Expert Advice


The 5 Steps to Social Product Marketing

It’s been more than a decade since the publication of the The Clue Train Manifesto — a business classic, well ahead of its time.

Rich with both insight and foresight, it still amazes me that it was written before Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — and, as business leaders, as marketers and as technologists, we can greatly benefit from revisiting its themes.

One line that caught my attention recently was this: “Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.”

This is what we have seen flourishing in the open source world over the past decade.

What’s Been Going On?

Remarkably, in a business culture where corporations grapple, merge and separate around the possession and protection of intellectual property, the open source world has thrived through the economic downturn by running counter to this norm. It is a market without walls where information is publicly shared and where communities have organically grown around the sharing. It has created interconnected ecosystems of developers, end users, channel partners and system integrators. These networks exist well beyond any one company’s firewall or control.

Successful open source projects like Red Hat, OpenOffice, Terracotta, MySQL and Liferay learned early on that there was great value in their communities — these masses of potential consumers with unsolicited interest in the quality and success of their project — and by communicating the right value propositions alongside a quality product, there could be a real, powerful business model for them.

Meanwhile, as open source gained popularly, a new social phenomenon grew in importance for the regular Internet user. Individuals gained new capabilities to publish status (Twitter), pictures (Flickr), blogs (WordPress), Q&A (multiple forums), text (Wikipedia), and videos (YouTube), and were able to create friend or business social networks (Facebook and Linkedin). The available knowledge on the Internet and the ability to find the information desired increased dramatically. Where in the early part of the decade, many people began to research their purchases searching using Google, reading company website information, today they are searching for peer reviews, friend recommendations, and they have begun to add their recommendations about products into the general knowledgebase.

Buying patterns have changed-has your marketing?

Where Are We Today?

Today, big consumer brands are wisely leveraging social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The social launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer, for example, created a product launch on Facebook, allowing consumers to view information, comment, and “like” the launch, re-posting messages through every participant’s own social network, spreading virally, awareness of the product launch.

Many companies today hire social media managers whose goals are to grow awareness of their products through social media, by creating Facebook or Twitter accounts for their products, publishing information on Wikipedia, and so on. The main objective is to encourage individuals to “follow,” to “like,” and to encourage participation such that each individual then rebroadcasts information through their social networks. This “viral” growth provides a trusted method to spread awareness — people tend to trust information coming from their network of friends rather than from unsolicited advertisements.

But is there more that Ford and others can do with their communities beyond just simple awareness building and counting Facebook “Likes”?

What Is Social Product Marketing?

The Awareness-to-Revenue Customer Lifecycle includes a set of psychological transitions where customers become aware of, evaluate, like, advocate, and purchase a specific product or brand. A wise marketing team can track the number of individuals who transition through each phase and know how to implement programs that help increase the number of people who transition from one phase to the next.

Social media experts hope to leverage Facebook and other networks to increase awareness, but that only focuses on awareness and disregards the other phases. By melding traditional marketing and social media into a single strategy called “Social Product Marketing,” companies can increase the percentages of transitions and as well as increasing the speed at which they transition.

Social Product Marketing allows a company to use social collaboration to build communities of interest focused on their product or service and to build marketing programs to transition community members through the purchase lifecycle. The key is to build a social media hub focused on their product.

Instead of simply posting information to Twitter, a company should build their own hub with blogs, wikis, forums and Web content. This provides a single place for the company, its engineers, its customers, and its advocates to find or contribute information. This content should support Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure consumers can find the correct information from Google or Bing.

The information should additionally be posted throughout external social media sites to capture the viral growth of awareness explained above and drive individuals back to the company’s hub.

Lastly, the services should be wrapped with well-structured navigation and additional Web content to simplify the experience for new users and to ensure the company can position their alerts and advertisements to visitors (rather than Facebook’s advertisements).

For the Ford example, Ford could have created a community hub that provided blogs, a wiki and a forum where engineers could post additional product suggestions, where consumers could publish questions and answers, or could provide tips and tricks. Ford’s Facebook group could then have been used to drive people back to the hub, which would include Ford content and advertisements.

How Do You Implement Social Product Marketing?

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  1. Define Your Awareness-to-Purchase Lifecycle: Every market has a unique set of psychological transitions that individuals go through from first learning about a product until they purchase the product.

    The most common are

    1. Awareness (an individual learning a specific product meets a known need)
    2. Evaluation (an individual actively considering the product’s features for themselves)
    3. Preference (an individual developing a preference for a given product over others, even if they are not in position to purchase)
    4. Advocacy (an individual promoting the use of a product to others even if they have not purchased it themselves)
    5. Purchase (an individual purchases a product or more of the same product or from the same brand).

    Each team should understand the phases for their market as well as the motivators, which cause people to transition from one phase to the next.

  2. Develop a Social Media Hub: Any company that has a product or a service has a community of interest who will participate in a social media hub. The social media hub allows a place for individuals, regardless of their phase within the purchase lifecycle, a place to learn, collaborate and contribute. A social media hub provides services like blogs, wiki, forums, search, user ratings, Web content and more.

    The site must provide intuitive navigation and allow end users to either search for or contribute information. Often, individuals can additionally define a network of other users with whom they wish to collaborate or follow. Last, the entire site should be indexed within major search engines, and information posted to social media sites like Facebook to help draw people back to the social media hub.

  3. Develop Great Content: Individuals will visit and contribute to your social media hub if there is great content. When looking for new sports cars, an individual could use Google to look for “American muscle cars” and find a link to an article about a new turbo technology located on your social media site. They may also find a blog written by the engineer who developed the technology and a forum post by a mechanic who has used the technology.

    In the past, only content developed by the company would be available to found through search, but with a social media site, the company, its’ employees, and it’s entire community can contribute information creating thousands of touch points to draw individuals into the site.

  4. Facilitate the Transitions: Individuals who participate in your social media hub will be at various stages in the purchase lifecycle; therefore, marketing teams need to define strategies to help people transition from one phase to the next. This increases overall revenue but also quickens the pace of transition.

    While SEO and links from social media like Facebook can increase awareness, developing proper navigation on the social media hub can increase the awareness to evaluation timeline. For example, a person may come to your website because they see a post on a friend’s Facebook page; and when visiting your site they may see an advertisement in the left column which says “Free Webinar This Thursday — Click Here to Register.” This helps to drive people with initial awareness to evaluate the product.

    Companies can additionally implement a gradient of incentives by presenting end users with various offers that require increasing commitment. Example: A new visitor could be presented a link to a Web video demo, a past visitor could be presented with an offer for a webinar that requires registration, an existing customer could be presented with a two-for-one coupon. Each offer is based on the phase of the end user determined by past tracking.

  5. Measure Progress and Set Goals: Companies can measure various touch points throughout the purchase lifecycle to understand success and to set future goals. Example, a company with 10,000 new visitors per week, with 25,000 Twitter followers, with 1,000 white papers downloads per week, and with 100 new leads each week, resulting in five new sales each week, could compare these results to last month and decide they want to increase the number of new website visitors, or increase the number of downloads of white papers, etc. Each requires resources to implement, which can be weighed against the eventual outcome.

Buying has changed; it is time to change our marketing methods and tools.

As The Clue Train Manifesto said more than a decade ago, the walls between smart employees and smart markets have been torn down. Smart companies are changing to their advantage.

Paul Hinz is chief marketing officer at Liferay.


  • This article provides great information and a road map for merchants trying to create a "network effect" around their company/products. The "Why" and "How" are clearly explained. Give this article a thorough read then serious consideration.


  • But, the most crucial phase begins when you try to drift your audience towards your products. At this point in time your connections seem to become quite reluctant or least interested in knowing what have on your platter.

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