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The Rise and Rise of Social Media


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In his first guest article with us, Dan Gyves, shares his insight into social media of today, and how brands can use it to their advantage. Dan shares some tips on how brands should execute their social media presence, and interact with consumers and followers. Dan’s company, TRAQ, specialise in big data insight, commercial thinking and strategic planning. His next article in this series will build on this, and share how exactly brands can use the data from ‘likes’ and ‘follows’.  

It is hardly surprising that the majority of us have heard of social media when you consider 1.591 billion people log into Facebook each month [Source: expandedramblings.com]. This is an incredible number even when compared to the size of China, the world’s most populated country, with 1.38 billion inhabitants

So, where did social media begin?  Well, let’s break the name down in to its constituent parts: Merriam-Webster defining ‘social’ as “relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other” and Oxford Dictionaries defining ‘media’ as “the means of communication.” Using this, one could say social media dates back to the telegraph services of the 1830s.  Although, whilst this opened up global two-way communication, it did not have the reach of today’s media.

Social media as we know it likely started in 1997 with the introduction of Six Degrees.  I say ‘likely’ because there were other contenders prior to Six Degrees, but these were more complex to use and were really peer-to-peer tools. Named after the six degrees of separation theory, where everyone is six or less steps away from an introduction to someone else,  Six Degrees only lasted 4 years, but it set the foundation for the next round of social media providers.  Six Degrees was broadly similar to LinkedIn in that users could connect to each other, post on notice boards to their 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections and see how they were connected to other users in order to be introduced and therefore connect as a friend-of-a-friend.

The next chapter in social media came about at the turn of the millennium, in part buoyed by access to the internet and home computers.  Myspace was the next significant player and resembled social media as we know it today, where users developed profiles and connected with others to share information, files and more.  Myspace still exists but has been eclipsed by new entrants like Facebook and Twitter.

Another millennial social media start-up that continues today is LinkedIn. LinkedIn was developed as a business-oriented social media tool and has been able to ride the constantly evolving social space through its specific and targeted audience.


Move forward to today and social media has well and truly boomed. Advances in global connectivity, internet access, 3G, 4G, handheld devices and apps have enabled and fostered social media.  At the ‘tap of an app’ users can connect, view and post messages, images and video from pretty much anywhere.  A far cry from the dial-up connectivity of the noughties.

From the introduction if Six Degrees in 1997 we have come a long way in social media terms.  Facebook appeared in 2004 for Harvard students and by 2006 was available to all, YouTube arrived in 2005 (now owned by Google), Twitter launched in 2010 as did Instagram (now owned by Facebook) and the list continues to grow. Names like Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, Quora, Bebo, Weibo, WhatsApp and many more are now used in regular parlance.

The way we use social media has also changed dramatically.  Words have been accompanied by avatars, emojis, pictures, videos and services such as Twitter’s live video streaming service, Periscope, and new entrant Meerkat.  (As an aside, Shakespeare’s famous works have even been translated into emoji – Google: “OMG Shakespeare” to learn more.)

What’s interesting about the growth of social media are the demographics associated with it.  While emojis and avatars are likely to me more widely adopted by younger users, the overall demographic profile of social media is broad.  For example, research from May 2015 showed that 56% of internet users in the USA over the age of 65 regularly used Facebook [Source: Sproutsocial.com].

What was initially created as a way for groups of friends to share media amongst themselves has exploded.  Between them, social media organisations are worth hundreds of billions of dollars and connect tens of billions of people. And of course, social media doesn’t just connect people; it also connects businesses and brands to the wider world.


Through social media brands can reach an extraordinarily large cohort of followers. For example, as at 28th April 2016, Coca Cola had 97,481,158 Facebook followers – to put that into perspective, it’s almost the population of the Philippines.  Nike are also dominant with 42 million Facebook likes, 6 million on Twitter and 45 million on Instagram.

But, importantly, social media isn’t really just about scale.  The ladies footwear brand Esska, for example, cannot be compared to Nike in size or scale and its 3,485 Facebook likes, 1,235 Twitter followers and 657 Instagram followers are a far cry from Nike’s social dominance but Esska’s core consumers are engaged and communicating with the brand they love in the same way that Nike’s do. And this two-way communication is invaluable.

These conversations will include the good, the bad and the indifferent and when you, as a brand, open up a conversation you will have to be willing to ‘clean your dirty washing’ in public, but you will be engaging directly with the people that buy and use your brand.  A pretty fair trade off in my opinion.

The term big-data is banded around a lot these days, but it is fair to say that when looking at social media, big-data becomes massive data.  The top 10 Facebook brands have almost 1 billion likes between them and hundreds of thousands of comments are posted each day.  Scale this up by the 1.59 billion users of Facebook and billions across other social media platforms and the volume of data becomes monumental.


Likes and followers are great and can provide an indication of scale, but what is more interesting is the rich data held within the tweets and posts made by consumers.

Three metrics I am fond of for social media are reach, sentiment and influence as these can be used to understand how many people interacted with your brand, what they thought about it, who influenced them to find it and who, in turn, was influenced by them.  I’ll explore this in more detail in my next article for WhichPLM, but the value of this insight cannot be underestimated.

Imagine this situation: you are a brand with a new product that sits within a collection of products.  Your new collection goes to market and one product is picked up by a key blogger who tweets and posts on social media.  This is then picked up by that blogger’s followers and mentions increase.  Over time your reach via your influencers grows dramatically and everything said is positive (sentiment).  As far as you are concerned you are ‘onto a winner’. The problem is, you didn’t back the product internally and by the time the mass market wants it everything is sold out and your supply chain can’t react to replace it.  Now social media becomes your enemy and causes damage to your brand.

However, if you were tracking your social media reach, sentiment and influencers you would have seen the trend emerging and would have been able to put your supply chain on standby. I grant you this is a slightly extreme example, but the concept rings true and it is possible to track and predict in this way.

In social media we have a powerful tool that can connect us to our consumers, help us understand our market, assist us in understanding what drives consumer sentiment and more.


So what should we do and how should we embrace it?

In my opinion it is important to look at social media as just one more channel of communication. People/consumers are channel agnostic and will expect to interact with brands across traditional media, electronic media and social media; so creating a balance is key.  When looking at social media specifically you should think about your brand and consumer.  Some social media are image heavy while others are text heavy, some attract an older cohort, while others are a hang-out for a younger demographic.  Understanding where your brand and consumers fit in this mix is a must, especially if you are an SME with limited resource and a need to focus.  I would suggest taking a similar approach to the one you would use when opening a store.  You wouldn’t simply pick a street at random!  You would think about your consumer demographics, your competitors, foot-fall, other retailers on the street, complimentary stores and much more before selecting your location.  Social media is no different and the same rules apply.

Once you know where you are going, you need to think about how you look and sound, socially.  Again, this should be an extension of what you do online and offline but tuned to the social media setting.  When writing a post or responding to someone think about what you would say if they were standing in front of you and use words that sound as if they come from your brand… don’t fall into the trap of sounding ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ (unless your brand is) just because you are posting on Twitter!

And finally, remember that countless consumers will be viewing your posts and interacting with you through a hand-held device with a relatively small screen.  Cropping into images and logos to ensure stand out and clarity is important, as is the use of moving image and video.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.