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Summary:

There was a time not too long ago when the business implications of social media were unclear; resistance to it on the part of corporations, therefore, was somewhat understandable. Web 2.0 seemed like just the next Internet fad in a series of many, and while it […]

There was a time not too long ago when the business implications of social media were unclear; resistance to it on the part of corporations, therefore, was somewhat understandable. Web 2.0 seemed like just the next Internet fad in a series of many, and while it was viewed as having value for individuals and enthusiasts, it didn’t seem viable for corporate use. But corporations need to realize that social media is here to stay — and that in it lies the future of marketing.

According to a recent BusinessWeek article, 11.2 percent of online adults in the U.S. publish content on a blog at least once a month, 24.8 percent read blog content and 13.7 percent comment on it. And the younger the demographic, the higher the number. The days of mainstream media monopolizing information is long gone, with certain blogs attracting millions of visitors each month as people seek out a more personal spin on information. And as the web becomes more social, people are beginning to value relationships and conversations more than the passive consumption of information. BusinessWeek’s concluding advice: “Catch up…or catch you later.”

Social media is a lot more than just blogs, however, and a combination of blogs, social news and networking sites, along with new ways of consuming media online (YouTube, Flickr, Last.fm) have changed the world of marketing and advertising. No longer is it just about broadcasting your pitch and plastering your message all over the place; instead people expect corporations to engage with them through social platforms in a person-to-person fashion. As Bob Metcalfe notes:

People listen better and longer when you just talk to them and listen back. All too often professional marketers lose their credibility by hyperbole, hubris and amplification. It seems to me self evident that just talking with people is more effective than shouting and repeating yourself as if your audience was comprised of deaf idiots.

One term used to describe this evolution is Social Media Marketing; another is Conversational Marketing — a practice that involves engagement and interaction, a two-way communication rather than a one-way flow of information. While some companies continue to struggle with this new form of marketing, others have embraced it wholeheartedly. One such company is Samsung, as is evident in the marketing strategy for their latest phone.

Rather than relying on traditional forms of marketing, Samsung has created brand and product pages on the leading social networking platforms such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo and has launched a campaign that places the role of marketing the product squarely in the hands of their current (and potential) customers. The company is asking them to record songs and upload them to a community that Samsung has created where others vote for the ones they like best; the four winning songs will be featured in a national radio and online ad campaign.

This is a great example of embracing not only social networks as marketing platforms but also user-generated content as conversational marketing. If it works, it will get Samsung’s new phone marketed through word of mouth, with advertisement campaigns generated by actual people who would use their products.

With clear evidence that brute-force marketing is no longer as effective as it once was, what I find surprising is that more companies aren’t working with their communities this way. They must not understand the value of conversational marketing, in particular of social shopping, whereby people make online shopping decisions based on what their network of friends has previously bought and the recommendations they make. According to an AMA survey from 2006 (the most current I could find), the social shopping industry is already on track to be a multibillion-dollar industry. In the survey, 47 percent of consumers said that they would be open to using social networks to find and discuss holiday gift ideas, 51 percent said that, given the option, they would look for discounts on social networking sites. When it comes to downloading coupons from social networking sites, 51 percent said that they would do that, and another 18 percent said that they would participate on such sites by (reading or) writing product reviews. Most importantly, 29 percent said that they would actually make purchases through these sites.

In other words, if corporations want to make their advertising truly effective, they need to get social.

Muhammad Saleem is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.

  1. Muhammad,

    Loved your article. The rise of social networking and Web 2.0 is to (now) be considered commonplace in today’s digital world. As we all know, corporations often move to slow to adapt to changing market trends, unlike stealthy start-ups. The future of marketing is to be defined by us; the creators (innovators) and user(s). It’s quite possible that in the near future there could be a site that could fulfill the needs, wants and desires of a user’s everyday life and more, redefining the online social space and truly displaying the value of conversational marketing.

    Rule of thumb…let the user(s) be your advocate for product or service. In the end, their opinion is what matters most.

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  2. Muhammad:

    Nice article – and one thing that I think is much misunderstood is the huge amount of brand and category related conversation going on that is not in either blogs or any kind of company owned or sponsored site.

    The vast majority of online conversation is happening on communities with forums, web-boards, and yes, still newsgroups.

    People do not need your (brand owner) permission OR sponsorship to talk about the things that interest them.

    We help companies understand what is going on in the conversations and provide them with actionable insight using this understanding – take a look:

    http://humanvoice.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/brand-advocacy-matters-2/

    TO’B

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  3. Hi Muhammad,

    What are your top 10 secrets for Social Media Marketing?

    Sramana

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  4. Muhammad,

    Does the opportunity to win a starring role in a *national* ad campaign not suggest that you’re highlighting the fun 10% of the campaign … while the serious dollars remain traditionally spent?

    James

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  5. The conversation about products has been going on online as long as there has been an online. The smart companies have always figured out that this conversation *is* going on and that they can participate and leverage it. This has been going on long before we called it “Social Media.”

    Of course back then the mainstream was pretty clueless there was an “online” to go to, much less that there are any interesting conversations there.

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  6. Start with social media monitoring (our world), then analyze the conversations for sentiment, gender, age, location and influence. Then listen to the things people are saying; finally, participate rather than pitch. Easy to lay out but not so easy to implement. We offer a free tool that is not similar to Google Alerts which, unfortunately, is not real time, a critical factor when a reputation, for example, is being ruined by a fleeting rumor or group of malcontents working social media streams. Or a legitimate set of consumers that have a problem with a company.
    Social media is the next layer of connectivity- global, live, diverse and unpredictable. Either a marketer’s dream or nightmare or both. Interesting times!

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  7. Muhammad,

    Great article and I couldn’t agree with you more. However, I do feel that it isn’t enough to be simply engaging in the conversation. That’s just the beginning. I believe that social influence marketing which is about harnessing the social and peer influences leveraging social media platforms is where its at. You’ll find a lot of information on social influence marketing at http://www.goingsocialnow.com

    To treat it as simply marketing through social media channels or participating in a conversation is a simplification.

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  9. [...] even try.  I realize Muhammad Saleem is quoting Bob Metcalfe telling you that TV is dead and social media is the only game in town.” “People listen better and longer when you just talk to them and listen back. All too [...]

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  10. [...] For the Future of Marketing, Look to Social Media [...]

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