"Free" advertising?

When it comes to social media, some people are keen on writing about the pecan-encrusted tilapia or risotto Milanese they had for dinner. Others—nearly 20 percent of them—are tweeting about brand names or products, according to the “Twitter chief scientist” at Penn State University. He and a doctoral student sought to uncover why people mention brands on Twitter.

The study revealed that many use the microblogging site to “inform others or express a view’’—ultimately to connect with a brand or product. The tweets involve sending out a query or responding to one. Also, the brand comments are positive as a whole. These findings are similar to those in a recent report by eMarketer, which found that more than 50% of social network users are voluntarily connecting with companies or brands.

Of course this is great news for advertisers and companies because, with this “free advertising” comes sales leads and overall brand awareness, among many other benefits. While we’re on the topic, companies that employ a listening strategy—that is, monitoring conversations about their company, competitors, and industry—glean feedback and insight directly from the end users of their product or service. This “free market research” can then be used to address concerns or issues more quickly, and even make strategic business decisions.

Statistics around social media are changing by the minute—maybe six months from now, 2 out of 5 tweets will be considered “free advertising.” But one thing’s for certain in this uncertain world of social media: it continues to evolve the way we communicate in general, and how companies can reach and engage their key audiences.

— Sharon Harper