Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are you anti-social? The changing face of media means re-thinking marketing

There is little doubt that traditional media are being replaced, supplemented or augmented – depending on your own opinion – by a range of new media based on the advances in digital communications, as the emerging technologies diagram shows.

If ever there was an advert for a company of any size to engage in environmental scanning then these changes in the macro-environment and their effects into strategic business planning and especially marketing, would be it.

Of the new media, one of the least understood, yet having arguably the most potential to change the face of business, large or small is that of social media.

Social network marketing (SNM) or social level marketing (SLM), is an advertising method that makes use of social network service (social media) to increase their web presence.

This ranges from simply advertising directly on social networking sites, viral marketing that spreads throughout the web, email, and word of mouth, or providing niche social networking sites focused around the item being advertised.

In effect it is linked digital media marcomms in the same way IMC theory linked traditional marcomms.

In particular social media has completely changed how businesses should view the internet; it has the power to literally make or break an online marketing campaign. With UK TV revenues down 14% year on year and an ongoing recession there is little doubt that businesses are re-evaluating where they place their media spend, as a result there is likely to be a shift to follow the media – go online.

A well-planned and executed social media campaign can result in increased brand exposure, thousands of new website visitors and natural links to improve those all important search engine rankings. You only have to look at the impact that the Alexandr Orlov, the meerkat character has had for Compare the to start to see the potential; celebrity status – a double spread of his home in Hello magazine, YouTube and Facebook pages outranking almost every real-life celebrity and a twitter page that regularly ranks in the UK’s top five – 5845 subscribers, a bloopers reel for his adverts that is regularly recorded via SkyActive with over 60000 views to date and appears on his own website which is the 7th most visited insurance website in the UK. Not bad for a set of CGI pixels.

Social media marketing is an engagement with online communities to generate exposure, opportunity and very much after these – sales. It seems that many marketers see the social media frontier as the next marketing gold rush. Given the low cost of entry, many companies are seeing the area as a potential gold mine, but they are very much missing the point.

Most marketers would ask the wrong question here: “How can social networks make me more money?” The problem with that approach is that you tend to focus on immediate means of monetising the value of social networks such as MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn, Mixx, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Twitter and Flikr, while ignoring the real reason these networks were setup and how you can use those ideas to help your business.

People use social media to have a conversation with friends, to play games, to have fun, not to invite salespeople into their homes and lives. I’m afraid that many businesses are forgetting, or haven’t ever learned, that to utilise social media means engaging on the customer’s terms, to be customer-centric, to embrace the marketing as a philosophy in their business and not just a way of selling more.

They are also missing another point, to get to a sale we need to get the customer to take action, to buy. But we traditionally have great issues with potential customers becoming enthusiastic enough to buy from traditional media like television and radio, when you consider social media via computer, mobile phone and other communications devices, the potential consumers are in an even less purchasing amenable frame of mind. Further we haven’t yet developed a means of actually monetising such social based phenomenon. Consider the recent success of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, her YouTube clip clocked up over 100 million views, yet Freemantle the show owners, made virtually nothing from this.

The first rule about using social marketing is that any content submitted has to be interesting, unique and non-commercial. Content from a source that social media users know and trust (such as the mainstream media) is always going to have an advantage over content from a blog or e-commerce store, but anything that is an ‘in your face advert’ is going to fail, and fail fast. Social media is much more akin to Public Relations that it is classical advertising and promotion or sales, especially if we take the hierarchy of effects model as a base.

A classic mistake many make is to submit their homepage or a product pages to social sites – this tactic almost never works. You need come up with content that's going to appeal to the community or communities you are targeting. To do that you need to understand the three social marketing arenas:

  1. Social Media Networks: These include sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Beebo. These are online communities where friends can interact and share information with each other. The naturally viral nature of these online social networks can be used to your business‘s profit.
  2. Social Bookmarking: Social Bookmarking sites are a bit like your "favourites list" on your web browser. But, instead of keeping this list on your computer for just you to see, it is stored on a website where your list can be "tagged" with your specific keywords and crawled by the search engines.
  3. Social Media Sharing: includes sites such as YouTube and Google Video. Users upload videos or photo slide shows. These applications can bring a flood of new website traffic to your website and improve inbound links to your content.

Now we need to understand the nature of social relationships that happen with a social marketing context; these we call Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople.

  • Connectors are people with a special gift for bringing others together. They are “people specialists” who have an extraordinary knack for making friendships with lots of people across many sub-niches and cultures. These people are the “social glue” that bring others together.
  • Mavens are "information specialists" but not usually technical specialists who have the knowledge and social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. These are the people who do all of the research necessary to solve their own problems and once they figure out that they have a good thing, they want to tell you about it too. Mavens provide the initial spark and message that Connectors filter through their large network of contacts.
  • Salespeople are vitally important to the transmission of a marketing message due to their ability to persuade others who are unconvinced about the facts and benefits of what they are hearing. They have an uncanny ability to turn “fence sitters” into marketing mavens who’ll champion your cause through their own interaction with your message.

 The key above all else is the content, it has to be of good quality, it has to be consistent across the media types and it has to be coherent in its message – this is easier said than done when you consider you are trying to sell by not selling!

Some of the different types of content that may work include:
  • Breaking news
  • Guides / tutorials
  • Interesting stories
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Statistics

 The old AIDA mnemonic works well when putting together socially oriented content:

  • Attention and Interest – try to use enticing titles for your content, never lie and always back up your facts by citing your sources.
  • Desire – make your content a cool ‘must have’
  • Action – use content to collect information via Opt Ins

 When planning a submission in terms of social content it is vital to understand your goals – and it won’t primarily be sales. Traffic for many is the primary goal, especially in highly competitive markets. Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming a very important goal of social marketing programmes.

Whilst MySpace, YouTube and FaceBook may be the largest social networking sites, they are far from the only sites and may in fact not be good sites for your business. Social news websites are the easiest to use (and cheapest) and they work by allowing users to upload, tag and vote for interesting content. They have the power to send many thousands of visitors to the most popular sites. To start with you need to register with the social tagging and news websites you want to target.

Here are five to start you off that will likely send the most traffic to popular stories:

Once you've registered for the sites it's important to become a popular, trusted and well known user by contributing quality content on a regular basis. Don't forget that the users of these sites are typically web savvy and can spot new users who are just joining to promote their own stories and pollute the system. So even once established you must continue to mix other content with submitting your own. Not all content is suitable for all the social news sites so it's important to get a feel for the type of content that each community is likely to be interested in, otherwise you will waste your time.

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