Building a Sound Social Presence

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Many people scratched their heads when Twitter launched in mid-2006, scoffing at the idea of condensing any meaningful information into 140-character tweets. Soon, they found that a lot could be said in a little space, and the social networking site quickly became one of the most popular properties on the Web.

Now another fast-emerging social media trend has people scratching their heads: Voice-based microblogging, which enables users to record short voice messages and share them with their social media followers, is rising from the ashes after all but completely burning out a few years ago.

Some have approached the microblogging trend with skepticism, while others are celebrating it as the next great business tool for communicating with customers, partners, and employees and for creating highly engaged social communities.

"It can be a good tool to make [customer] interactions more personal," says Kimberly Chau, an AMI-Partners marketing associate focused on social media. "It can give a company a personality, and it's very easy to do."

"From a personal standpoint, anything that creates more trust online is good, and I could see this building trust," says Michael Fauscette, senior analyst and head of the Software Business Solutions Group at IDC. "From a business standpoint, this is perhaps a medium to build more customer engagement. I can also see a marketing angle."

"Engaging with potential and existing customers or clients via the spoken word can be much more effective and effectual" than text-only posts, adds Rob Proctor, CEO of Audioboo, a London-based voice messaging and microblogging platforms provider.

"Audio does a lot more than text-only," says Taylor Bollmann, CEO of San Francisco-based Yiip, a voice messaging platform provider. "If a product is something the consumer is really into, getting emotionally rich and entertaining content [in the form of a voice file] is really cool."

Company bloggers and social media managers can create the voice files--with catchy names like "bubs," "bleeps," "bubbles," or "boos," depending on the service provider--with little effort, using their phone or Internet-connected PC or tablet. Most services require little more than pushing one button to record and another to send. These voice files can be embedded into Twitter or Facebook updates, sent via text message or email, or stored to a Web site. Files can be set to be heard by anyone or by a restricted group of followers.

With these files, companies have more flexibility in communicating some concepts that are too involved to be relayed in simple 140-character tweets. This could be of particular interest to businesses that need to share complex and highly technical instructions with users of their products.

Chau predicts that voice microblogging will first take hold in the tech field--enabling companies to talk to consumers and prospects about their products, how to use them, and how to overcome problems--and then trickle down to other industries.

Media and entertainment companies have already started. The BBC, Sky News, and the Royal Opera House are frequent users of Audioboo, and they encourage listeners to respond to the online audio with their own voice comments and share those comments with their friends and family, creating ongoing dialogues and energizing their fan bases.

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