Social Media’s power is growing every minute and the vast majority of organisations no longer chose to ignore this channel of communication. In recent years the World Wide Web has effectively become “web 2.0”, a term coined by Tim O’Reilly to describe an updated version of the internet that promotes participation and interactivity, rather than static information. This upgrade of the World Wide Web has sparked significant changes in communication style and methods. “Communication 2.0” is a way to look at communicating in this new world. It is in constant development and there are yet to be definitive texts written on the matter, however as is the nature of the internet there is a multitude of information online.

To further understand social media and “communication 2.0”, it is worth considering what social really means. Social is plural, communal and interactive all in one. Social is about creating and sharing content that informs, entertains and excites. Social means that a viral video can be created, accessed, shared, promoted and commented on by anyone who is online and this same video can reach millions of people overnight, with low marketing costs. Social media’s reach is unheard of and its biggest star, Facebook, recently reached 500 million active users. To put this number into perspective, Facebook now has an active user base 1.6 times larger than the entire population of the United States of America.

Social media encompasses a wide variety of sites and internet services. These include: Skype, Wikipedia, Flickr, MySpace, Last.fm, Tripadvisor, Twitter, Linkedin, amongst others. This incredible wealth of tools has the side-effect of changing the way we communicate, both by design and by consequence. Tools such as Skype are making us truly global citizens by replacing expensive long-distance phone calls with good quality free audio and video communication. The growing popularity of these tools has the effect of increasing digital “noise”. There are more and more people creating and watching media every day and this leads to the necessity of cutting through this digital noise. This factor aligned with an audience that is increasingly comfortable in the digital world and has less discretionary time available, this has led to some organisations committing big mistakes in their use of social media. Habitat UK famously made a big blunder with their initial attempts to use Twitter for marketing by mixing their marketing messages with key words of unrelated subjects. The negative exposure that this action created was a major set-back to Habitat’s social media presence and creates an excellent case for the careful consideration of “communication 2.0”.

It is frequently stated in journalism that, “content is king”, and this remains true in “communication 2.0”. What does change is the way messages are transmitted, and which ones spread further. In order to cut through the noise the use of short succinct messaging is encouraged, much like print headlines. With a wealth of formats available, it is very important to use images or video as these will always be worth a thousand words. It is of course important to complement images and video with good quality copy, but rather than a complex intellectual style, a simple direct style is much more effective. Search engines are key word hungry, and with Google being the first option when searching for online content, it is imperative to make content search friendly. Taking this concept event further, in “communication 2.0” it is key to make content easily shareable to make its spreading simpler.

The ultimate aim is of course to spread context extensively, but in order to achieve this crucial point a certain loss of control of the content is necessary, which is a challenging prospect for many organisations. Ultimately content is clearly the focus and the content creator is largely irrelevant, but this association is very valuable. If successfully shared by a mass audience the content may go from being strange and unusual, thus cutting through the noise, to exciting and fresh and end up being viral and ultimately popular to the masses, the ultimate social media content goal.

The return on investment is a frequent stumbling block when considering social media strategies, but it’s important to note that the return from using social media as a communication channel may not be directly related to mass exposure and sales. Many organisations use social media as a way to efficiently give customer support, Easyjet are a good example here with a dedicated Twitter customer service presence. Customer feedback and the creation of online communities, which focus on sharing knowledge online, can also be very beneficial to organisations. The success of creating a positive brand image is in many cases attributed to the success of clients having fans rather than clients, a concept that is clearly tied in with “communication 2.0”.

Whilst the basics of being active in social media are in many ways no different from creating content for traditional media, this communication channel inherently presents new challenges. A personal touch to call communications is essential; social media users do not want to talk to machines, they want to talk to people. For organisations wanting to interact with users it is important to remember this and refrain from spamming, direct selling and imposing its views. A correct usage of “communication 2.0” that takes time because rather than flooding the channels with content, a custom approach is required for each channel and must involve much more than a monologue. For this reason, while social media may have a small cost of technology, it has a large cost in terms of human resources. “Communication 2.0” is here to stay and mass appeal organisations will certainly make more and more use of it. Whilst it can be daunting and full of dangers, social media certainly has incredible potential for benefits to all its users.