Social media: broadening the definition

In the course of last year, someone asked for Twitter communication as a component of a communication campaign. I am typically exposed to social media to a high degree and felt uneasy about the request. In the absence of comprehensive statistics, I normally have to use field observation to form my judgements and make recommendations. The request for Twitter made me very uneasy.
What I realised, as I thought about it, was that Twitter is rarely visible When I go out, I keep an eye on what people do with their media. It used to be that I could watch how people use newspapers. Nowadays the preoccupation is with mobile devices. What I have observed is that people rarely use Twitter, but swing toward WhatsApp and SMS. What I experience in conducting routine business is that there is a bias towards Skype.
After an intense search of the web, I finally found what I needed to begin with on a website called Statsmonkey. What I noted in the last of these columns, was that Twitter has about 1,49% social media share in Namibia, to Facebook’s 93,23% social media share, reported in late 2015.
There is a distinct problem with reporting and classification. Social media is about social interaction. Networks such as Facebook and Twitter are both forms of blogging. People use the platforms to post relatively static thoughts and observations, either generating their own content or reposting. The result is responses to those posts.
However social interaction is not sparked by the presence of a post. In fact the largest part of it is to do with ongoing conversation, much the same way conversation takes place in a real-world gathering of people.
For virtual platforms it now becomes vital to factor in platforms that encourage conversation that is not linked to a blog post. Current reporting on social platforms shows this with reports that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have experienced stellar growth over the past few years. WhatsApp is reported to have in the region of 1 billion users (February 2016) and Messenger in the region of 800 million users (January 2016).
Although stats are not available my own field observation tells me that WhatsApp is extremely widely used in Namibia. My deduction is that one of the reasons WhatsApp is extremely popular is because it easily enables group chats, while Facebook Messenger is a bit more difficult.
The one thing that is absolutely striking is that Facebook, WhatsApp and Messenger give a high degree of control over who interacts on any of the platforms. Users decide with who they want to interact. The same is not true of Twitter as anyone who finds the post has a high likelihood of being able to participate. The platform does have a function in terms of which the blogger can limit post visibility to followers, only this does not seem to have taken on.
As I write this, there is a high degree of concern among investors that Twitter’s model and business model are inadequate. I also noted that WhatsApp has abandoned its USD 1 annual fee to users and will begin to implement business messaging (e.g. ads).
In regards to Twitter though, it must be noted that it is heavily supported by media for rapid delivery of raw news, and it retains its visibility with an e-mail policy which borders on spamming, were it not for the opt-in requirements of access to the service.
What this boils down to is that for effective reach, cost containment and cost-effectiveness, the enterprise communicator has Facebook and should keep an eye on WhatsApp to do messaging. The platforms which appear to be best choices are also those that deliver a degree of privacy, so watch for the emergence of those.
There is however one tool that is vital for communicators, and that is SMS, which has a higher potential reach and effect than social media.
Although there is a high degree of social media awareness, web use is passive and SMS can overcome that. I will write about it in the next column.

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