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When I was in college, many years ago, social networking generally centered around a pitcher of beer after classes or after completing an issue of the student newspaper.


In very recent years, social networking has expanded to include – and now principally refers to – various forms of electronic communications. My daughter, for example, frequently communicates with friends and cousins by text messaging via cell phone. She also has a Facebook page, as do my son and daughter-in-law, my wife, and apparently 200 million other people. My son and his wife also have a blog and post video to YouTube.


The impact of social networking has been particularly apparent this past week in a number of news stories:


  • Ashton Kutcher vs CNN – Actor Ashton Kutcher challenged Cable News Network (CNN) to a race to see who could reach 1 million Twitter followers first. Early Friday morning, Kutcher won by a couple thousand followers. In a YouTube video anticipating the victory, Kutcher said: “I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major news network. I think it sort of signifies the turning tide from traditional news outlets to social media outlets, social news outlets. With our video cameras on our cell phones, and our blogging, and out twittering, and our posting, and out Facebook, we actually become the source of the news and the consumers of the news.”    


  • Oprah joins Twitter – Oprah Winfrey, actress and talk show host, announced on Thursday on her Facebook page that she had created a Twitter account. She is reported to have attracted 125,000 followers within 24 hours and sent her first “tweet” during a taping of her show Friday.


  • Overnight fame – Susan Boyle, an extremely talented, but little-known singer from Scotland, quite literally became an international phenomenon after her performance on the television program “Britain’s Got Talent” was posted to YouTube last week. According to the West Lothian Council Web site, the video had gotten 20 million hits (as of a Friday report).


Closer to home, Jim Thompson, publisher of PaperMoney, is also a board member of the Cellulose Community (www.cellulosecommunity.org), a blog site devoted to the pulp and paper industry and he Twitters at twitter.com/NipImpressions. The Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC) includes a blog link on its Web site. The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) this week includes a post by Donna Herman, AF&PA CEO, to a blog site discussing issues relevant to the industry. Unions, educators, environmental groups, and others use various forms of social media to communicate with those who share interests, and those they might wish to influence.

Most paper companies have Web sites and many use webcasts and call-in lines to communicate with investors each quarter. A random search of pulp and paper industry company Web sites suggests that many are geared toward an older model of presenting some basic information about the company, its products, investor information and news releases, and general contact information. Some sites are very well done, but others are noticeably outdated. And some sites provide so little details about the company that it seems as if management is trying to hide something, or that the company lacks innovation and has accomplished little worth noting in the past 10 or 20 years.  


In general, pulp and paper company Web sites provide minimal means and convey little understanding for interaction with customers or investors, outside of basic contact information and an email link. All should be assessed regularly and retooled as needed to support strategic objectives of the company.


Although social networking still includes face-to-face meetings, social media provide new avenues for communication. If your company does not have a blog, or an interactive Web site; if your marketing strategies do not include social media; if you are not evaluating the potential uses of social media and even adding comments to relevant blogs, then you are likely missing opportunities to build customer relations, promote your company and the industry, and attract investors.



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