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There are loads of terms that are being flung around at the moment - Web2.0, New Media, Social Media, User Generated Content. It's hard to keep up with all the ways that we as citizens of the web can operate online. The playground of Social Media is so diverse that it can all get a little overwhelming. With new sites being launched weekly it can at times be a little hard to keep up with it all. In this the first of a five part series on Social Media you will discover what exactly Social Media is, how it evolved and why it has become such an invaluable personal and marketing tool. The Evolution of Social Media By the end of this five part series you should be navigating this topic with ease. But let's start off by learning a bit more about the rise of what has become known as consumer generated media and how it has marked the shift in the way we use the Internet. The Internet and the software which has been developed to run on it has made it so simple for anyone to publish content and make this content accessible to millions of people. In effect, consumers have been given a voice to air their views to a massive audience. Long gone are the days when the Internet was merely for research, company websites and porn :) ... today the Internet is for every single one of its users - we can contribute, we can share our thoughts, our videos, our resources - in short we, as a people are shaping what is out there and no voice goes unheard. Online conversations are taking place every day in the form of consumer generated media and while PR has traditionally focused on the media as written by journalists, the most trusted sources for modern consumers are ordinary people reporting their experiences. In a survey by Forrester Research, 25% of consumer respondents said they trusted the opinions of fellow consumers above all other forms of media referral or advertising. According to Edelman's latest Trust Barometer the most credible source of information about a company is... "a person like me". It is for this reason that engaging in Social Media can be highly beneficial to both individuals as well as companies. Social Media Wikipedia defines Social Media as "the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves."

In recent years there has been the massive growth of blogs, wiki's, podcasts, social networking sites and moblogs - together they form what is loosely known as Social Media; the ability for anyone to publish almost any content without the typical costs and hindrances associated with traditional media. This new publishing freedom has resulted in an explosion of new content. We see more and more instances of Social Media becoming integrated in the traditional media landscape. Journalists are blogging, YouTube and Facebook are making the newspaper headlines and several television adverts are examples of CGM to mention but a few. This new media is enveloping traditional media and borders are becoming hazy - in short a new challenge for media professionals has begun. Over the last few years hundreds of Social Media type websites have been launched and over the next few weeks we will be looking into these various types as well as the major players within each field: oPhoto Sharing oVideo Sharing oNews Sharing oSocial Networks oBlogging oForums The Benefits of Social Media oSocial Media tends to have more of an impact amongst those who have become quite numb to traditional advertising. They choose to engage with your advertising when it is done in the Social Media landscape while they are merely exposed to it in the traditional media environment. oSocial Media's potential to go viralis one of its greatest benefits - if users like the content they will share it with their own communities. oSocial Media allows you to create an online community for your brand and its supporters. oSocial Media can tie in nicely with any of your other online marketing tactics - a holistic eMarketing strategy is always the best strategy. oSocial Media allows you to engage with an online community and allows you to connect your brand to the appropriate audience. oSocial Media has created a orum for brand evangelists. Companies should embrace as well as monitor this as users with negative opinions of your brand have access to the same forum. oThe various platforms allow you to access a community with similar interests to your own networking without borders.

oThe numerous interactions allow you to garner feedback from your communities. oFeedback from Social Media sites helps drive both future business as well as marketing strategies. oThe range of media enables you to learn more about your audience's likes, dislikes, behaviour etc. Never before has this much information been available to marketers - market research just got a whole lot cheaper. oNiche targeting just got a whole lot easier! As with all consumer generated media there are huge risks as well as opportunities. Social Media facilitates a two-way conversationbetween customer and company. This necessitates that the company shifts approach from "deploy and watch" to one of constant involvement with the audience.

Quirk eMarketing provides innovative services to the global business community. Its offering is built on strategic planning, moving through Web Development and the implementation of effective campaign tactics. Quirk's Internet marketing services include SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing, Online Reputation Management and WebPR.

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