Introduction to social media marketing
The world before social media
In a recent article, Lee Odden said, “If you think social media is a trend, then you may chose to ignore the numbers from Hitwise stating MySpace is the third most popular Web site after Google and Yahoo Mail..” He went on to point out that young children are growing up with social media by using sites that have been specially created for them1.
There is no question that there has been an explosion in the use of social media, both in terms of the various options and the number of people using it. As marketers we need to understand what opportunities social media affords us.
Social media was around long before the Web. Whether a painting on a cave wall or a letter published in a newspaper, there are countless examples of where a form of media has been used to share information in a societal group. The difference between these examples and the new resurgence of social media is that that new social media is fast, efficient and available. It is also formalized so that users of any specific service can quickly gain an understanding of what is available and how they can interact with the service and other users.
What is “social media”?
Media that can be construed as ‘social media’ comes in many different forms, for example:
- Email (e.g. Gmail, Hotmail)
- Instant messaging (e.g. AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber). With instant messaging (IM), users run a small application on their Web connected computer. They are able to send simple messages to other users of the specific IM protocol and take part in two way conversations.
- Online community (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, OpenSocial). Although online community applications vary in what features they offer, they typically allow users to create a profile that is visible to other users. They also create a group of friends. When they make a change to their profile or online community web page, all their friends are notified. Posted content includes video, photographs, sound and textual content. Companies can create an entry on Facebook which includes an image, web site address, opening hours and is open to other Facebook features such as fans, photos, videos, events, notes, discussion groups and “the wall” which is a little like a white board where you or other Facebook users can post.
- Online community – specialized (e.g. ColourLovers). Similar to general on-line communities but with a specific niche interest.
- Forums. Forums allow forum members (and sometimes non-members) to post questions and answers to questions that relate to specific areas of interest.
- Social bookmarking (e.g. DIGG, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Del.ic.ious, FURL, MIXX). Social bookmarking is similar to using the favorites button on a Web browser while at the same time overcoming many of the favorite button’s shortcomings. Not only do they provide a way of creating a list of favorite sites that can be accessed by any browser, on any machine, anywhere over the web. They also provide varying degrees of sharing your favorites with an enormous community of people who share their favorites. In this way it is possible, at least in theory, to find the ‘cream of the crop’ of web sites.
- Photo sharing (e.g. Picasa, Flickr). Photo sharing sites enable users to upload and share photographs, on-line. They normally have a free service together with a paid service that provided additional benefits.
- Video sharing (e.g. YouTube, Kyte, Qik). Similar to photo sharing sites, but for video.
- Blogging (e.g. Blogger.com, Wordpress). A blog or weblog is similar to a diary, but with capability of allowing visitors to add their own comments and links to posts. Blogs are used for a multitude of purposes from personal diaries to political commentaries, but they also can play a major role in business marketing.
- Microblogging (e.g. Twitter). Microblogging sites allow users to create very small blog entries which are shared with others who are “following” them. Twitter allows entries, of up to 140 characters, to be created on the Twitter site, on a cell phone or using an instant messenger service.
- Podcasting. Podcasters create audio or video segments (like radio or TV shows) which are then automatically downloaded from the Web by people who subscribe to their podcast feeds.
- Event management (e.g. Meetup.com, Eventful.com). Event management services enable users to meet with like minded individuals in “real” life.
- Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia). A wiki is similar to an encyclopedia, except that users can edit and upload it on the Web. The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, however a wiki could potentially be used for any niche purpose.
- Other (e.g. Google Calendar)
They are each characterized by the ability to easily and efficiently share information with other members of a media network. Once that information gains approval from someone, they, in turn can share the information with members of their network. In this way information can spread rapidly through multiple networks.
Illustration 1: Social network propagation
Illustration 1 gives an example of how the propagation of information can gain momentum, increase speed and spread because of the networking effect of social media. The originating media network contains 2 members who are interested in the original information. These members are in the originating media network but they are also in networks 1-1 and 1-2 respectively. They share the information with their network. Some of the members of their networks are members of other networks and they, in turn, spread the information even further.
For example, say you recently purchased a new LCD 1080 HD TV from a leading electronics store, and you were bitterly disappointed. You make some form of social media post about your disappointment, say a blog post. Ten bloggers mention your post on their blogs within an hour of the original post. Within an hour ten more bloggers write blogs and mention the original blog. If this scenario played out, within 6 hours your post may have reached a million bloggers and/or people reading blogs.
Other advantages of social media
- Ability to create communities
- Rapid propagation of information
- Free or cheap hosting of large media files
- Ability to rapidly share information in a conversational manner
- Gain the attention of existing social media networks
- Ease of creating and posting information
- Ability to make frequent updates
- Ability to make and promulgate timely updates
- Creating “buzz” by using social bookmarking to popularize a web page or article
- “Cross pollination” between different social media networks (e.g. blogging and video sharing)
- Allowing the addition of comments from interested parties
- Allowing the posting of structured information by members of the community to the benefits of others in the community
How can corporations use social media?
Corporations are part of the special media revolution whether they like it or not. If a customer has a negative (or positive) experience, he may create a blog post, forum posting or mention the corporation on a social network. This can create enormous ramifications for the company as word rapidly propagates through multiple networks.
But how can corporations actively use social media to improve their marketing? The following are some suggestions.
One of the nice things about many of the social media that I have mentioned is that they don’t cost anything to join. This gives companies the opportunity to create accounts in order to experiment with the opportunities that social media may bring for them. It is not realistic to generalize about how social media can help every company. There is no size that fits all. Your CEO may achieve great benefits through his Twitter account, or he may not – but you will only find out by trying the various media.
As blogging became popular, several companies started ‘corporate’ blogs in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, many of these attempts resulted in disappointment for several reasons including:
- they did not succeed in finding an audience
- posts were viewed as being inauthentic, censored and toeing the corporate line
- a lack of imagination meant that that there was not sufficient information included to excite an audience
Corporate blogs can be successful and benefit their sponsor enormously. A well frequented blog can have SEO benefits as well as the social networking information transmission benefits mentioned above.
To succeed, a corporate blog needs:
- A subject area that captures the imagination of a definable group.
- Authenticity. There is no point in regurgitating press releases or collateral in a blog. it must go further than either of these communications methods by revealing the human side of an organization and providing information and comment not found in other marketing communications media.
- Regularity. A corporate blog (like any other blog, for that matter) needs regular new postings. This might mean that someone (or a team) is tasked with updating the blog as part of their job description.
- Freedom. If corporate bloggers are too heavily restricted and have to go through corporate departments before making a post, a blog will quickly lose its
Podcasting and Video Podcasting
A podcast has some of the potential benefits of a blog. If you have material which is related to your business or expertise, but is not a purely sales or advertising message, then this might make a good subject for a podcast or video. Someone who designs web sites could offer some advice in using cascading style sheets, a handyman might demonstrate how to change an electrical wall socket, and a manufacturer of windows could create a video to showcase its manufacturing process.
A popular example of video podcasting is “Will it Blend” from Blendtec (http://youtube.com/user/Blendtec). In this series of videos, various items, everything from golf balls to an iPhone, are ‘blended’ using a Blendtec blender. The videos are entertaining but also demonstrate the superiority of Blendtec’s products. Because of the social media nature of YouTube it is possible to subscribe to the Blendtec video logging feed. In addition, BlendTec includes their web site address at the end of each video.
Create a wiki
Almost any business can benefit from a wiki. For example, a web hosting company could post technical information about networking and the Internet. Users of the wiki can post additional information and hence the wiki can improve without additional effort on your part. The wiki can help support users who would otherwise have to raise a support request It also is a fresh content rich resource which should help your web site get better rankings.
Become part of an on-line community
People generally think of MySpace or Facebook as being focused completely on the youth demographic, however companies can create a Facebook profile and potentially benefit from the networking that can be developed.
LinkedIn is a way for professionals to make connections with other professionals. It can be particularly useful for those involved in a job search. This also means that it is a good source of potential personnel for your organization.
Event management helps enable events to be set up for groups with similar interests. A company could use these facilities to meet others who have an intersection of interests. This would lead to networking and potential business opportunities.
1Odden, Lee. “Competitive on a Budget.” Target Marketing Jan. 2008: 37+.