Everyone’s talking about the latest buzz-term de jour – “social marketing.” It started with blogging, then it spread to Facebook and LinkedIn, and now it’s Twitter…
The idea goes something like this – create a presence (i.e. page or entry) on one of these tools, then use it to spread your message virally. People will see your message automatically; you don’t need to actually find them. Instantly and effortlessly you have access to millions of people, without having to work hard, and more importantly, without having to spend any money. In the “old-world,” you actually had to target your customers and think about how to reach them; in the “new world” you just have to “be there” and create some buzz. The socio-sphere has made the world flat! The only thing you have to do is create some buzz. So goes the argument.
But how do you get people to notice your buzz? And therein lies the rub. Some people try to “game the system.” For example, some companies pay people to write recommendations, to create phony reviews or ratings, or to tag information that posted on various blogs or social networks. A more sophisticated approach is to create an ecosystem of recommenders. For example, I recommend your product and then you recommend mine. A third permutation of this method involves paying an outside company to manage the process; they hire the pseudo-recommenders and create all the appropriate links and re-tweets.
I think these methods are largely ineffective and in fact counterproductive (even if you don’t get caught). Here’s why:
- The socio-sphere is a huge place and too many other folks doing the same thing. Unless you are a big company with huge budgets, you won’t win. If you are a big company, you shouldn’t be doing this for obvious reputation concerns.
- It is impossible to generate a “virtual crowd” with a handful of people. You will waste enormous amounts of precious time with few results.
- If you can’t truly engage people with a meaningful message, it will not propagate no matter how many re-tweets, links, tags, or recommendations you create.
- It won’t last – in today’s age of instantaneous global social networks, this hour’s news is tomorrow’s ancient history.
So is social marketing just the latest marketing gimmick? On the contrary, social networks represent essential marketing tools, when used properly. Here is what I suggest for a successful social marketing campaign:
· Invest the time and effort to clearly define your market and produce solid messages. Analyze why a customer would buy your product/service versus a competitor or versus buying nothing. Without a solid marketing message for a well-defined target market, you won’t be successful no matter what. Nothing new, and no short-cuts here.
· Validate your messages – test your messages with a few prospects, analysts, bloggers, and other people who you feel understand your market.
· Generate quality content that speaks to the concerns and interests of your target market; content that is informative, not sales-y. Nobody wants to read a brochure or data sheet. On the other hand, a white paper, a short video or a podcast that discusses a market problem and then offers some approaches to solving it (including your product’s), are of great interest.
· Make the information easily available for people to get – post it on your web site, blog page, and on publicly-available sites for white papers, presentations (e.g. SlideShare), videos (e.g. YouTube), and make sure you brand the content so that people know where it came from.
· Identify important market influencers – analysts, bloggers, reporters, etc. who would be interested.
Here is where social media comes in…
· Connect with these market influencers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and their blog sites.
· Use social media to make the influencers aware of your information. If you have created an interesting, provocative piece, it will get a mention. Don’t expect the really big names (e.g. Techcrunch for high tech) to show an interest, because these guys are inundated with releases vying for their attention. Rather, focus on more targeted outlets. For example, post updates on relevant LinkedIn groups, Twitter, blog sites, etc.
· Keep it real; a relationship with a market influencer is a two-way street. Build an honest two way dialogue that benefits both parties. When they have questions about what vendors are doing, you should be ready and willing to give them the time to address their interests.
· Be vigilant in responding to comments about your content. Seek out related content and respond with real comments…NOT product plugs.
In short, the idea is to become an active participant in a real community. This involves hard work; you need to constantly think of creative content and “market it.” This is vastly different than the old world of pushing a product or service, but it can be more effective, and here’s why. When you produce valuable content, you become an asset. You provide customers and prospects with valuable information and therefore, you become a trusted resource.
And here is where I believe the true power of social marketing comes to bear. Social marketing allows people to find human resources who can help them solve a problem. It becomes easy to connect with these folks on a meaningful and ongoing basis. Once you become a trusted resource, it is easy to be heard.
To sum up:
Is social marketing cheaper than “old marketing?” Yes, because the production and distribution costs are low to non-existent.
Is it easier? No, because you need to be constantly creating meaningful content. You need to be constantly online tracking it and responding to the community.
Is it more effective? You bet. When done properly, not only will (company-branded) information propagate, but you will also become a trusted resource – just the thing you want to be in today’s crowded and competitive market where marketing slogans and messages are trivial to copy.