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SOCIAL MEDIA AS A COMMUNICATION PLATFORM: Devising innovative strategies to utilize social media for brand promotions and competitive differentiation. 

Social media can be comprehended as shared or collective method of communication. Though this form of collaborative communication is not a recent phenomenon, the advent of information technology based social media has transformed its scope and reach.  A recent study by Stanford based Gartner Inc, a research based firm, has concluded that social networking sites are used by consumers to express their opinions before and after making a purchase decision. As such sites like Twitter and Facebook have become important tools for shopping. It has been observed that people in the developed and developing countries having access to the internet have been increasingly using social media for entertainment, socializing and information gathering.
The fact that Facebook reported to have 500 million users, and Twitter claiming 145 million registered users during 2010, is testament enough for understanding the reach of this powerful medium. As the number of people using and trusting social media increases, marketers need to step up their communication strategy and come up with creative and innovative solutions in order to create customer value and competitive differentiation.  
There is a need for marketers to channel their efforts for tapping this innovative and immensely useful and cost effective communication platform. However, marketers need to understand that there are some fundamental differences between the traditional media and social media. Social media is a paradigm shift from mass media like television, radio and, print to an extreme niche i.e. one individual. The messages on social media thus need to be customized to individuals and this calls for a creative and innovative communication strategy. Also, customer engagement becomes an important tool that if used effectively could result in successful social media campaigns.
An important difference also stems from the fact that unlike traditional media, social media is comparatively cost effective and in some cases free of costs e.g. having a Facebook for brand profiling and development.
This paper attempts to list innovative communication strategies for using social media effectively and to understand social media as a communication platform for brands. The findings of this paper can be used by businesses to build their social media strategy for innovation and competitive differentiation.
This paper was presented at TASMAC International Conference based on the theme, “Innovation: Creating value for Competitive Differentiation.” held on 8th and 9th Nov, 2010 at Bangalore.