Social Media Marketing – what is it good for?

In preparing for the SXSW Social Media Marketing Metrics panel at 5pm on Saturday, March 8th, I’ve been giving further thought to the use of Social Media for marketing purposes. Many companies continue to struggle with how to best leverage Social Media. This struggle goes beyond marketing, but right now my focus is on what value exists in Social Media for marketers, and how to best make use of the social media platform to deliver value.

My thoughts started by looking at other media and how marketers best leveraged the platform for value:

  • Snail Mail – direct mail marketing became the marketing tool, and the purpose was solely dedicated to lead generation and the infamous 2% response rate heuristic
  • Television – commercials became the marketing tool, and the purpose was to drive awareness and change behavior, starting with P&G and Soap Operas
  • Web Search – contextual pay per click ads became the marketing tool, and the purpose was lead generation, or actually more appropriately actions (i.e. click to landing page to action/purchase)

TV is a very rich media environment well suited toward making brand impressions through slogans and jingles, and the medium provids no way to create a direct response. Web Search is a more recent phenomenon worth exploring further in the context of how to best leverage the Social Media platform. I’ll use Google to represent the Web Search platform and overall set of PPC marketing tools.

Google provides a highly valuable service to users – Web Search – which is to easily and quickly get access to relevant content anywhere on the web through search. The Web Search service design drove massive adoption, and the users were highly satisfied with the experience – hence a platform was born. Google needed to monitize this platform and marketers are always in search of new and better ways to access customers. PPC advertising turned out to be the ideal tag-along service for marketers on top of the Web Search platform. Web Searchers are by definition looking for something, for many reasons. By creating a platform where marketers could place contextual ads next to Web Searchers while they’re in the hunt for information was highly likely to grab their attention at a critical, highly contextual and compelling moment. The PPC model – click and then convert to action – makes sense, rather than trying to build a brand or a relationship, which would be entirely out of context for the Web Search platofrm. The model has proven itself out very well.

The point I am hoping to make is that the marketing tool created by Google and other PPC providers, was focused on the core characteristics and advantages of the Web Search platform – namely targeting users highly engaged in finding something specific at a discrete moment in time and providing those users a valuable engagement point. The users click an ad and buy or do not buy, and that is the end of the story.

Now, let’s apply the microscope to Social Media and the unique characteristics of that platform, and see if we can find an ideal marketing tool suited for Social Media. I’m seeking to take this debate past the value of merely creating conversation and two-way dialog with your customers, and toward a scalable marketing tool that is suited to the Social Media platform and delivers successfully on a key outcome sought by marketers that is also highly valuable to users.

If Web Searchers are going to Google to find information quickly, what are Social Media members seeking when they engage in their favorite Social Media site? I do not have a scientific survey to support any conclusions here, so I will highlight what I think based on my own use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, Twitter, etc. For me, my Social Media activities are about making and growing connections with groups of like-minded people. Social Media has been a highly efficient platform for doing so, even though it has a ways to go to truly fulfill this mission.

It is important to note that groups is plural. My Social Network, or overall Social Graph, can be categorized into many groups of people, and many of my connections belong to several of my ‘groups’. The collection of these individuals and the various groups to which they belong represent my Social Graph. This is not to say that I have formally assigned people to groups, but in my mind they are allocated or tagged this way. At its core, Social Media to me is about persistent contextual connections with people.

What is a marketer to do with this core capability of Social Media? How can a Social Media platform owner monitize this core capability to continue to drive funding to grow the Social Media platform services for its users?

First, take the Hippocratic Oath. Doing harm to the core of the platform will kill the whole thing. If Google blew the search thing, the PPC model would quickly become irrelevant.

Second, ride the wave. Social Media is delivering value to users by facilitating useful connections across a user’s Social Graph. Whatever the marketer does and the Social Media platform enables, it must be done through the Social Graph and be seen as enhancing to one user’s connection to another.

To me, the most powerful intersection of Social Media and Marketing is around the concept of a Referral. For marketers, the Referral is one of the most valuable forms of lead generation around. It is also highly sensitive and built around trust. How to implement this Referral concept is beyond the scope of this post, and is maybe the subject of a business plan and a valuable business in the Social Media arena. Let’s just say it is way more complicated to implement than to just allow users to become “fans” of products / services / companies, such as what Facebook has recently done. The Referral model in Social Media is also not a platform for merely allowing legions of people to become sales reps for products, such as an Amway model.

I’m highly interested in conversation around this topic. The purpose is to begin to flesh out the true underlying value and capability of Social Media platforms, and how that capability can be leveraged effectively for marketing in a manner consistent with supporting the basic value of the Social Media platform (which is not to make members targets of marketers).

^ brian

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  • Brian – interesting article. My experience has been that Social Media does provide targeted information, but it's dependent on relationships. In order to market through Social Media, you have to build relationships with readers by providing good, non-sales based content. I suspect that the Social Media users of today can smell a sales pitch a mile away, so you have to break those barriers to establish trust and credibility. Of course, this is easier said then done as I don't really think I've done a very good job of it myself. In my humble opinion, this is the key to marketing via Social Media.

  • Brian – interesting article. My experience has been that Social Media does provide targeted information, but it's dependent on relationships. In order to market through Social Media, you have to build relationships with readers by providing good, non-sales based content. I suspect that the Social Media users of today can smell a sales pitch a mile away, so you have to break those barriers to establish trust and credibility. Of course, this is easier said then done as I don't really think I've done a very good job of it myself. In my humble opinion, this is the key to marketing via Social Media.