Surviving the Downturn Through Social Marketing

Social marketing offers a new way to interact with consumers, but aside from being another channel, it requires a different mindset to achieve results. This is Web 2.0, where the consumer is in charge of the message and will angrily resist big brand pressure and broadcast marketing. Content needs to have merit to thrive in the social space, so cheesy slogans are out and well-thought comments and humor are in.

So where to start with this new medium? That depends on what kind of business you are in.

Big brands and high-budget marketing departments have a part to play in the new social channels; viral campaigns that include fun or interesting content thrive on YouTube and other video-sharing sites.

Dancing in the Street

The T-Mobile dance is a recent example of this success. Transmitted first on television, this transformation of Liverpool Street Station into a dance hall for three minutes was seen and shared by millions. That was surely the ideal result for an awareness campaign that moved millions of potential customers to endorse a brand message — and far cheaper than continually running a less personal TV campaign.

One of the benefits of the new Web 2.0 culture is that it is not always high-budget content that makes it to the top of the list. As a matter of fact, the low-budget approach tends to resonate better with consumers, while a big production effort tends to come across as trying too hard. Create something wacky or funny, and people will start to share and comment; it is possible to make something that is successful, as long as it’s engaging and worth sharing.

However, don’t make anything you wouldn’t share yourself, and ensure you test out the ideas on a wide range of individuals in your target audience. Video clips are the obvious first port of call, but computer games and comedy pictures or animations can be useful as well. Remember, you do not make a viral message, you make a video — the recipients decide whether to turn it viral. It is rare that your “great offer” email will get forwarded or shared unless it has something else unique and worthwhile about it.

Tweeting for All You’re Worth

The other side of social marketing is the communication and recommendation areas springing up all over the Internet. The Twitter phenomenon has gained massive attention recently, partly due to the American presidential elections when up-to-the-minute commentary and news was available in real-time, and partly due to celebrity endorsement from the likes of Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross.

Twitter is a micro-blogging site that gets people to share their thoughts and feelings in 140 characters or less. Posts, or “tweets,” often make references to blogs and news articles that people find interesting or controversial, and they can be a great way to drvie traffic to a Web site or blog — presuming people find the message interesting.

However, marketing on Twitter is a difficult subject to address. Recently, the site was criticized when it was discovered that some popular Twitterers were taking cash for recommendations and posts — this caused outrage for many who see micro-blogging as the property of the individual and not the corporations. Twitter is best used to build a community around thought leadership and ideas rather than product slogans or thinly concealed sales messages. I personally ‘unfollow’ people who continually refer to their organizations’ products and services and I rarely mention my company’s name in posts.

Saying Something Special

Building a blog is a good starting point if you feel that you have something to say. Be aware that while setting up, for example, a WordPress blog may take a very short amount of time, there are other challenges with blogging. If you want your site to remain stimulating and get readership, then it must be interesting and timely. Posting interesting commentary is another challenge altogether!

You should make three blog posts a day when you launch a blog, in order to have enough material to draw readers. Bloggers must realize that in the beginning, they will write for a very small audience, as it does take time to build up interest and followers. Blogs can be promoted on the corporate Web site and on Twitter — Google and the other search engines will index them and drive traffic, so make sure that entries are tagged well and that titles are interesting and contain key themes for your business.

So, if you are looking for a low-cost strategy to build customer engagement in a down market, the cheapest and easiest way is to construct something around the people in your organization and your thought leadership — focus on the people in the organization and the market, rather than on particular products.

Of course, this is not possible for some organizations; if you make fire extinguishers, for instance, it may be difficult to really blog in an interesting and comprehensive fashion. However, the final recommendation I have for proactive social marketing works for many businesses of many different sizes.

Creating a Conversation

Building a forum, comments or discussion section, a rating system, or a combination of any of these elements around your products and services will almost inevitably prove successful. People value the opportunity to make a comment or recommendation and are quite possibly discussing your organization on other sites anyway. By allowing others to interact with your brand on your own site, you provide a conduit for two-way communication and this has been reported to significantly increase brand loyalty.

My final point: There are a lot of social networks and communities out there, and understanding how your brand’s message is being received is now easier than ever. Some CRM systems provide automatic tools that enable you to track and respond to comments on sites like Facebook and Twitter; Google Alerts offer a free way to find out who is talking about you, and a host of emerging tools enable you to track sentiment and comments across a range of sites.

It’s time for marketers to engage end-users through social media to create and maintain brand awareness and build customer loyalty.

Mike Talbot is chief technology officer of Alterian.

1 Comment

  • Like so many things, the effectiveness is governed by the purpose. That’s what makes or breaks the use of a medium.

    Social media in particular seems easy at first because, yes, anybody can do it. Yet the last thing anyone wants to feel is that they’re part of a marketing blitz. Many social media users use it precisely to get away from the commercial world. (Some don’t have connections in the real world, preferring instead to have 5,000 Facebook friends than 5 real live humans, none of which can change your flat tire.)

    Social media is also quick to abandon if people don’t consider their purpose. Why are they using it? What do they hope to gain out of it?

    While you may see lots of people using social media, you’re also seeing the online equivalent of ghost towns throughout CyberSpace. You spoke of Twitter, which some people say 60% of its users abandon so quickly. You also have LinkedIn profiles which some say is the key to Networking, yet others don’t bother updating their LinkedIn any more because nobody replied like they expected. Or those who did were either spammers or people with situations more desperate than them in this economy.

    So you have those things to contend with: the marketer who needs to establish their purposes with social media (especially using benchmarks and appropriate messaging), and the growing embracing yet dismayed population who feels disappointed by their "lovers"/"customers" who never showed up.

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