Social media is definitely hot these days. Lots of companies say they’re incorporating social media tools into their marketing practices. But what does that really mean? There’s a lot of advice out there but it’s still a little hard to make sense of it all. While it’s easy to cover the basics — like signing up for a Twitter account or setting up a group on a social networking site — a coherent and broad strategy is becoming crucial as both users and web technology become more sophisticated. Creating such a strategy is beyond the scope of a single blog post, but I wanted to share some thoughts about things to keep in mind. This is what it boils down to for me:
1. Build on marketing basics: It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of social media, to convince yourself you need it and that it’s right for you. While social media extends your marketing reach, you still have to remember the basics:
- Create effective messaging: i.e. What are you trying to communicate about your product or service? What are the benefits?
- Use multiple channels to get your message across.
- Promote a product or service you believe in.
- Understand your audience and why they are using it.
- Be patient.
2. Create niche communities: The most important aspect of social media today is still social networking. While you can capitalize on popular social networking or microblogging sites by setting up a “group” for your product or service, you can take the next step and build your own social network using an open framework like Ning. Large social networks cater to general users with very diverse needs and interests. Your message will likely get lost. As social networking matures, the strongest and largest communities will survive but there will also be a prevalence of niche networks popping up around the needs of specific communities.
By building your own dedicated community, you can create a clear message and attract people who are interested in your content. Once created, these networks can also evolve to meet the needs of your community. Of course, the potential danger with this is network fatigue — people tired of belonging to numerous networks — which brings me to my next point.
3. Recognize the role of aggregators: As niche social networks spring up to serve more communities, the ability of individual users to manage them is becoming more important. Hence the growing popularity of aggregation tools that allow users to push content to and from a variety of services, including social networks, blogs, Twitter, Flickr, RSS feeds, etc. A growing number of users are relying on these intermediary services to keep track of specific interests without being overwhelmed by having to visit multiple sites.
4. Keep it open: By using a standard like OpenID, you can remove the barrier of registration and make it easy for users to access your social network and experience content without having to create a new password and identity. No one has to sign up for your niche community — if they use OpenID, they already belong.
5. Implement low hanging fruit: There are ways to communicate with your users online that have existed since the earliest days of the internet, including forums, surveys and polls. There’s a tendency now to group these into what are known as social media collaboration tools (e.g. ratings, comments, recommending features). Regardless of the name, having these basic features on your site to rally interest and feedback about your product or service can be a first step in getting customers talking to each other and talking to you.
6. Not all social media is relevant: While there’s a lot of talk about technologies that allow collaboration and pooling of collective opinion and knowledge, not all of them may be relevant for your business or product. For example, prediction markets or crowdsourcing, which really build on age-old concepts of predictive analysis and polls, aren’t that relevant for marketing. For starters, the information is only as good as the diversity and size of the pool of participants. And while they can be an indicator of market interest, in most cases, it makes more sense to drive business strategy from inside out, and then leverage community participation at an early stage to gauge interest and alter the final offering. Additionally, wikis, blogs, link sharing, multimedia sharing and entertainment technologies may be popular with end-users, but you should discriminate based on your actual needs.
7. Create long-term strategies, short-term plans: Most aspects of social media are still evolving. The technology is improving all the time and communities of users are still testing their comfort levels with various tools and concepts. So while it’s important to create long-term strategies that are consistent with your overall business goals, it’s necessary to maintain flexible short-term plans for implementing a social media strategy and adjust continually. It needs to be an iterative process.