AFG Venture Group Dispatches

Corporate advisory and consultancy in Australia, South East Asia and India.

Social Media, Social Networking and Social Capital

by Kathy Phelan and Petra Zlatevska, Director, Small World Social and Writer, Consultant and Presenter

No matter what you may think of the film “The Social Network”, the film chronicling the rise of Facebook, now the worlds largest social media network with over 500 million users, it demonstrates that social media is no longer just the domain of procrastinating university students. It has emerged as a crucial tool for not only business branding but also influencing consumer trends in a way that even its founders could not have predicted. It has also become a determining factor in measuring that often elusive concept known as  ‘social capital’, that is, connections within and between social networks.

Kathy Phelan, Director of Sydney-based social media specialists, Small World Social, believes that new technologies are changing the way that we communicate. While for the last several years Australia lagged behind many of our Asia-Pacific neighbours in terms of broadband coverage, now more than 90% of Australian households have a broadband internet connection. New technology has also heralded new social communication methods, the so called “social media” which includes Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and You Tube. These methods are faster, more entertaining and engaging than the traditional print or even online media. It is for this reason they are often also referred to as “social networking websites”. For Australian businesses, this means greater reach when considering that almost half of Australia’s population, over nine million users, have an active Facebook account.

But to really understand the business case for social media two recent case studies may help illustrate the point. Small World devised an innovative social media strategy for the Australian Ballet to help it increase annual subscriptions in the 20-40 year old age bracket. The main issue was that subscriptions were declining and the growth in membership of the 20-40 year old age bracket wasn’t keeping pace or reflective of other arts and cultural organisations. Small World created a customised blog “Behind Ballet” featuring news, behind the scenes exclusive interviews, photos and sneak previews of the Ballet’s activities. In addition, it helped the Australian Ballet to create a new Facebook fan page, which now boasts more than 20,000 members,

The popular Australian Ballet You Tube Channel allows viewers from around the world who are unable to see a performance in Australia enjoy the main highlights of the lavish productions. This strategy was in sync with the Ballet’s core values of caring for tradition but daring to be different. Especially considering that almost all of its corps de ballet itself is in the 18-35 year old age group. Following the Ballets successful launch of its new social media strategy in 2009, subscriptions and engagement in this younger segment has increased substantially.

Whereas the business challenges at Ambulance Victoria were somewhat different – old style management, declining budgets and increased service quality expectations, often resulted in high levels of staff frustration. Small World designed a new digital programme “Shift Off” to enable staff to simply and quickly change their roster shifts from a mobile phone or remote computer without having to first go through the central administration department. “Shift Off”, aim is to provide staff with the smartest time saving social media tools while at the same time reducing sick leave.

Social media is continually evolving and changing. Many trend forecasters are predicting that payment systems will be one of the areas where considerable innovation will take place. For example, Facebook recently announced its own currency for purchasing on its platform. There is also growth of smart credit cards that link to loyalty systems and a rapid rise in “Social Commerce” (where social media integrates with the customer’s e- commerce experience).

A recent American survey of around 1000 US customers aged 18 or over was conducted to detect commerce trends based on online shopping preferences and behaviours for merchants to improve the online shopping experience. One of the key findings from the survey was that 29% of respondents aged 18-34 years of age said they discovered a product or service through a social network. Half of consumers aged 18-34 years of age are using social networks, especially Facebook, in their shopping- related activities.

Even beyond product discovery, consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are adopting social media into their overall commerce activities. Half of consumers in this younger age group are using their social networks as a trusted resource, seeking advice and learning about the experiences of other consumers for items they are interested in purchasing. When asked what types of shopping-related activities they conduct on Facebook, 32% aged 18- 34 years of age said they use the “like” feature for merchants pages on Facebook.

While use of mobile devices to complete a commerce transaction is also growing at a rapid pace, with 41% of consumers aged 18-34 years saying they use their mobile device to complete purchases of products and services with varying frequencies.

Even for those who work in the social media field, it is evolving on a daily basis. Yet, it is important to recognise that Social Media presents an unparalleled opportunity to not just demonstrate your company’s technological savvy, but to acknowledge that it is now a legitimate tool for enhancing productivity as well as offering a strong platform for growth and trend forecasting.

About the Authors

Kathy Phelan has over ten years experience in digital media and online community networking and after running a search technology company based in New York, Kathy has demonstrated that the search theory she researched in the USA, works in practice globally, online. It is with this, that we can ensure small world delivers outstanding digital results.

Originally from Melbourne, Kathy has lived in the USA and adorns nearly every wall with her Aboriginal Art collection. Kathy likes a soy cap from her favourite cafe, Laurent in Little Collins St, Melbourne.

Petra Zlatevska had an international legal career in Sydney, a stint at the UN in Geneva and a foreign affairs traineeship in Lima, Peru and unable to contain wanderlust any further, is now based in Berlin where she writes, consults and presents.

Petra writes and blogs on international affairs, culture, social issues and travel. Consulting work involves advising European and Australian businesses on media/PR strategy or commercial or legal projects.

In 2010, German powerhouse Hurbert Burda Media recognised Petra as a Young Creative and awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious DLD Conference in June in Munich with other global thinkers, entrepreneurs and leaders. TEDx Berlin also invited Petra to its November gathering of the crème de la crème of Berlin´s creative community.