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Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media
 

Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media

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Traditionally, consumers used the Internet to simply expend content: they read it, they watched it, and they used it to buy products and services. Increasingly, however, consumers are utilizing ...

Traditionally, consumers used the Internet to simply expend content: they read it, they watched it, and they used it to buy products and services. Increasingly, however, consumers are utilizing platforms –— such as content sharing sites, blogs,
social networking, and wikis–—to create, modify, share, and discuss Internet content. This represents the social media phenomenon, which can now significantly impact a firm’s reputation, sales, and even survival. Yet, many executives eschew or ignore this form of media because they don’t understand what it is, the various forms it can take, and how to engage with it and learn. In response, we present a framework that defines
social media by using seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. As different social media activities are defined by the extent to which they focus on some or all of these blocks,
we explain the implications that each block can have for how firms should engage with social media. To conclude, we present a number of recommendations regarding how firms should develop strategies for monitoring, understanding, and responding to different social media activities.

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Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media Document Transcript

  • Business Horizons (2011) 54, 241—251 www.elsevier.com/locate/bushorSocial media? Get serious! Understanding thefunctional building blocks of social mediaJan H. Kietzmann *, Kristopher Hermkens, Ian P. McCarthy,Bruno S. SilvestreSegal Graduate School of Business, Simon Fraser University, 500 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1W6,Canada KEYWORDS Abstract Traditionally, consumers used the Internet to simply expend content: they Social media; read it, they watched it, and they used it to buy products and services. Increasingly, Social networks; however, consumers are utilizing platforms–—such as content sharing sites, blogs, Web 2.0; social networking, and wikis–—to create, modify, share, and discuss Internet content. User-generated This represents the social media phenomenon, which can now significantly impact a content; firm’s reputation, sales, and even survival. Yet, many executives eschew or ignore this Facebook; form of media because they don’t understand what it is, the various forms it can take, Twitter; and how to engage with it and learn. In response, we present a framework that defines LinkedIn; social media by using seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, YouTube sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. As different social media activities are defined by the extent to which they focus on some or all of these blocks, we explain the implications that each block can have for how firms should engage with social media. To conclude, we present a number of recommendations regarding how firms should develop strategies for monitoring, understanding, and responding to different social media activities. # 2011 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.1. Welcome to the jungle: The social create, discuss, and modify user-generated con-media ecology tent. Given the tremendous exposure of social me- dia in the popular press today, it would seem that weSocial media employ mobile and web-based tech- are in the midst of an altogether new communica-nologies to create highly interactive platforms tion landscape. The New York Times recently hired avia which individuals and communities share, co- social media editor (Nolan, 2009); the Catholic Press Association (2010) offers a webinar on how the church can use social media; and the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is on Twitter * Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: jan_kietzmann@sfu.ca (J.H. Kietzmann), with 1.8 million followers. Even Northwest Organickhh5@sfu.ca (K. Hermkens), ian_mccarthy@sfu.ca (I.P McCarthy), . Valley brand milk cartons now display ‘find, friend,bruno_silvest@sfu.ca (B.S. Silvestre). and follow us’ slogans. But unknown to many, this0007-6813/$ — see front matter # 2011 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005
  • 242 J.H. Kietzmann et al.landscape of social media sites and services started time a musical instrument had been broken duringforming more than a dozen years ago. For instance, the course of a flight. It was, however, probably thein 1997, the social network site Sixdegrees allowed first time that the owner of the instrument recordedusers to create profiles, list their friends, and add a music video about the experience and posted it onfriends-of-friends to their own lists (Boyd & Ellison, YouTube. The video, portraying United in a very2008). Sound familiar? unfavorable light, went ‘viral’ and has been viewed There currently exists a rich and diverse ecology almost 9.5 million times (Carroll, 2009). Amongstof social media sites, which vary in terms of their other highlights, United Breaks Guitars was cited byscope and functionality. Some sites are for the Time.com as one of YouTube’s best videos, and evengeneral masses, like Friendster, Hi5, and–—of discussed by Wolf Blitzer on television’s CNN Situa-course–—Facebook, which opened only 4 years tion Room. Such attention led to a brand and publicafter Sixdegrees closed its doors. Other sites, like relations crisis for United, as the story was cheeredLinkedIn, are more focused professional networks; on by a global community of passengers who under-in fact, Facebook started out as a niche private stood all too well the frustrations of dealing withnetwork for Harvard University students. Media airline service failures. United did not respond and,sharing sites, such as MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr, to this day, an Internet search of the term ‘United’concentrate on shared videos and photos. And after returns Carroll’s damaging YouTube video link at thea slow start in the late 1990s, weblogs (blogs) have top of the results list. This high profile examplebecome very popular, because they are easy to illustrates how ill-prepared firms can be in dealingcreate and to maintain. Their authors range from with social media conversations about them. As BBCeveryday people to professional writers and celeb- Business Editor Tim Weber (2010) explains: ‘‘Theserities. Today, the resulting ‘blogosphere’ of more days, one witty tweet, one clever blog post, onethan 100 million blogs and their interconnections devastating video–—forwarded to hundreds ofhas become an important source of public opinion. friends at the click of a mouse–—can snowball andThere are even search engines, like Technorati, that kill a product or damage a company’s share price.’’are dedicated to searching blogs. Similarly, with the Although it is clear that–—for better or for worse–—help of social news and bookmarking sites like Reddit, social media is very powerful, many executives areDigg, and Delicious (formerly known as Del.icio.us), reluctant or unable to develop strategies and allo-users can rank sites by voting on the value of content. cate resources to engage effectively with socialMost recently, the phenomenon of micro-blogging media. Consequently, firms regularly ignore or mis-focuses on offering real-time updates. Twitter has manage the opportunities and threats presented bybeen driving this development since it was founded in creative consumers (Berthon, Pitt, McCarthy, &2006. Today, more than 145 million users send on Kates, 2007). One reason behind this ineptitude isaverage 90 million ‘tweets’ per day, each consisting a lack of understanding regarding what social mediaof 140 characters or less (Madway, 2010). These are are, and the various forms they can take (Kaplan &mostly short status updates of what users are doing, Haenlein, 2010). To help address this gap in knowl-where they are, how they are feeling, or links to other edge, we herein present and illustrate a honeycombsites. In turn, Foursquare ties these real-time up- framework of seven social media building blocks.dates into location specific information by rewarding Utilized individually and together, these blocks canusers for ‘checking in’ to real sites at any location help mangers make sense of the social media ecolo-worldwide, and for leaving their comments for others gy, and to understand their audience and theirto view. engagement needs. In true social media fashion, With this rise in social media, it appears that the origins of this framework can be attributed tocorporate communication has been democratized. a number of bloggers: principally, Gene Smith (2007)The power has been taken from those in marketing of the Atomiq.org, who developed and combinedand public relations by the individuals and commu- ideas discussed by Matt Webb (2004) of intercon-nities that create, share, and consume blogs, nect.org; Stewart Butterfield (2003) of sylloge.com;tweets, Facebook entries, movies, pictures, and and Peter Morville (2004) of semanticstudios.com.so forth. Communication about brands happens, We have taken their ideas and advanced them inwith or without permission of the firms in question. four ways, each of which forms a part of our article.It is now up to firms to decide if they want to get In Section 2, we explain how executives wouldserious about social media and participate in this use the framework to understand the functionalcommunication, or continue to ignore it. Both have traits of different social media activities, and dis-a tremendous impact. cuss and illustrate the fundamental implications For instance, when United Airlines broke Dave that each block presents to firms as they seek toCarroll’s guitar in 2008, it likely was not the first fathom the engagement needs of their social media
  • Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media 243Figure 1. The honeycomb of social mediaaudience. In Section 3, we explain how the frame- users in certain ways. For instance, Kaplan andwork can be used to compare and contrast the Haenlein (2010) explain that the presentationfunctionalities and implications of different social of a user’s identity can often happen throughmedia activities. Finally, in Section 4, we conclude the conscious or unconscious ‘self-disclosure’ ofby presenting guidelines for how firms should devel- subjective information such as thoughts, feelings,op strategies for monitoring, understanding, and likes, and dislikes. Consequently, users andresponding to different social media activities. social media sites have different discourse prefer- ences and aims. Many individuals who participate in online activities use their real names (e.g., Guy2. The seven functional blocks of Kawasaki, a leading blogger and managing directorsocial media of Garage Technology Ventures), while other influential social media mavens are known by theirThe framework we use (see Figure 1) is a honeycomb nicknames, or ‘handles’ (e.g., hummingbird604of seven functional building blocks: identity, con- is Raul Pacheco, a blogger and educator on envi-versations, sharing, presence, relationships, repu- ronmental issues).tation, and groups. Each block allows us to unpack Of course, there are many different social mediaand examine (1) a specific facet of social media user platforms built around identity that require users toexperience, and (2) its implications for firms. These set up profiles (e.g., Facebook). This has led to thebuilding blocks are neither mutually exclusive, nor formation of secondary services like DandyID, whichdo they all have to be present in a social media allows users to store their online social identities inactivity. They are constructs that allow us to make one place. Similar in nature to business cards andsense of how different levels of social media func- email signatures, social media users now createtionality can be configured. social media profile cards, using tools like Retaggr, to advertise their different identities and encourage2.1. Identity others to follow them. While these new forms of communication attracted many early adopters, newThe identity functional block represents the ex- demographics are now participating. In particular,tent to which users reveal their identities in a those 55 and older–—who were relatively rare con-social media setting. This can include disclosing tributors in Web 1.0–—are now the fastest growinginformation such as name, age, gender, profes- demographic on Facebook, with women outnumber-sion, location, and also information that portrays ing men 2:1 (Marketingcharts, 2009).
  • 244 J.H. Kietzmann et al. As identity is core to many social media plat- 2.2. Conversationsforms, this presents some fundamental implica-tions for firms seeking to develop their own social The conversations block of the framework repre-media sites or strategies for engaging with other sents the extent to which users communicate withsites. One major implication is privacy. Users will- other users in a social media setting. Many socialingly share their identities on social media sites media sites are designed primarily to facilitatesuch as Facebook and Twitter, yet this does not conversations among individuals and groups. Thesemean they do not care what happens to this conversations happen for all sorts of reasons. Peopleinformation. Indeed, users have serious concerns tweet, blog, et cetera to meet new like-mindedabout how secondary firms use their information people, to find true love, to build their self-esteem,as a source for data mining and surveillance or to be on the cutting edge of new ideas or trending(Kietzmann & Angell, 2010), and the extent to topics. Yet others see social media as a way ofwhich social media sites passively facilitate or making their message heard and positively impact-actively encourage these activities. This has re- ing humanitarian causes, environmental problems,sulted in users and government agencies initiating economic issues, or political debates (Beirut, 2009).class-action lawsuits for invasion of privacy The enormous number and diversity of conversa-(Kravets, 2010). Users have also developed iden- tions that can take place in a social media setting,tity strategies (e.g., real identity versus virtual means that there are format and protocol implica-identities), while others focus on self-promotion tions for firms which seek to host or track these(e.g., Facebook) or self-branding (e.g., LinkedIn). conversations. Twitter, for instance, is centeredProfessional photographers, for example, pay a around exchanging short messages that are mostlypremium to share their photographs on Flickr to real-time status updates, so as to create an ‘ambi-develop their professional brand, and start con- ent awareness’ of issues (Kaplan & Haenlein, inversations within their community. press). Mostly, these messages are of an ephemeral However, this does not suggest that firms should nature, without any obligation to respond. Review-insist on profiles that are complete or accurate. In ing past tweets requires an archiving service likefact, in an effort to protect their privacy, people Google Replay, which lets users search through andtie different identities to the context of the review tweets. Twitter, then, is more about conver-different social media platforms they use (e.g., sation than identity. Blogs, on the other hand, arehobbies and pictures on Facebook might be differ- less about staying connected synchronously thanent from those on LinkedIn). In some cases, about facilitating rich, often lengthy conversationsthough, identities remain anonymous. For exam- that can be traced back on the blog itself.ple, social networks like Divorce360 work for those Drawing from research on industry dynamicsin complicated relationships or in various stages of (McCarthy, Lawrence, Wixted, & Gordon, 2010),breakups, who strongly need support but wish to we argue that differences in the frequency andremain anonymous. Consequently, technologies content of a conversation can have major implica-such as OAuth (Hammer-Lahav, 2007) have been tions for how firms monitor and make sense of thedeveloped as an open standard for authorization, ‘conversation velocity’: the rate and direction offor ‘‘giving access to your stuff without sharing change in a conversation. The rate of change is theyour identity at all (or its secret parts).’’ Although number of new conversations over a specified periodOAuth is now required for all third party Twitter of time, and the direction of change is the continuity-applications, it does not work for everyone. For discontinuity of the conversation (i.e., changes ininstance, users of the infamous Internet counter- how favorable or unfavorable a conversation isculture 4chan–—who brought us the ‘rickrolling’ toward a firm and its products). For instance, tomeme: a cultural practice whereby users are make collective sense of the short, speedy, andtricked into watching a cheesy music video–— numerous conversations hosted by sites such asprefer to know each other only by their handles. Twitter, firms need tools and capabilities that allowOne of their members, an individual who goes by them to connect the dots. That is, the conversationsthe name ‘moot,’ has been described as ‘‘the most are like pieces of a rapidly changing puzzle which,influential Web entrepreneur you’ve never heard when aggregated, combine to produce an overallof’’ (Smith, 2008). Striking a careful balance be- image or message. In contrast, people such as Marctween sharing identities and protecting privacy is Andreeson (a co-founder of Netscape) use regularcrucial in selecting social media tools; the wrong blogs to post detailed, but less frequent accounts.mix can lead to a lack of accountability among These postings can be rich and useful, but notusers, encourage cyber-bullying, and pave the way necessarily connected to a greater social mediafor off-topic and off-color comments. exchange on the same subject.
  • Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media 245 Another fundamental implication of conversation sharing that can be built into a social media platformis the issue of firms starting or manipulating a very much depend on the aims of the platform. Forconversation. For example, Unilever gave its com- example, YouTube started as a platform to allowmunity something to talk about upon launching the individuals to upload and share homemade videos;Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. People not the first of these showed one of the founders enjoy-only conversed on Dove’s own blog or discussion ing a day at the San Diego Zoo. This case illustratesboard, but also talked very positively about the that even though the object medium is video, You-campaign across many social media platforms. To Tube was established primarily to enable users tospark more conversation, one billboard in the series share personal objects–—experiences and observa-asked viewers to vote on whether a woman dis- tions–—with the world.played was ‘fat’ or ‘fab,’ with the results posted A second implication concerns the degree toin real-time on the board. Thus, there are benefits which the object can or should be shared. As You-and risks in joining and manipulating conversations. Tube grew, users increasingly uploaded video notFirms which know when to chime in–—and, when not created by them. This led to criticism and lawsuitsto–—show their audience that they care, and are against YouTube for failing to ensure that uploadedseen as a positive addition to the conversation; this material complied with copyright laws. YouTube hasis in contrast to firms which flood conversations that also been denounced for hosting videos that containwere not ‘theirs’ in the first place. offensive content. As a result, YouTube developed controls and allocated resources to filter and then2.3. Sharing screen the content that it helps share. This includes requiring users who want to upload video, to regis-Sharing represents the extent to which users ex- ter and agree to terms of use; providing a contentchange, distribute, and receive content. The term management system that allows content owners‘social’ often implies that exchanges between peo- (e.g., movie studios) to identify and manage theirple are crucial. In many cases, however, sociality is content on YouTube; asking users to flag inappropri-about the objects that mediate these ties between ate content; and employing an army of people whopeople (Engestrom, 2005); the reasons why they ¨ screen and remove content that is in violation of themeet online and associate with each other. Consider terms of use.Groupon, which publishes a 50% - 90% discountcoupon for local businesses each day via email, 2.4. PresenceTwitter, mobile phone applications, and its ownwebsite. The coupon is only valid, however, once The framework building block presence representsa critical mass has agreed to purchase the special the extent to which users can know if other users areoffer. Social shopping services like Groupon leverage accessible. It includes knowing where others are, inthe ‘social graph,’ a mapping of users’ connectivity, the virtual world and/or in the real world, andto share the news via email across their entire social whether they are available. In the virtual world,network. Consequently, social media consist of peo- this happens through status lines like ‘available’ orple who are connected by a shared object (e.g., a ‘hidden.’ Given the increasing connectivity of peo-groupon, text, video, picture, sound, link, loca- ple on the move, this presence bridges the real andtion). Sharing alone is a way of interacting in social the virtual. For instance, actor Ashton Kutcher andmedia, but whether sharing leads users to want to his actress wife Demi Moore are both active onconverse or even build relationships with each other Foursquare, and when they ‘check in’ at a particulardepends on the functional objective of the social location, fans and traditional media can view thismedia platform. For instance, the objects of social- information and know where to go for celebrityity are pictures for Flickr, Indie music for MySpace, gawking. Similar presence-focused platforms centerand careers for LinkedIn. on geographical spaces, not specific locations. We suggest there are at least two fundamental Friends Around Me allows users to share their statusimplications that the sharing block of the honey- updates and check-ins across networks–—Facebook,comb has for all firms with ambition to engage in Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla–—and displayssocial media. The first is the need to evaluate what which friends are in close physical proximity. Flash-objects of sociality their users have in common, or mobs like T-Mobile’s Welcome Back (Lifesforsharing,to identify new objects that can mediate their 2010) are a similar phenomenon, whereby largeshared interests. Without these objects, a sharing groups of people, organized mostly via social media,network will be primarily about connections be- practice an unusual but enormously powerful act:tween people but without anything connecting them assembling in a public place to suddenly perform fortogether. Of course, these objects and the type of a brief time, then dispersing just as quickly. Another
  • 246 J.H. Kietzmann et al.example of real-time presence is Trapster, a vehicle Social software like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) andspeed trap sharing system that relies on user- Skype allow people to talk to ‘buddies’ or ‘contacts’generated content to warn drivers of live police speed they already know. On other platforms, relation-traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, and so forth. ships are informal and without structure. Blogs, forIn other cases–—for instance, LinkedIn–—knowing instance, can allow users to develop a relationshipwho else is online or where others are located physi- with each other, without a formal arrangement ofcally does not matter. what and how much information they should share. The implication of presence is that firms need to In yet other cases, including Twitter and YouTube,pay attention to the relative importance of user relationships hardly matter. The general rule is thatavailability and user location. In some cases, this is social media communities which don’t value identi-tied very directly to a desire to interact synchro- ty highly, also don’t value relationships highly.nously, whether this is through voice or sharing data. Because the implications of the relationship blockShould users prefer to engage in real-time, then the are numerous, we use two properties–—structuresocial media platform should offer a presence or and flow–—from social network theory (Borgatti &status line indicator, along with a suitable mecha- Foster, 2003; Granovetter, 1973) to explain thenism through which these users can contact each importance of different relationship traits. Theother and interact. A firm might also want to inves- structural property of a user’s relationships referstigate if users have a desire for selective presences, to how many connections they have and their posi-where one can be visible to some people while tion in their network of relationships. Researchstaying hidden to others. Another direct implication shows that the denser and larger a user’s portfolioof presence is that it is linked to the traits of other of relationships is, and the more central his or herfunctional blocks in the honeycomb framework, position in the portfolio, the more likely that user isincluding conversations and relationships. For in- to be an influential member (‘influencer’) in theirstance, drawing upon ideas by Kaplan and Haenlein network. The flow property of user relationships(2010), firms should recognize that social media refers to the types of resources involved in individ-presence is influenced by the intimacy and immedi- ual relationships and how these resources are used,acy of the relationship medium, and that higher exchanged, or transformed. It describes thelevels of social presence are likely to make conver- strength of a relationship: strong relationships aresations more influential. ‘‘long-lasting, and affect-laden’’ (Krackhardt, 1992, p. 218), while weak ones are ‘‘infrequent and dis-2.5. Relationships tant’’ (Hansen, 1999, p. 84). It also refers to the ‘multiplexity’ of relationships; that is, when usersThe relationships block represents the extent to are connected by more than one type of relationshipwhich users can be related to other users. By ‘re- (e.g., they are work colleagues and friends).late,’ we mean that two or more users have some Consequently, if a social media community valuesform of association that leads them to converse, relationships, the issue of structural and flow prop-share objects of sociality, meet up, or simply just list erties becomes important. Social media sites andeach other as a friend or fan. Consequently, how firms seeking to engage with their users must un-users of a social media platform are connected often derstand how they can maintain or build relation-determines the what-and-how of information ex- ships, or both. If the relationships need to be formalchange. In some cases, these relationships are fairly and regulated, then a process should be developedformal, regulated, and structured. LinkedIn, for to validate authenticity of users. If a social mediainstance, allows users to see how they are linked platform adopts a brokering role or facilitates trans-to others and how many degrees of separation they actions, social mechanisms via which other individ-are from a ‘target’ member–—possibly an employer uals act as an approval step (e.g., LinkedIn), or legalthey would like to meet. Member profiles also need steps can be employed. If users mostly expect toto be validated by others to be complete. With a maintain existing relationships, then a simple iden-focus on relationship building, LinkedIn has a refer- tification process is required. For instance, users canral system so that these users can be introduced, send a ‘friend request’ that needs to be accepted bythrough a chain of friends-of-friends, to the person the other party before the two can add each other tothey intended to meet so that they can be closer to their contact list. If the nature of the engagementthe people they would like to meet. Of course, among users is to grow their networks, then moregrowing a network as large as possible likely reduces information might need to be displayed to createthe degrees of separation to these individuals. In meaningful relationships; this, of course, must hon-other cases, social media platforms are centered on or the users’ expectation of both identity and pri-existing relationship maintenance, not expansion. vacy, as outlined above. Another alternative is that
  • Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media 247users of the community enter into a legally binding (e.g., number of views or followers) or collectivetransaction (e.g., the social commerce site Bonanza), intelligence of the crowd (e.g., rating system). Forwhich is an altogether different relationship. example, social media service sites such as Social Mention search and compile user-generated content2.6. Reputation from over 80 social media sites. It enables firms and individuals to monitor how many times they andReputation is the extent to which users can identify others are mentioned, using a number of metricsthe standing of others, including themselves, in a including: strength (the number of times you aresocial media setting. Reputation can have different mentioned); sentiment (the ratio of mentions thatmeanings on social media platforms. In most cases, are positive to those that are negative); passionreputation is a matter of trust, but since information (how often certain users talk about you); and reachtechnologies are not yet good at determining such (the number of different users talking abouthighly qualitative criteria, social media sites rely on you divided by the total number of times you are‘mechanical Turks’: tools that automatically aggre- mentioned).gate user-generated information to determinetrustworthiness. For instance, Jeremiah Owyang’s 2.7. Groups70,000 and Guy Kawasaki’s 292,000 followers onTwitter attest their reputations as social media The groups functional block represents the extentmaven and emerging technology expert, respective- to which users can form communities and sub-ly. Another example is LinkedIn, which builds the communities. The more ‘social’ a network becomes,reputation of one individual based on endorsements the bigger the group of friends, followers, andfrom others. However in social media, reputation contacts. A widely discussed relationship-grouprefers not only to people but also their content, metric is Dunbar’s Number, proposed by anthropol-which is often evaluated using content voting sys- ogist Robin Dunbar (1992), who theorized that peo-tems. On YouTube, the reputation of videos might be ple have a cognitive limit which restricts the numberbased on ‘view counts’ or ‘ratings,’ while on Face- of stable social relationships they can have withbook this could be ‘likes,’ and so forth. Via the other people to about 150. Social media platformsStumbleUpon platform, for example, one can only have recognized that many communities grow wellsee content that has already been filtered by users beyond this number, and offer tools that allow userswho share a common interest. The more Stumble- to manage membership. Two major types of groupsUpon knows about a user, the better it can match up exist. First, individuals can sort through their con-preferences of like-minded individuals who have tacts and place their buddies, friends, followers, orgiven the particular website a ‘thumbs up’ or fans into different self-created groups (e.g., Twitter‘thumbs down’ verdict. has lists). Second, groups online can be analogous to As with the other blocks in the honeycomb frame- clubs in the offline world: open to anyone, closedwork, reputation has significant implications for (approval required), or secret (by invitation only).how firms should effectively engage social media. Facebook and Flickr have groups, for instance, withIf firms and users value their reputations and those administrators who manage the group, approveof other users, then a metric must be chosen to applicants, and invite others to join.provide this information. The number of followers The direct implication of groups is fairly straight-on Twitter has limited value in that it only indicates forward. It can be assumed that a social mediahow popular a person is, not how many people community would enjoy a way to group its users,actually read the posts. Since people can follow even when the number of likely contacts is low foras many others as they like, they also do not have each member initially. It is good practice to enablea reason to ‘unfollow’ anyone. For a firm, this means this feature from the start such that members don’tthe engagement needs of its community should have to sort through lengthy contact lists to orderinform the choice of reputation system. If time their contacts later. If the members just need toand activity in a community matter, a measure of order their contacts to manage followers, friends,the number of posts over time might be a better fans, and the like, then simple user-generatedmetric. If the quality of an individual’s contributions grouping will suffice. This resembles allowing usersmatters, a rating system would be an appropriate to label their contacts, without these contacts beingchoice. aware of it. If, however, a group wants to pursue an Once a firm has identified appropriate metrics for agenda and grow its membership, then more formalthe reputation of its community’s social media en- group rules and functions would be required.gagement, the appropriate evaluation tool must be The indirect implications of groups are compli-chosen. This could either be based on objective data cated. Groups in social media are more than just a
  • 248 J.H. Kietzmann et al.Figure 2. Contrasting the functionalities of different siteslisting of users. There is a focus on different per- more difficult it is to manage for the users. Formissions for different group membership activity this reason, many social media platforms haveand content. Given the enormous traffic on social chosen to offer a few categories of groups and amedia and the amount of noise it generates daily, few combinations of permissions. Of course, thesethe need for filtering is paramount. To connect to choices are highly contextual, and a firm wouldsome of the earlier honeycomb blocks, groups can benefit from studying exactly what kinds of groupsvary in how they allow individuals to share specific their community would support, and how thesedetails with some contacts, but not others. Differ- should affect their engagement with other honey-ent parts of an identity could be set up for each comb pieces.block. In terms of presence, a user could choose tobe available to some (e.g., those in the friendsgroup) on the weekend, but not others (e.g., col- 3. Differences matter: The 4 Csleagues). But what happens when life is multiplexand one friend is also a colleague? Permissions It is difficult to stay abreast of the choices peoplemanagement is inherently difficult, and the more have for social media platforms. It seems that newflexibility that is embedded in the system, the sites and services emerge every day, vying for the
  • Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media 249attention of individuals and communities online. velocity of a conversation. The mantra ‘customerWhen examining the social media ecology, it quickly service is the new marketing’ emphasizes that thebecomes clear that many sites have struck a careful firm is no longer in control of the conversation, andbalance among the different blocks of the honey- that any social media strategy should also focus oncomb. Some focus more on identity, some more on increasing customer happiness (e.g., how well cus-sharing, et cetera. None of today’s major social tomer issues are resolved) and customer input (e.g.,media sites focus solely on just one block. Gene suggestions for improving a product or service). TheSmith (2007), one of the bloggers who helped evolve plan also needs to integrate a social media strategythis framework, argues that sites tend to concen- tightly with other marketing strategies, wherebytrate on three or four primary blocks. In Figure 2 we one points the audience to the other. Unless usersillustrate this with four examples: LinkedIn, Four- are made aware of the existence of a social mediasquare, YouTube, and Facebook. The darker the forum, they are unlikely to discover it by chance.color of a block, the greater this social media The ‘find us, friend us, and follow us’ slogan on milkfunctionality is within the site. containers is a suitable example for how ‘bought’ Using tools like the honeycomb framework to media (e.g., advertising) and ‘owned’ media (e.g.,understand and develop social media platforms, the brand or the product itself) can be integratedand the social media landscape more generally, is with social media (the ‘earned’ media) to seed andincreasingly important. Consequently, we now pres- drive conversations, sharing, relationships, and soent a guideline–—the 4 Cs: cognize, congruity, cu- forth. Other choices in the planning stage requirerate, and chase–—relating how firms should develop another look at the honeycomb to learn what keystrategies for monitoring, understanding, and re- activities–—conversations, for instance–—will helpsponding to different social media activities. the firm gain trust with a key influencer and within the community.3.1. Cognize 3.3. CurateA firm should first recognize and understand itssocial media landscape, using the honeycomb A firm must act as a curator of social media inter-framework. This will unveil the social media func- actions and content. This involves developing ationality and engagement implications for under- clear understanding of how often and when a firmstanding your customers. Similarly, it is important to should chime into conversations on a social mediafind out if and where conversations about a firm are platform, and who will represent the firm online.already being held, and how these are enabled by Social media involvement is not an exact science,the different functionalities in the honeycomb but to reduce the ambiguity, firms should developframework. At the same time, firms need to pay policies that outline how their employees look afterattention to other critical elements of the social and preserve different forms of social media en-media landscape, including who some of the main gagement. The key here is to identify employeesinfluencers are. Listorious, for instance, provides who have the ability to listen and who care aboutdetails of key experts on topics on Twitter. While the chatter online, and those who can create con-reviewing the social media landscape, a firm should tent that is emotionally appropriate for the com-also collect competitive intelligence to determine if munity (Armano, 2009). Another important option isits rivals are already active, and what the response to create ‘mash-ups,’ which combine content andlevel is for their particular social media strategy. functionality from a variety of sources that already exist. For example, organizations can curate con-3.2. Congruity versations by showing YouTube videos of credible individuals on their site, or by presenting existingNext, a firm needs to develop strategies that are research from other sites.congruent with, or suited to, different social media In any event, to effectively follow and use socialfunctionalities and the goals of the firm. This in- media can be a challenge, and it is likely that manyvolves focusing on the core honeycomb blocks of a firms initially won’t have the talent or capabilitiessocial media activity that will facilitate the needs of to succeed. So, when firms hire consultants who actits business. Are they seeking to drive more custom- on their behalf, they are well advised to conducters into a bricks and mortar store, to increase sales due diligence to ensure that opportunities are max-online, or to create new leads directly attributable imized and risks are minimized–—not the other wayto a social media tool? What are the metrics for around. Having the right controls in place is espe-evaluating the success of the social media platform? cially important, as individuals who communicateImportant success measures might focus on the with customers must be given enough discretion and
  • 250 J.H. Kietzmann et al.authority to develop relationships by solving cus- cial media activities vary in terms of their functiontomer issues, not just sympathizing with the cus- and impact, so as to develop a congruent socialtomer as often seems to be the case with traditional media strategy based on the appropriate balancecustomer service. of building blocks for their community.3.4. Chase ReferencesOf course, a constant chase for information about Armano, D. (2009, November 2). Six social media trends for 2010.social media activity is tremendously time-consum- Retrieved November 5, 2010, from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/ing. Yet, firms must scan their environments in order 2009/11/six_social_media_trends.htmlto understand the velocity of conversations and Beirut. (2009, August 21). Why do people really tweet? Theother information flows that could affect current psychology behind tweeting! 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For instance, when a customer tweeted size in primates. Journal of Human Evolution, 22(6), 469—493.his disappointment that a chain restaurant had run Engestrom, J. (2005, April 13). Why some social network services ¨out of corn tortillas, a full time social media em- work and others don’t – Or: the case for object-centered —ployee alerted the branch manager in less than sociality. Retrieved November 5, 2010, from http://www.2 minutes and the issue was resolved even before zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why-some-social-network- services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-the customer left the restaurant (Armano, 2009). centered-sociality.htmlBut even when it seems too late, an appropriate Granovetter, M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. Americansocial media response may turn the tide. Imagine if Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360—1380.United Airlines had released an apologetic United Hammer-Lahav, E. (2007, September 5). 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