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July 15, 2008. A Different Perspective On Social Media Marketing

Dr. Augustine Fou

Virtually every advertiser is asking for it. They have all heard about examples of YouTube videos going “viral” and reaching millions of people practically overnight. They have read the stats that say modern consumers’ top trusted source for information is “people like them,” that they don’t trust advertising, and that virtually everyone does research online before making purchases, even if they make the purchase offline. So advertisers have quickly jumped on the bandwagon of “social media marketing.” But doing social media marketing usually takes the form of brand pages on MySpace, Facebook fan pages, or YouTube channels of brand videos.

Doing “social media marketing” right is a different story entirely. The landscape and the consumers have changed, but known and comfortable ways of doing advertising have not (yet). Advertisers are coming from a world of meticulously crafted brand messages being blasted out at people through one-way media like TV, print, or radio — to a world where consumers can tune it all out at the press of a button. Modern consumers, who have too little time and are “information overloaded,” reject this form of “being shouted at,” no matter how clever or entertaining. However, when they are ready to make a purchase, they do their homework by researching online and reading what “people like them” have to say.

So instead, advertisers “should forget ‘command and control’ — forget it,” says Doug Atkins, chief community officer of Meetup.com “It’s ‘nurture and support’ now.” The brands that “get it” don’t try to control the message or how it is spread. Instead, they look for communities of users who have already self-organized — and nurture and support them with things they really need. For example, American Express supports small businesses around the country with guest lecturers and experts, white papers, resources, and online tools that are useful to small business owners, rather than overt “sign up for this card” solicitations at the Meetup events.

There are large communities and small or niche ones. Some are more influential than others. For example, there are 17 million high school students in the U.S., 50% of whom play sports. “High school athletes are typically role models or ‘celebrities at their school’ and are disproportionally influential to others around them,” says David Birnbaum, CEO of Takkle.com. “Kids look up to them, or simply look at what they’re wearing or drinking (Gatorade vs Powerade, of course).”

But “scale” is not necessarily as important as it once was. Advertisers coming from a world where “reach and frequency” was a success metric need to realize that in this new world “scale is out and impact is in.” In other words, buying billions of impressions online — where click-throughs amount to no more than a “rounding error” and the number of people who recall seeing the ad, let alone remembering the message in the ad, can hardly be measured on a logarithmic scale — is not impactful. Whereas the 200 people who participated in an online chat with Intel engineers about the “Monetevina” chip will have lasting impact because the chat transcript is Google-searchable, and others who have similar questions in the future will find their answers. And according to Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research, an individual whose screename is “Predator” posted 20,402 messages over six years to help others in the Dell support forums, just because “I like helping people and getting the occasional ‘thank you.’” Talk about impactful and valuable to the community.

Implications for Marketers and Advertisers

1. Be useful. The best advertising is no longer a message that an advertiser wants to “get out there.” The “new” best advertising is something that is useful to the target customers, which ideally also communicates the value of the product or service being advertised. Howard Greenstein, social media expert, cited JetBlue’s Twitter activity — using it as a real-time customer service channel “whose speedy resolution of customers’ questions or problems is publicly visible to other twitterati.”

2. Make a social media commitment. Advertising used to be about campaigns that started and ended. Social media is not a campaign, but a continuous commitment — because it takes time for a community and trust to build, which in turn lead to value for both the community members as well as the advertiser. Doing social media campaigns “is like buying a new car each time you want to drive to the grocery store,” says Joe Marchese, founder of SocialVibe.com.

3. Read and react in real time. For the first time in history, the two-way nature of the mass medium known as “digital” means advertisers not only can, but must, read and react to customers’ feedback or input. When Dell was repeatedly unresponsive to Jeff Jarvis’ customer service requests, he wrote about his frustration on his blog, which led to a firestorm of controversy that spilled into mainstream media. Dell now leverages users’ input and ideas in their IdeaStorm to create new products and features that customers really want.

Augustine Fou is group chief digital officer, healthcare consultancy group (omnicom)

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2008, Dr. Augustine Fou

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