Social networking and the media

Avenues like Twitter and Facebook offer a lot more than just social networking.
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01 .Introduction

Consumer anger

To some, they’re a threat to privacy and a recipe for wasted time. To others, they’re just a fun way to keep in touch with friends. But increasingly, social networks are seen to offer radically new ways to make your presence felt.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and dozens of other social media sites - it can be hard to keep abreast of what’s out there. More and more, that’s an audience prepared to listen, including those businesses you deal with all the time. Canny companies now monitor these sites to instantly detect negative feedback and sort the problem. Unhappy about a product you bought? Don’t like your Telco provider? Disappointed with the customer service you’ve received or simply don’t like the name of the new vegemite? Log on to the internet and you can tell the world.

CHOICE shows you how to harness this power as an effective new tool for customer complaint and how to tap into others’ opinions. We also invite you to share your experiences, good or bad.


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Socialising over the internet isn’t new (in fact, there have been online chat tools like IRC - Internet Relay Chat - sincethe dawn of the internet), but the notion of building social networks – the type that Facebook epitomises – certainly is. They help us stay in touch with friends and family around the world and find new people with common interests to share information and experiences. But there are good reasons to be wary too, like exposing details about yourself that could be used for identity theft.

Right now, the largest of the social networking sites is Facebook (, which recently passed 500 million registered users, and not just the hip young generation that’s been growing up with technology either: the fastest growing group is now users over 35. It’s a huge slice of the pie for a site that began only six years ago in 2004 as just an online tool to help students at Harvard university get to know each other. In 2009 it had a turn over of over $US800 million, and that’s only set to increase. It’s not without controversy however, from workplace bans to stop employees wasting time, to privacy issues and questions over the sale of information (the site was recently lambasted for automatically sharing private information, some of which is used by partners and advertisers with Facebook).

MySpace ( tapped into the market before Facebook in 2003, and for many years led it. It was considered the leading social networking site from 2006 into 2008. But a revamp of Facebook helped it surge ahead, overtaking MySpace internationally in monthly unique visitors by April 2008, and as of July 2010, MySpace was ranked 28th inInternet traffic, well behind Facebook at number two (behind Google).

Video-sharing website YouTube( sits just below Facebook on the rankings. It has ridden arising tide of multimedia on the web, from amateur home-videos and movies to inserts into commercial websites and clips from TV shows. The number of clips on YouTube runs into hundreds of millions.

But it’s Twitter that has grabbed the popular imagination in the last year or so. Its ease of use from mobile phones and some notorious celebrity tweets (Catherine Deveny on Logies night for example, see Controversies) give it constant publicity, and it’s seen in such conventional environments as ABC TV’s Q&A program. It was recently used for a political “debate” between politicians in NSW. That was variously described as hard to follow and chaotic, but it’s unlikely to be the last such use of it we’ll see. It’s been used for other serious purposes too, like finding medical expertise in a hurry or getting news out of countries with repressive regimes.

Mostly, the leading sites are purely social, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for business. A site that has carved out a distinctive niche for itself in this arena, LinkedIn(, lets users build networks of trusted contacts to find jobs, recruits or business opportunities including the ability to notify and check references.

Then there are sites intended to help you keep up with proliferating information on the web. Known as social bookmarking sites, they help identify and share the most popular websites and links. The leaders here are Digg, Reddit and Delicious and their logos appear on news sites such as the New York Post.

And that’s not all: there are actually hundreds of social networking sites, ranging from the leaders above to more specialised and esoteric ones such as Babycenter, Flixster (for movies) and even Fillos de Galicia for Galicians everywhere. Whatever your interests,there’s probably a social networking site that’s just right for you.


  • Social networking both pushes boundaries and makes otherwise idle comments matters of public record. Inevitably,this rocks the boat between people, organisations and even countries. Here are just a few examples:
  • Comedian Catherine Deveny lost her job as an Age columnist after her Logies night tweets about celebrities caused offense.
  • In 2007, a party in County Durham, England, advertised on MySpace by a 17-year-old while her parents were away attracted 200 teenagers who caused over £20,000 of damage.
  • In Melbourne, a similar incident attracted 500 people, the police dog squad and a helicopter.
  • After several incidents of false profiles leading other users into danger, MySpace identified and deleted the profiles of 29,000 registered sex offenders in 2007.

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  • iStock_media

    Many companies and retailers are starting to take the business of being “social” seriously. Those currently using social media to communicate with customers are diverse, ranging from technology and telecommunication companies to department stores, airlines and even small local businesses. And unlike more traditional communications such as advertising, which allow the company to control the message, social media allows the customer to talk back.

    Business of being social

    This two-way communication is a radical shift in how some companies deal with customers, and according to Cameron Reilly, social media strategist and head of digital strategy at a Brisbane-based advertising agency, “many are finding it difficult to step away from their traditional marketing and public relations strategies”.
    Companies are now monitoring public sites such as Twitter for mentions of their brand, as well as scanning the internet for comments on blogs and public groups on Facebook. Many have customer service teams that scan for disgruntled customer comments and then contact them directly, while some are searching out their competitors’ unhappy customers to convert them.
    Social media also shapes how companies do business. Some argue it’s the world’s biggest focus group, and the experts CHOICE spoke to all agree that sites such as Twitter give companies direct access to consumers’ opinions – good or bad – so they can use this live feedback to improve or change the way they do business.
    Many large Australian companies have been slow to embrace social media, but telecommunications giant Telstra is one of the most active. Mike Hickinbotham, Social Media Senior Advisor for Telstra, says the organisation has been “dipping a toe” in the water of social media for the past three years. He concedes Telstra doesn’t always have the best image with consumers, and believes social media is a key element in changing public perceptions of the company.
    “It was a big shift,” Hickinbotham told CHOICE.
    “We first started out with a blog called ‘Now we’re talking’, where we began to acknowledge that it’s OK for people to express how they think and feel. We’ve since launched our second blog called Telstra Exchange. It’s designed to engage in online conversations that have a shared interest in technology, innovation and online media. With our two customer support accounts on Twitter, it allows us to have a real conversation with our customers as well as being able to help them.”

    Smartphones to take over iphone keyboard

    Lukas Picton, a social media strategist for global public relations company Text 100, says he has seen a massive uptake in the use of social media by both the public and business this year. “It’s exploded – and it’s set to get bigger in Australia, particularly as more people start using smart phones. I was in New York this time last year and the majority of people you’d see in the streets and on the subway had an iPhone or a Blackberry – even school kids. The adoption of smartphone and mobile internet technology is what continues to drive the uptake and usage of social media, and it’s definitely played a significant role in the increase here in Australia.”
    Reilly, who has worked with many Australian companies to develop social media strategies, says while Australia has been much slower than the US and UK to embrace social media, interest has picked up dramatically in the past eight months – and companies that don’t get involved will be left behind. “Their employees are probably already on Twitter; more than eight million adult Australians are on Facebook; people are blogging, podcasting – it’s already happening.”

    Many companies now monitor public sites like Twitter for mentions of their brand, as well as scanning the internet for comments on blogs and public groups on Facebook. Disgruntled customer’s comments are directly responded to. Other teams will search out their competitors’ unhappy customers in order to convert them.

    Social media strategist Cameron O’Reilley says, “Ten years ago if you had a bad experience as a consumer you might tell a few people at a barbeque or at work , now you can tell 100 people on twitter and then they might tell their network of 100 people and so it goes.”

    Top sites for a whinge

    Twitter twitter-on-white

    Described as a ‘micro-blogging’ site, Twitter allows users to sign up and post their thoughts online in 140 characters or less. Unless specified, the comments are public and can be viewed by any other user on the site. Comments can also be linked by a tag so the user can find other users with comments on similar topics. If you find someone whose posts look interesting, simply add them to the list of users you ‘follow’, so you can see their comments in real time. Link your mobile phone number to receive “tweets” direct to your phone.

    The beauty of Twitter is that if you want to draw a company’s attention to your tweet, all you have to do is name the company or product. If the company in question is scanning social media they will pick it up quickly. If the company has a Twitter account, you can check by using the search facility, you can draw attention to your post by adding an @ symbol and the company’s account name. If you want to link your post to others by topic you can add a # symbol and the topic name to track all tweets posted on this topic.

    Facebook Facebook_from_web

     Allows users to sign up, create a profile and find ‘friends’ or join fan pages. Facebook allows users to post comments, send messages, invite friends to events, post videos and photos and create fan groups. While Facebook accounts are usually only viewable to users that are approved (friends), it also hosts public ‘fan’ sites that users can join.


    An abbreviation of the word weblog, online blogs allow people to post regular entries via text, audio or video. It’s typically written like a diary; some provide commentary on a particular subject. More recently corporations have joined the blogging bandwagon and feature topic based discussions from staff or management to its customers. Some common blog hosting sites include and Word Press

    Review sites Tripadvisor_from_web

    Peer review wields enormous power online. Sites like Trip Advisor allow people to post their experiences of the thousands of hotels and resorts listed. Its popularity guarantees a steady stream of opinion.
    For restaurant reviews posted by the online community, sites like Eatability give the punter’s perspective – often sobering news for the restaurant concerned.

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    05.Tweet tweet and opportunity knocks

    When Bruce Mills, CEO of IT company 3W, received bad advice from a Vodafone customer service rep regarding his company fleet phones, he logged onto Twitter and tweeted about his Vodafone encounter. Another unhappy Vodafone business customer quickly tweeted he’d also had a similar experience and was thinking of breaking his contract to change carriers. 

    Despite several phone calls and the subsequent buzz created by his Twitter comments, Mills says he never received a call from Vodafone. However he was contacted by Optus, who had seen his comments on Twitter and offered to help.

    Mills explained he was committed to a plan with Vodafone for another 12 months and that breaking it would attract a $5500 exit fee. Optus assured Mills they would pay the fee and provide $5000 of free handsets if he agreed to a 24 month contract with Optus. Mills is now an Optus client and has referred another three corporate clients to Optus since. As Mills puts it, “such is the power of Twitter”.
    isnackWhen Kraft announced the name of its new Vegemite product as iSnack2.0, within 24 hours the internet was flooded with indignant consumers. The name had been selected by Kraft from 48,000 suggestions from the public.

    Despite a name apparently intended to appeal to an online audience, it was online where angry consumers slammed the moniker. Over 700,000 comments were posted on Twitter and various ‘hate’ sites popped up on Facebook, while bloggers and internet forums buzzed with indignant vegemite lovers.

    Within days Kraft announced it had listened to the concerns of the public and as a result a new name would be chosen via public poll to replace the ill fated iSnack 2.0.

    While some marketing experts have accused Kraft of deliberately choosing a name people would hate in order to generate publicity, Kraft has denied this. Either way, it demonstrates the massive influence social media wields.
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