In the last decade we have seen the proliferation of Web 2.0 technologies, digital media, and post-PCs change the way we access information, communicate and interact with one another.  With subscription to social media channels in the hundreds of millions, and the growing global popularity of creating and exchanging user-generated content, marketing among other disciplines has transformed at this intersection of technology.

User-generated content – hosted on various social media sites – command hundreds of millions of hits a day – it’s counter-intuitive to ignore so many voices and marketers only have to listen to hear the countless conversations that stakeholders, customers and employees are having about their brands.  The “social web” has become the catch-all term for the kind of horizontal engagement that unites subscribers with their mutual interests via social media channels such as: blogs, forums, social networking sites, listservs, multimedia, or chat rooms.

Marketing intelligence, sentiment research, public relations, and other sub-disciplines of marketing are beginning to use the social web extensively.  This exponential growth of the social web and its subsequent effect on marketing communications among others, calls for exploratory scientific classification, a framework to broadly categorize social media.

We can draw three basic conceptual distinctions of how myriad social media outlets help consumers to interact and distribute information:  1. generating; 2. preserving; 3. derived social web usage.  We can further divide each category along the lines of media profusion and type of engagement.

1. Generating Social Web User

The creators of content can pontificate about subjects of interest to them and host a commentary space for viewer, reader, or buyer responses, where the emphasis is on social interaction, such as: likes or +1s, favorites, comments, etc.

Typically, rich media sites (usually video- or photography-based social sites) are used to enthuse about subjects that engage them – creating a dialogue between users, readers, and buyers – with the emphasis on sharing and interacting with other social users.

Pre-eminently focused on personal reflection they will engage in blog style journals that contain user-created audio, visual or textual compositions with related, personally selected, media – typically from sites like Youtube, Vimeo and Daily Motion – linked to social media sites like Twitter, WordPress and Gawker to further develop an online identity and their personal web-based log.

Other content websites allow users to publish presentation slides, social e-mails, etc.  eCommerce websites permit customers to sell, buy, and post reviews and pictures of products.

2. Preserving Social Web User

Preserving social web users look to forge and maintain relationship and geo-social capital by subscribing their online profiles with other users – with a view to creating a social network either publicly and privately.

Largely passive contributors to social media preserving users will maintain networks using sites like Linkedin, Google+, and Facebook to foster social relationships – professional or personal.  Other social users maintain relationships through ‘marking’ sites like Foursquare to share, organize, and physically resource locations to enhance geography-based social capital.

3. Derived Social Web User

Creating a culture of self-disclosure this class of derived users seek to measure the extent of their social influence via products and services online using various feedback options to exert their power as consumers, users, loyalists, or advocates.

Reviewing, rating and recommending derived users are highly active, sharing their opinions in a social setting from sites like: Digg, Chowhound, Epinions, and Lonely Planet.  Scores of websites tap into the power of social networking model.  For instance,  category social sites unite people who share similar interests, pursuits, professions, culture, geography, and demography.

With less emphasis on creating or buying online, other derived users will vet the quality of social content submitted online using sites such as Blogpulse.

The internet has truly revolutionized our access to information and our interactions with others – blurring the distinction between paradigms of media gatekeepers and passive audience participation to such a degree that, in and amongst the ideological and technological upheaval, social media has not only become a powerful broadcasting tool but the foundation by which we measure this upheaval.

Along with other disciplines, marketing, on a global scale, has been transformed by the intersection of technology and the social web. With more social networking sites being added to share interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections, this taxonomy is only going to get more complex.

Sudio Sudarsan is a veteran in marketing engineering, and helps myriad fortune 500 firms across geographies, industries, and cultures to formulate robust brand strategies from research and analytics.  He regularly teaches at Hult in Boston MA and San Francisco CA.

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