Introduction: Strategic Communications in Today’s Media Landscape

As you can tell from my blog title, my name is Kevin Duvall. I am working on a Master’s in Journalism at West Virginia University, focusing on strategic communications. I also work as a graduate assistant at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism, where I help sharpen young minds, or at least grade their papers. I’m a West Virginia native from the Charleston area and, at 26, I’m the old man of my graduate cohort.

The purpose of this blog is to examine the ongoing development of new business practices that utilize social media. In any market today, social media are instrumental in both selling products and services in the short run and strengthening one’s brand in the long run.

Social networking sites and user-generated online content have become widely used and popular enough that they are no longer merely a novelty or entertainment form; they are a significant part of daily communication for millions worldwide. The impact social media have had on brands is substantial; clever, innovative social media campaigns can bring new fans, while more conventional use, especially using social media pages as company news feeds, can make a brand seem behind in the times.

These ideas cover a broad spectrum of topics, but in particular, I will focus on three things:

1) How companies use social media to reach out to their audiences: most, if not all companies, big or small, need two-way communication to attract customers. New communication tools can work swimmingly for building a brand, but they can be difficult. Social media make it easier for audiences to connect with companies, but those connections are not always favorable for the image the company wants to promote. Companies must find a balance between letting people do what they want and maintaining some degree of control over the content of messages

In early 2013, CNN Money highlighted nine “Social Media Superstars” that used social media most effectively in communicating with customers. While these companies used a variety of social networking sites and campaign tactics, all of them encouraged participation from audiences and communicated directly with participants. The brands that best use social media are those that do not use social networking sites to simply send information to the masses, but to actively engage their customers. Those are the ones I want to cover.

2) How people use new media to create new business models: in the current media world of two-way communication, there is a more direct link between producer and consumer than in any traditional form of mass production. In recent years, people have come up with fascinating new ways to fund and sell their projects without the need of an intermediary, such as a publisher. This increased ability for “grassroots” production has allowed some great ideas to come to fruition, while challenging longstanding ideas about what was needed to market.

Concepts like crowdfunding and pay-what-you-want digital sales have expanded in recent years, and they will likely continue to grow. With the growth of new business models, however, comes new issues. Are these business models sustainable? Can they grow beyond relatively small initiatives? Should they? I always look forward to reading about the people and companies that cause debate for these questions.

3) What companies’ social media use and new business models mean for mass communications as a whole: in less than a decade, social media have had a profound impact on traditional media. Two years after Facebook launched, “You” were the TIME Magazine Person of the Year. Twitter has been the premier breaking news feed for so long that people are not surprised by that notion anymore. What do these ideas say about audience behavior? Do people really want to engage with brands, or do they want brands out of the picture as much as possible? Will they pay what they want when they do not have to pay at all? Can markets survive if the answers to these questions are negative?

After graduation, my goal is to work for an advertising, PR or IMC firm, or a company strategic communications department (if some of my professors cannot convince me to go further into academia). By exploring the issues I’ve discussed in this post, I will be up-to-date with the latest developments in the influence of social media on branding and able to analyze these developments with proper depth. I’m excited to learn about all the new ways creators use the Internet to realize their goals, and to apply the knowledge and enthusiasm I gain to my own creative endeavors.

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