Social-media for business is growing in popularity in Switzerland as firms race to get up their staff up to speed with tools like facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
With the expansion of interactive Web 2.0 social media sites, the internet user has become the “king”, enabled to create online content in his or her own way.
“Social media encourages cooperation and participative democracy. It’s a new form of communication without hierarchy, that is informal, provocative, personal, spontaneous, transparent and proactive,” said David Schäfer, who helped start Somexcloud in May 2011, a Zurich-based social media academy for professionals.
Dialogue is the main aspect, he added.
Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the potential, say Schäfer and co-founder Gustavo Salami, resulting in a constant demand for social media professionals within Swiss firms.
“It’s an unstoppable trend. There is no way back,” Salami told swissinfo.ch.
Somexcloud, which consists of a team of social media advisers, is riding on the crest of this wave of interest for social media. It is now planning for its eighth Social Media Manager professional training course, which it offers alongside a Community Manager course and tailor-made business advice.
“[When we started] we wanted to build up our networks and share social media contacts. We hoped to have a basis to be able to exchange knowledge between experts. In the end we thought why not let people who are less knowledgeable about social media gain some experience. This is how the idea of the school was born,” said Salami.
Students are invariably communication professionals, especially marketing specialists, but executives and directors are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of social media, he added.
“The idea that you should invest money in a marketing division to introduce some social media is a very simple way of looking at it. These platforms have much wider importance than just marketing; they are going to extend to almost all sectors of business,” said Salami.
In a working environment a social media platform should not be seen as an end in itself but should act to support the firm’s business strategy and promote values like its reputation, the exchange of knowledge and cooperation, said Schäfer.
“This real dialogue should result in organisations gaining greater trust, credibility, transparency, reliability and authenticity,” he added.
Of course every firm must choose the right social media for them, but if they get it right they can win over opinion leaders, said the co-founder.
However, this will require a communication strategy that integrates social media within the firm and will necessitate changes to organisational processes.
The role of employees is critical, said Schäfer: “They are the ones who can make social media work because they know the firm, the industry or specific sector.”
The majority of Swiss firms and business sectors need to change their policies in this respect, say the specialists.
Wealth of “smartphones”
Despite this Switzerland is in a unique position, said Schäfer, as it has an incredible density of people who use smartphones that can consult social media sites, especially the iPhone which is owned by some 1.2 million people. The alpine nation is also home to an estimated 200,000 Twitter users.
Switzerland’s sensitivity to language issues and distinctive cultures can also be an advantage when it comes to social media, say the founders.
“Each different language region has its own style. This means that each area uses specific themes to create or produce news for social media,” said Schäfer.
Zurich and Geneva are the two most active social media hubs in Switzerland. Geneva organises an annual new digital technologies conference called Lift, which this year takes place from February 22-24. Bern also has a very active blogging scene.
According to Somexcloud, there are some 2.6 million active facebook accounts in Switzerland, which represents 35% of the population and 43% of all regular Swiss internet users.
In 2010 the biggest increase in users was among the elderly: + 24%.
Some 49.97% of facebook users are men and 50.03% women.
Around 57% of Swiss use pages in German, 21% in French, 4% in Italian and the rest in English.
The average age of a Swiss facebook user is 35; two million users are over 18.