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Time for social networking media to show us the money

A girl browsing the Facebook site in London. Social networking sites are challenging the internet. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Vigyan Arya

If the timely launch of Google Buzz is any indication of the shape of things to come, social networking is not only here to stay but is to expand organically, proving to be as much a financially feasible project as a socially viable platform for communication.

It started with Facebook and Youtube sites luring individuals to spread their social network beyond the blocks they live in, and later, followed by Twitter and Yahoo Buzz, spread into mobile phones of all users, giving a completely new dimension to social networking.

In a short span of less than five years, these social networking sites are challenging the very platform that gave them birth – the internet – as official websites announce their stories and their very existence through these newly-discovered platforms.

As a result, expectedly, the time spent on social networking sites is on the increase as users spend more than five-and-a-half hours on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The global time spent on social media sites according to The Nielsen Company, saw an increase of 82 per cent in December 2009 in comparison to same period last year.

This is an encouraging number for marketing professionals to take advantage of and work out special mass communication campaigns that are focused at upwardly mobile mature executives, say most industry professionals. "On the contrary, it's the campaigns – official and non official – that are driving the numbers of twitter users," says branding expert Jayesh Ravindranath, General Manager Middle East & Asia , ais BrandLab.

Traffic on social networking sites has been increasing at a steady pace for the past three years. The Nielsen figures confirm that globally, social networks and blogs are the most popular online categories when ranked by average time spent in December, followed by online games and instant messaging. With 206.9 million unique visitors, Facebook was the No 1 global social networking destination in December 2009 and 67 per cent of global social media users visited the site during the month. Time on site for Facebook has also been on the rise, with global users spending nearly six hours per month on the site.

But, on a cautionary note, Dimitri Metaxas, Regional Executive Director, Digital, OmnicomMediaGroup told Emirates Business, "Social media now commands audiences that rival mass media and hence it may look like a great opportunity to build reach. Yet, we mustn't forget that, in the end, the social media environment works in a totally different way and mass dissemination of an ad message is not the optimal means by which a brand should involve itself in these communities."

Elaborating on the potential of this young platform, he added, "The game in social media is engagement and building relationships with people through value addition, entertainment and/or empowerment, putting the brand at the centre.

"Generally people in social media sites are very engaged in their activities and hence do not tend to respond to conventional advertising methods in the same way they do on news sites, for instance."

Social networking sites have attracted the attention of government authorities as well and Dubai's Road and Transport Authority was the first one to tap the potential of this platform. The RTA launched special channels through Youtube and Facebook websites as a further tool of interaction with the public, with the intention of reaching wider segments of the community, according to their official communiqué.

Commenting on this debut effort, Peyman Younes Parham, Director of Marketing and Corporate Communication Department at the RTA Corporate Support Services Sector, said: "Providing Youtube and Facebook services is a part of wide-ranging media campaigns and initiatives currently launched by the RTA through a number of media such as newspapers, radio and television channels with a view to establishing constructive interactive links with the public and media. In fact, they are part and parcel of RTA's strategy and drive to provide all the latest know-how that concerns the RTA."

The initiative was part of the strategy of the Dubai government that had spelled out the intentions for setting up a knowledge-based community capable of developing, exchanging and utilising knowledge for the welfare and prosperity of the people.

In support of the launch in June 2008, Parham explained: "Visitors of these websites form the cornerstone of a knowledge-based exchange and interaction. Today media is largely dependent on the internet, with all the new multimedia such as movies, photographs and social networking."

Social media is also about listening and learning, allowing a brand to humanise itself, which can be a subtle but also powerful means of brand building.


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