Everyone in marketing is talking about “social media” these days. I’d be tempted to add the term “Social Media” to my “bullshit bingo” card, except that as you can probably tell from my previous blog posts, I like social media. In 2007, developing an effective Social Media strategy is an important part of developing a successful and multi-pronged marketing strategy. The problem is that with so many companies jumping on the “social media marketing bandwagon,” so quickly, marketing-focused social networking sites are running the risk of reaching saturation point, and many marketers are not taking the time to think strategically about how to use social media to their advantage.
There are many examples of social media marketing efforts that have reaped excellent results, but there are even more examples of such efforts that have gone awry, sucking valuable marketing dollars without having much impact. Yesterday, blogger Jerry Bowles wrote an interesting blog on FASTforward. In it, he discusses how corporations are using social media to capture new audiences. The article mentions successful uses of social media in corporate marketing like MyCoke.com and Carnival Connections as well as ineffective attempts like MyDream.tv by Lincoln and Ford Bold Moves. At the end of his blog, Bowles concludes:
“The major truth of corporate-sponsored social media campaigns is that no matter how good they are or how sensitive they are to the concerns of the “community,” they won’t improve the bottomline unless you have something to sell that people want.”
I couldn’t agree more with Bowles final comment. Adding to it, part of the problem with failed social media marketing campaigns is that they’re not well devised from the start. Let me explain…
There are two basic ways to employ a social media strategy:
Create a stand-alone social media site, or
Leverage existing social media sites to your company’s advantage (e.g. YouTube, MySpace, Friendster, Second Life, etc.).
In an ideal universe, before deciding which tactic to employ, companies should be very clear about the objective(s) of their social media marketing campaign. Many companies aren’t clear about their objectives, and I believe this is because:
- The “science” of social media is too new and largely undocumented/undefined and
- Companies who do not yet have a social media marketing strategy feel pressured to come up with something quickly, lest they fall behind the curve.
By defining the goals of a social media marketing campaign more tightly from the start, companies will have a better chance and building a solution that meets that goal.
If the goal of employing a social media marketing strategy is to bolster enthusiasm for a specific product among a group that is already using that product, or expose existing customers/ enthusiasts a particular product to a new product from the same company, then developing a stand-alone social media site, like MyCoke.com, may make sense. However, before building a stand-alone social media site, a company must already have a very strong base of customer enthusiasts who like to talk about their experiences with products on-line (i.e.: Coke, Apple, Mini Cooper, etc.) and be ready to offer something materially different/ better than those users can get elsewhere. Creating a stand-alone social media site is an expensive endeavor, but if it is done correctly, for the right reasons, and targeted towards the right contingent, at the least, the likely result is increased web traffic to the company’s website. MyCoke.com and Carnival Connections (both mentioned in Bowles’ blog) are two good examples. Whether having a well used, stand-alone social media site translates to higher sales remains to be seen, but increased web traffic from customers can’t be a bad thing.
However, in a world where consumers are increasingly being bombarded with so many social media and social networking options, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to succeed in creating stand-alone social media marketing sites that have a sustainable and positive marketing impact and drive traffic. In my opinion, the safest option for marketers that are trying to attract the attention of prospective customers that are not yet familiar with their specific product, company, or brand, is piggybacking off of existing social media sites – like YouTube, Friendster, MySpace, Gather, Vox, Second Life, etc. to attract attention to their products/services. It helps to learn how to walk before you try to run.