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Social Media

A Primer


Social Media is a broad term that refers to multiple digital communication platforms used for networking and social interaction. The importance of these online channels for marketing cannot be overstated, as they represent a sea change in how people consume media and interact with brands. As traffic safety advocates, it’s essential to integrate social media into our marketing strategy, target audiences live, work and play online.

Social media is:
  • A conversation not a presentation
  • Digital dialogue not a mass-marketing monologue
  • Consumer-generated content
  • Word-of-mouth on steroids
Here’s a look at the primary social media platforms:


Facebook is a social networking website launched in 2004 by students at Harvard and opened to the general public in 2006 that allows users to post status updates, photos and videos on their “walls” as well as links to external content. Users create personal profiles and build networks of “friends” who have access to their information. Facebook friends can send private messages, join common interest groups and “Like” fan pages set up by brands. As of May 2011, Facebook had over 600 million worldwide users. Half of America’s 18-34-year-olds on Facebook checked their accounts every morning when they awoke, a third of them did so via mobile devices before getting out of bed.


Twitter is a microblogging platform of 140-character messages that are similar to Facebook updates but shorter. Established in 2006, Twitter is an open platform for sharing information, rather than the invitation-only format of Facebook, although users can “lock” their Twitter accounts and screen their followers if they choose. As of May 2011, Twitter boasted over 150 million worldwide users. Twitter’s demo skews older than Facebook as users carry on multiple simultaneous conversations that extend beyond friends and family. In general, Twitter usage skews older than Facebook and users are keenly interested in world events, news and politics. Stories routinely break on Twitter now rather than via mainstream news, as there is virtual saturation among journalists and news media.


LinkedIn is a business-networking site launched in 2003. Usage skews older than Facebook and Twitter; it also skews male. LinkedIn “profiles” are like a living, breathing digital resumes. Users update their information, references and recommendations and “connect” to others forming an extended business network that includes executives of all Fortune 500 companies. LinkedIn also features discussion groups formed around similar interests. As of May 2011, the platform had surpassed the 100 million worldwide user milestone.


Serving up 2 billion video views daily as of May 2011, YouTube is the world’s most popular online video community. Established in 2005 as a destination to watch and share original videos on the Internet, the platform has a broad demographic: 18-54- year-olds watch the equivalent of 150,000 full-length feature films each week. However, more than half of YouTube’s users are under age 20. As with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the consumer is in control on YouTube, not the brand.

Of the world’s largest companies, two-thirds used Twitter, 54% had a Facebook page and 50% had a YouTube channel as of May 2011, according to Mashable, and those numbers are growing every day.


A blog is a web log or online public diary written for others to read. You’re all familiar with “Fast Lane” – the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Blogs enable you to get your message out to a wider audience, position yourself as an expert in your field and leverage search engine optimization for your brand. Blogs are dynamic platforms, easy to syndicate and disseminate via other social networking channels.

Monetization of social media platforms

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are all experimenting with different levels of embedded advertising in addition to fan pages and corporate accounts. Blogs vary in their use of paid placement, endorsements and digital banners to promote brands. Because these platforms are built around consumer-generated content and peer-to-peer interaction, traditional advertising and marketing speak is ineffective.

Power to the people

Social media is about sociology not technology. Human relationships are still more powerful than the technology utilized to facilitate these online communities. Social media is not a stand-alone marketing strategy; it’s an integral part of a holistic, multi-channel marketing plan. When you engage consumers via social media, you have to talk like a friend, not a brand. No marketing speak or shameless self-promotion. At the end of the day, social media is about making a connection – one person at a time.

Because social media is a “web of interconnected minds” it’s the perfect place for social norming messages to affect change. The implications of positive peer pressure via social networking indicate a high degree of message credibility, since users decide with whom to interact. Social media can be a positive force through which traffic safety organizations like NHTSA can mobilize the power of group dynamics to help individuals improve their lives.

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