Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

The definition of social media captures websites that allow users to share content and media among other things. Common examples of social media that effectively meet these requirements are Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Photobucket and Flickr.

Slowly but definitely, social media are growing in popularity, attempting to replace the role of corporate websites in small, medium and multinational businesses in Ghana and many parts of the world. Businesses are increasingly developing innovative social media strategies to connect with and ultimately sell to customers.

Much like the introduction of search engine marketing 10 years ago, social media has now become integral to many businesses marketing strategies. Prior to these phenomena, end users, suppliers, distributors and general merchant organisation were usually known to resort to the web portals of their brands to make known to the public their fresh contents and exclusive deals.

Yet presently, many websites lack attention-arresting information. But more importantly, the social media landscape and the technology are constantly evolving, which according to industry watchers; should make it easier for businesses to wrap their marketing plans around.

And just like the initial trend and subsequent evolution of websites, industry watchers say businesses across the globe are brainstorming on ways to effectively utilise social media as a customer acquisition tool. According to them, though websites are not going away anytime soon, they may lose out greatly to social media. Mr. Jim Blasingame, a small business advocate believes websites have some critical factors working against them. “Most are not easy for the typical owner to update, which is increasingly important to customers.”

They don’t come with their own community, or help you build one. “One of the most troubling statistics in the last 16 years since the first commercial website is that half of Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) still don’t have one.”

“My prediction is that within three years, more than a half of small businesses worldwide will have a social media presence; because this strategy empowers them with important elements which are absent in the package a website offers.” These elements are the ease to create and update, and availability of community-building tools.

Researches have shown that in the last seven years, the core of a business’ online marketing programme consisted of a website, the customer database and an email marketing programme. Perhaps, acting as de-facto plan for many businesses, the platforms are not only waning in the shadows of newer forms of communication, but are quickly becoming antiquated models of thinking.

The results of a Social Media Benchmark survey conducted by shows that 2948 businesses were undertaking the decentralisation of their marketing plans.

Over 40 percent indicated that they maintained a social site presence.

Furthermore, among the total respondents, 1,197 of them indicated that their company maintained a profile on one or more social media sites. 80 % maintain a Facebook presence and 56 % have a company account on Twitter. The average company has a presence on 3 different social media sites, announcing a big change in mentality and certainly acting as a windfall to the online marketer.

The head, marketing and corporate communications at First Bank Nigeria Plc added that the focus of brand awareness at any given moment should be a moving target, driven by conversation flow, engagement levels, technology tools and context, especially with respect to the brand generally, either for a product launch or some larger conversation to which the brand is relevant. Before the advent of ad-nauseam social media platforms, corporate communications, applications, on-line marketing and branding were perfected by organisations via websites, with many businesses in the mid- to late 90s paying mind-boggling amounts of money to have their websites built to mimic good salesmen by web companies producing mass websites.

On her part, Folake Ani-Mumuney, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications at First Bank Nigeria Plc warned that in the not too distant future, corporate websites would be replaced by social media, fueled by more and more consumers engaging in daily conversations, often involving brands, across multiple applications, platforms and networks, wholly independent of these websites. Ani-Mumuney made the remark at a Brand Communication seminar held in Lagos recently, stressing that most companies were giving up on the idea of a brochure-like website, which
serves as the information hub centre for a brand’s attractiveness to customers and sustainability. She said, although a brand is groomed to align with contemporary dispositions in the society, consumers’ conversations by becoming increasingly independent of corporate sites, will result in falling traffic and will render these sites ineffective in their current form.

“My prediction is that within three years, more than a half of small businesses worldwide will have a social media presence...” Mr. Jim Blasingame, a small business advocate

In a lecture entitled, “Sustaining the Brand”, Ani-Mumuney maintained that companies, “…may not necessarily morph information on your brand to social media, rather you should make sure that necessary information your customer will require is there anytime, because people would like to access or source for any information concerning your company or brand, even with their mobile phones.” Therefore, the very scope for a brand in this shifting marketplace will be its core values and purpose.

“The strict definition, execution and adherence to values, allows for a brand to move without cannibalising itself.” The corporate website is supposed to serve the purpose of launch pads for outreach rather than destinations for inbound interest. Their main role will be to constantly engage consumers in conversation and actively control any misleading information about the brand.

What is interesting about the future of social media is how behaviour is evolving. Users are learning, adapting and growing more aware of their surroundings. Photos and videos are playing more dominant roles in how we communicate.

What’s the future of Social Media?

1)    The physical and digital worlds will be more highly connected than ever before – already we are able to run through a park and track our progress online while sharing it with our friends or track our weight loss, or even our ovulation (at least some of us, that is) with iPhone apps that connect us to our Facebook and Twitter profiles and enable us to keep track of our progress as well as share the data with our friends.

2)    Facebook, Twitter and other major social networks will become increasingly “Social Dashboards”. In essence, Facebook and Twitter are social channels on which other companies can grow and develop their own technologies and businesses.

Both Facebook and Twitter have created economies far larger than many nations. Take for example, companies like Stocktwits,Tweetdeck and Zynga amongst others that have gained huge profits by “piggybacking” on these two platforms.

3)    Until now, brands have been very concerned with bringing as many people as possible to their pages. Consumer brands can now finally reap the fruits and build social commerce stores where Facebook users can purchase products on their favorite social network without necessarily going to any destination site. Facebook will become one of the major channels of future online shopping.

4)    Mobile technology will become more dominant and technology will be developed further, enabling it to offer us special promotions, coupons and tips based on geographical location.

5)    Human Relationships will no longer be as physically dependent and we will befriend and hang out with people from all over the world and all walks of life, all ethnicities and all beliefs, creating a worldwide melting pot.

6)    We will no longer be passive media consumers. Media will interact with us in dynamic ways on all platforms. Just like gamers playing WOW today, we will all become a part of a virtual world unknown to us yet, where we will all be avatars in the game of life.

7 )    As the Web is overloaded with more information, the content that we are exposed to will become more and more customised to our needs as companies will offer large sums of money to companies like Facebook and Google, making sure that the information we are exposed to is geared towards our interests.

Therefore, rather than experiencing an information overload, we will actually experience the opposite effect.

8)    Companies will better understand how to measure the ROI of social media and realise that social media is not about the number of people brands have in their communities but rather the amount of engagement that they observe on their page’s statistics and the overall online sentiment they faced this month as opposed to the last.