January 11, 2009

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Living Out Loud: Thoughts on Social Network Marketing Participating in social networks means living out loud. Posting and sharing information, ideas and images that heretofore wasn’t public has become the new favorite past time for hundreds of millions of people. Facebook, MySpace and others have taken every-so-often relationships and brought them to the forefront. Large numbers of people play around on these sites as a daily goof-off default mechanism. So now rather than hearing from that college buddy, a guy you worked with 5 years ago or your third cousin one or twice a year, you get daily updates on their mood, their activities or their opinions often illustrated with photos or videos. It redefines the notion of friendship and often produces way too much information. Depending on your demographic and how you were raised, telling all can be as natural as breathing or can require a massive change in mindset or sensibility. If you take the daily postings seriously you might get the idea that our millennial generation has become Star Trek’s - Borg – a single, global, all-encompassing organism composed of individual units connected to and controlled by a central brain. The combination of active participation and bemused voyeurism is fuelling continued growth not only among established networks, but is driving the development of new networks and new applications. Facebook has 200 million users and MySpace has 126 million. Blogging sites (Wordpress and Blogger) each attract more than 100 million users and Windows Live, Flickr, Yahoo Geocities and Hi5 all attract more than 50 million users each in the November 2008 ComScore analysis.. Membership in social networks has more than doubled in just three years according to the The 2008 Digital Future Project at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. Fifty-four percent of members log in daily and 55% say they feel as strongly about online communities as they do about physical communities. Seven out of ten claim membership is “important” to them and is a vehicle for participating in social causes. The explosive growth of social networks has put social media on marketers’ 2009 agenda. Not only do social networks offer a new and potentially efficient media, they also offer the prospect for reaching consumers when they are in the mood for information, sharing, new ideas and interaction. Ideally social network marketing is not intrusive. Messages can be targeted to discrete opt-in audiences in ways that stimulate interaction, two-way communication, loyalty and purchase. So it’s not surprising that more than half of marketers in a survey of the Junta42 community plan to create more content and use more social media this year. All kinds of gurus are offering tips, guides and insights into these emerging channels. For a basic primer, check out Mark Dykeman’s Social Destinations of the Web. Here are a few things to help you separate the fantasy surrounding social networks from the reality evolving in front of our eyes. Be Where You Are Expected to Be. Customers expect the brands they care about to have an 800 number, a branded URL, a website and a page on their favorite network. If you aspire to customer intimacy, you need to be where your customers and prospects are and where they expect to find you. Louis Gray says to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed and YuTube are essential starting places. Think About Segmentation. It’s a fair bet that the 15-year-old nephew who “friended” me experiences Facebook much differently than I do. He and his pals have an entirely different sensibility about posting personal information and about what feels right in terms of sharing. Similarly there are probably few marketers that want to simultaneously reach me and him and even those few who might probably don’t want to speak to us in the same voice. It’s not yet clear what data is being collected or used to cue creative executions or suggest targeting, but one size will NOT fit all. Pictures Matter. Social networks have empowered everyone to become a photographer, director and editor. The traffic in images is incredible. Every amateur shutterbug now has an audience. Many of the most successful viral elements have been visuals so as you contemplate a branded message or a lead generation campaign or a product promotion ask yourself if you can communicate the message visually. Consider Context. If you understand how and why people use social media, your positioning and messaging will be much more effective. Social networks are not appointment media. They are frequently used either as default or escapist media that fill time and divert attention...
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Three Imperatives for Online Communities The intense growth and the intense hype about social networking is driving interest in online communities. And while its easy to imagine how great it might be to focus your customer's attention on your site, to connect your brand advocates and to observe and mine the rich dialog among the faithful, it's much harder to pull off than it seems. Marketers seduced by the 93 percent growth in social networking since 2006 and the estimated 40 million active social network users, according to Netpop Research should think carefully about what kind of unique customer experience an online community can offer and what kind of business result is likely to come about as a direct consequence of an investment of time, technology and resources necessary to bring a community to life. And while Jeremiah Owang has gone to the trouble of assessing the 9 leading community software vendors in a Forrester Wave Report, the availability of tools plus the desire to integrate a community into an existing website doesn't necessarily make the prima fascia business case. After all with all the existing communities and social network options, its unlikely that even your best customers are desperately waiting for you to create a platform for them to interact with. And don't forget, even if you build it; they might not come. But if you are dead set on creating a community and you can convince management to invest, bear in mind these three critical factors for success: 1. Have a Solid Business Plan. Its easy to think you are in the content and make-everybody-happy business. But a community has to drive brand loyalty, stimulate purchases and re-purchases and develop referrals. If it doesn't its not worth the effort or the cash. And even though its hard to accurately forecast revenues produced by online communities, plan to make money and set up measurements to gauge the fiscal impact on your business. 2. Run it like a Cable TV Channel. An online community lives or dies on programming, usually narrow, niche programming that speaks directly to specialists and helps them connect the dots. Picture your users and super-serve them. Everything you do and every feature you add has to provoke tune-in and time spent with you. If it doesn't drive this level of engagement; don't do it. Assume your community members have a small amount of precious time to spend with. And assume they are mercenary in allocating it. If they don't get value every time they tune-in, they stop viewing. Give them what they want. Reward them for taking the actions you want them to take. Keep a tight focus on content. Police comments. Provide expert advice and interventions. Expose the brand's insights, expertise and point of view. Tell the community the kind of voice-over information you'd share with a trusted client during a quarterly business review or with a high value prospect on the third sales call. Give them a sneak peak at future products or services and/or an offer to get early access or better pricing. 3. Have One Person Run it. Nothing says its real than the allocation of one fully loaded full-time employee. Find the programmer on your team and make customer engagement and business results their reason for being. Make revenues and time spent online KPIs for their review or their bonus. When authority and responsibility are shared, there's no one to blame and too many shoulders get shrugged. And unless you are a very small shop, coordinating all the moving parts that go into an effective online community and keeping the lawyers at bay is easily a full time gig for an up-and-coming marketer.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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