Tara Coomans is the president of Social Media Club of Hawaii. As a business owner, writer and social media strategist, she advises businesses on how to integrate social media into their business practices and also speak and trains people on practical applications for social media. Tara has been blogging both for her business and her clients’ businesses for over five years. You can visit her site over at Akamai Marketing.
Tara will be teaching both her Introduction to Social Media class on January 30 as well as her Blogging for Business class on April 17. Both these classes (among others) are part of Pacific New Media’s new Social Media Certificate Program, which is designed to help turn recreational means of communication into an effective personal and business tool. Tara has offered her opinions both on the program as well as social media in general.
What excites you about social media? What motivated you to enter the field?
Tara: Social media is exciting because it enables communication to scale in an attainable way. The barrier of entry to find ideas and share ideas is lower than ever before. It used to be that you had to create a website to share your ideas. But not everyone had the “know-how” to build a website. Then came along blogging; having a web platform was easier than ever. And then social media arrived and we no longer even needed a web platform. Sharing ideas with others was easier than ever before.
I’m a communicator at heart. I’m a teacher at heart. I’m a student at heart. Social media supercharges communication, learning and teaching for individuals and businesses. That’s what excites me.
What are your thoughts on the growing role of social media in business, the arts and humanities, and everyday life?
Tara: Isn’t it exciting that nonprofits and businesses can have reach of millions of people without the cost barriers of advertising? Is social media free? Not at all. It requires time and consideration and there are hard costs. Return on Investment requires investment first. However, for many businesses and nonprofits, this investment is easier and more attainable than other types of marketing and communication.
For many nonprofits, the return on social media time is much more attainable than traditional advertising or even direct mail. Recent research from Pew (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Arts-and-technology.aspx) suggests that 97% of nonprofits are using social media in some capacity, but 19% say they feel “behind the curve.” None the less, nonprofits see the impact of social and digital media particularly in areas such as promoting the arts and increasing audience engagement. Think about what this means for nonprofit organizations! Arts organizations, long dependent on wealthy, older supporters can attract news supporters of various economic strata, expanding their reach. And increased audience engagement can equate to more volunteers, more donors, more awareness. All the things that nonprofits need. The future for the nonprofit world in social media is wide, wide open.
For business, the door is also wide open. Product development, customer service, marketing, all benefit from social media. The challenge for business is identifying the goals, internally planning and external implementing, consistently with those goals. In some ways, its easier for small and medium businesses to use social media. Small and medium size businesses can be more flexible and dynamic, something that larger companies struggle with. Social media is possible in organizations of all sizes, but the internal preparation required for successful use and implementation scales with the business.
What is the role of social media in society as a force for business, as a means of communication, and as a platform to approach humanistic ideas?
Tara: There is no question that the rise of social media has created a cultural revolution. One where we expect transparency from our leaders and businesses. We expect democratization of access to tools which provide us with a voice, like the internet. We now also accept change as part of the human existence, because change is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before. Consider this: according to Google CEO, we create as much information every two days as the human race did up to 2003. So if it feels like there is more information than ever before-you are right. And if it feels like you have more access to more information, you are right about that too. While there are inherent challenges to this fact (who is a reliable source?) overall, this presents people with the opportunity to make better, more informed decisions.
Who needs social media and why? Is social media easily accessible for those who need it; is there a generational bias?
Tara: We’re at a tipping point culturally. Access to digital information is easier than ever before With the increasing predominance of smart phones with internet access and free internet access in libraries, accessibility concerns are decreasing. Last March, Nielson reported that over 50% of consumers used smart phones. Last year, it was reported that 75% of homeless youth use at least one social network. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212002221). As of April 2012, 53% of American adults 65 and older used the internet (Pew Research, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Older-adults-and-internet-use/Summary-of-findings.aspx), which means they have access to social media. What we’re left with is the fact that not everyone wants to participate in social media, but increasingly, people are having to choose to opt out, rather than not participating because of accessibility issues.
What do you think are examples of good and poor social media practices?
Tara: Generally speaking, I say that participating in social media is a lot like attending a cocktail party. Ask questions, be responsive, be polite and talk about something other than yourself.
What do you see as the benefit of formally studying social media in a certificate program like the one offered by Pacific New Media? What can a participant hope to achieve at the end of such a certificate program?
Tara: Social media is now a way of life and business, but communicating effectively on social media doesn’t come natural to everyone. Studying the opportunities and communication techniques and best practices used in digital communications prepares students for the next phase of marketing and communication. Platforms may change, but the use of social platforms to create and share ideas will continue to grow and expand.