For the Future of Marketing, Look to Social Media

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.

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