The social networks, I like and I follow

Today in 2011, over 72% of the French population have access to Internet (Ifop data). The widespread growth of internet has brought with it e-commerce and the development of on-line social media. 78% of internet users state that they are members of at least one social network. Internet users each belong to an average of three social networks. How can we explain this development? What do internet users find in social networking sites? Why are they so willing to network with each other?

These are the topics we will be discussing in this article:
1. Lightning growth
1.a. definition
1.b. the current situation

2. Advantages and points of interest
2.a. for consumers
2.b. for businesses

A social network is defined as a community of individuals or organisations linked together by a specific shared interest in friendship, kinship, financial exchange or one of a whole host of other topics. In this article we will be concentrating on on-line social networks.

On-line social networks have grown with lightning speed in the few years since their introduction in USA in 2004.
Among the tens of sites now on-line the most well-known are as follows: Facebook has the most members and is certainly the most famous with over 600 million active users (data from early 2011); Twitter Twitter, the number of tweets on this site approaches 1.3 million an hour (source: Pingdom, January 2010);Youtube Youtube broadcasts video images; Youtube Linkedin or Viadeo Viadeo are networks oriented towards professional recruitment and relationships; there are over 144 million blogs of all types (source: Blogpulse, August 2010). Here is humorous video clip illustrating the main features and the utility of the principal social networks.

Success on this scale can be explained by the numerous benefits enjoyed by users be they consumers or businesses.

The primary benefit seems to be that participation in a social network reinforces the sense of belonging to a community. For young people, and not only them, this sense of belonging is reassuring and stimulates the interest of others. This is one of the reasons why the growth of on-line social networking has been exponential.
Réseaux sociaux et le sentiment d'appartenance à une communauté
Social networks help to re-establish contact with people you have lost touch with. They put you in touch with people who share the same passion or profession. They provide a virtual space for relaxation, recreation and entertainment where internet users can dedicate time to their hobbies without leaving their front rooms. They make it possible to join a network of friends in distant places, people who you would never have been able to meet before.

This leads to a natural exchange of useful information thereby enriching network content and making it even more interesting. According to Facebook figures, in 2010 each user had an average of 130 friends; in 2009 the figure was 120. Members try to extend their circle of friends in order to widen the opportunities on offer and the things to be exchanged.

Originally, on-line social networks were designed for a public of private users but it hasn’t taken long for businesses and associations to make networks their own. Businesses now use networks to showcase their activities and products. Networks have become and alternative channel for interacting with your customers. A company which joins an on-line social network shows that it is an open, creative and flexible business. Increased interactivity builds greater customer loyalty. Greater interactivity shows customers that the company is in touch with their centres of interest, in touch with the things they say, think and feel.

Famecount has drawn up a table of the five most active brands on social networks. The top position is occupied by the multinational Coca Cola which has nearly 30 million fans on Facebook. The company is also very active on Twitter where it has 291,000 followers. Every Coca Cola product has its own Twitter page.
Starbucks Coffee takes second place with over 22 million fans on Facebook, 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 6.5 million customers on YouTube where the company encourages customers to express their views and expectations for the brand. Red Bull comes third with the brand Oreo close behind in fourth position. Oreo started business in 1912 and has more than 20 million fans on Facebook, ample proof that good quality products always stand the test of time. The Oreo page has recipes, games and video clips of fans eating their favourite Oreo biscuits. Less well-known brands outside the food industry and more oriented to B2B are following the trend. One of these is Novoceram, a manufacturer of ceramic tiles, who has just launched a new on-line game called The Passion Project, where the proceeds go to a non-profit organisation.

In short, on-line social networks have obliged businesses and other public bodies to rethink their communication strategies.
The three principal reasons for using an on-line social network are:
to increase traffic on your own site,
To improve brand recognition
To enhance your company image (source : Econsultancy survey).
Businesses also want to increase sales, increase customer satisfaction and increase customer loyalty.

Companies choose an on-line social network to match the objective they wish to achieve. For example, 67% of businesses use Facebook Facebook as a « marketing channel« , while 47% prefer to use Twitter Twitter for this purpose. To improve company reputation and brand awareness, 50% of companies prefer Twitter while 41% choose Facebook (source : Econsultancy, February 2010).

The big multinationals are increasingly more involved with social networking on-line. A 2011 survey of Fortune 100 companies by par Burson-Marsteller shows that Twitter registered the largest (18%) increase in participation by multinationals; this makes Twitter the social media of choice for large companies.
Twitter users tend increasingly to talk about companies. In 2011, 80% of companies were mentioned in at least one tweet; the figure for 2010 was 42%.

The speed with which news can be spread on a social network considerably exceeds that of e-mail. Information is broadcast in real time. Recent developments such as the ability to access networks using smartphones has further increased this advantage. News of the even the smallest event can be spread with great ease.

In brief, we can conclude that on-line social networking is an upward trend whose widespread popularity is destined to profoundly change our practices and habits at home and at work.

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