. Messages - positive or negative - get transmitted virally across the community - very much like word of mouth campaign.

Many business outlets are recognising the role of social media in today's Net-ridden world. For instance, in this blog post (http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/direct2dell/archive/2009/12/ 08/expanding-connections-with-customers-through-social-media.aspx) a Dell blogger describes how Dell's revenue went up due to its engagement in various social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

It seems entrepreneurs are finding new ways to leverage on social media. The much talked about Ford's Fiesta campaign is an apt example of this trend.

The company selected a few young netizens, gave away cars for free and asked them to stream their car experiences via social media channels such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/ 2010/01/ford_recently_ wrapped_the_firs.html). Yet another domain in which social media marketing is slowly evolving is the movie world.

As per this report (http://mashable.com/2010/01/08/avatar-social-media-web/), one of the reasons for the huge box-office success of the famous movie Avatar was its meticulous campaign via social media channels.

Of course, it is not just business that is drawn by the social media hype; even non-profit organisations enlist the service of social media tools for furthering their interests too. For instance, as reported here (http://www.umassd .edu/cmr/studiesresearch/socialmediacharity.cfm), several non-profit organisations in the U.S. extensively use social media tools. As per the report the charity organisations are "outpacing the business world and academia" in the domain of social media usage.

Social media tools are being tried out in awareness campaigns too. Twitter was used extensively for enlightening the masses about the UN Millennium Development Goals 2009 (http://standagainstpoverty.org/ - tipped off to this author by Anil Atluri, one of the campaigners).

Social media marketing (SMM) is still in its infancy and despite the hype, many are still not very comfortable with it. Though SMM is a domain with low entry barrier, its success barrier is very high (like most of the Net based ventures). Nonetheless, SMM represents a quantum leap in the way we promote products/services/movements, given the ever-growing popularity of social networking channels.

The author can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com