Step 1 to Marketing on the Social Web

Marketing to the social web is increasingly important, but is it right for you and your customers? To avoid the "build it and they will come" syndrome, you have to do your homework, build a solid foundation for your network, and get a dialogue going.

To show how the process works, let’s use Saturn as an example. Assume, Saturn had four large competi­tors fighting for the top spot among its particular target consumers: Toyota, Hyundai, BMW Mini Cooper, and Honda. As the example scenario goes, the competitors have been gaining ground and consumers no longer value Saturn as a groundbreaking leader in automotive manufacturing and business practices. Suppose that Management wants to reestablish Saturn’s position as the leader of this industry.

If Saturn were a client (it is not) and if Saturn's management wanted to market to the social web (and I have no idea what Saturn's management is up to these days), we would first observe what is hap­pening on the Web as it relates to Saturn. That takes us into step 1- OBSERVE.

Observe. Go into the social media and the blogosphere to understand the most influential places within the social web. What are the largest communities? What are they talking about? What is the relevant content? For Saturn, we would search throughout the blogosphere to track conversations from bloggers, analysts, automotive writers, and consumers. Much of this can be automated using best practices tools for Knowledge Curation like Flow-Analytics. What are they saying about the company, its products, and its key competitors? Which auto­motive brands are generating more buzz and which are the focus of the conversations in the digital world?

These other steps are listed here just to provide context for our first step.

Recruit. To shape a network, you must enlist a core group of people who want to talk about your company, your products, things you are doing, where you are going. This second step is based on the research collected in the first step- you must know who your recruitment efforts should target. Remember, this is a virtual network consisting of many social media platforms and relationships in the tangible world as well.

Evaluate platforms. What are the best platforms for your marketing goals? Blogs? Reputation aggregators? An e-community? A social network? (Each of these is worth its own article.) Some combination of these, or all four? What kind of search tools are available? Is your audience more interested in listening to things than reading? Are they interested in seeing a lot of things? Do they want to have questions and answers all the time? Do they want to edit?

Engage. Engagement is all about content. How do you build rel­evant content that will get people coming, talking, respond­ing? How do you build the mix of professional user-generated and enterprise-generated content to do that? Here's where you really get the dialogue going.

Measure. This is self-explanatory, although more difficult to do that it might seem at first glance. What do you need to mea­sure? What is your community really connecting with? What is the most relevant metrics? We have found the use of a measure framework is indispensable for this effort. But how will you build the ‘right’ one.

Promote. While some sites do not need much promotion (think FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube), most do. You also have to get out to the other communities. You have to use social media to get people talking so they will come back and download things. You have to advertise just as if nothing had changed.

Improve. Make it better. Add improvements to the site; make it more convenient, more useful, friendlier, and more rewarding.

Now back to our Saturn example. In this "observe" step, after searching Saturn's name, the names of its cars, and its services (e.g., the cars can come installed with the GM OnStar system), we would search for key influencers in the vertical automotive websites, those that specialize in news and information about cars. One way to find these influences is based on keyword searches. Another is to use search tools, such as Technorati, Google Blog Search, and others, to narrow the focus. Saturn might suggest keywords such as "automotive services," "top automotive marketing," and "peace-of-mind driving."

Assume that after we researched the blogosphere and the Web using leading Knowledge Curation techniques, such as data gathering automation software, we learn that Saturn is not taking advantage of the music subsection of the automotive websites. Suppose we find that Saturn's competitors are leveraging the music industry to promote their automotive prod­ucts and services through free music downloads, iPod connections in their vehicles, and concert sponsorships. Assume further that Saturn heavily endorses the music industry but is not mentioned as often as its competitors in conversations on the Web.

The insights we take from this observation step show that Saturn is not dominating the digital channels. Other automotive companies are generating more buzz from their online campaigns. We learned that the drivers in Saturn's target market were embracing online tools that make it easier for prospective customers to find information. Also, even though Saturn has been a tremendous supporter of the music industry, it is not promoted at large music industry and festival sites. With these insights, Saturn's management now has a direction and a goal to begin planning the next steps.

With this as a quick overview, let's dig a little deeper into how you can take this first step and observe.

Look Who's Talking

During the observation phase, you want to find out what, if any­thing, people are saying about you on the Web. Are you being talked about in these new channels and platforms in the digital world? Are any blogs covering you? Are any blogs saying anything about your cars? (If you're General Motors, they are. In fact, they're talking about your cars even if you are as obscure as Stanguillini Motors.)

Observation helps you get a handle on the landscape. You'll dis­cover what is being said and the conversations that are going on about your company, your products, your category, your competitors, your enthusiasts, your detractors, your suppliers, your partners. These are the groups most important to the fabric of your business.

Who's talking is as important as what they're saying. You need to figure out who is more influential in what is being said. Although 9,000 blogs may have mentioned your car, there may be only 10 that are critical to your reputation, that are growing, and that are becom­ing as authoritative as Motor Trend or the New York Times.

All of this applies not only to large corporations, but also to fairly small and medium-size companies. Remember, the digital world is a big place with a lot going on. You're likely to find conversations that dis­cuss what you make, what you do, who you compete with, what your customers are saying and buying. No matter what your size, there are digital conversations about you, your industry, and where it is going. (If there are no conversations, you have an invaluable oppor­tunity to start one.)

In addition, you have to analyze the influence of new media. This is similar to the media kit that newspapers and magazines have always produced. For instance, check how each medium matches the demo­graphics of your audience: how much money your customers make, where they live, what they eat.

You Need a Business Goal

Within this first step of marketing to the social web, there are a number of research guide lines that a company should follow before proceeding:

  • Identify and prioritize the company's needs and goals.
  • Important dates that will determine when market activities will need to start.
  • Target audience definitions- whom are we most interested in getting a point of view from?
  • Products/services to be searched.
  • Which languages to search.
  • Top four or five competitors.
  • Best practice comparisons. Which competitors within the indus­try or in other industries are using the digital channels to their ad­vantage, particularly social media?
  • Keywords for searching the Web.
  • Tools audit. Which tools (if any) are we already using to monitor, track, and report?

It should be obvious, but it is not always, that before you begin to think about marketing to the social web, you must have a business goal or marketing goal of some kind. Is there a target market you want to reach more effectively? Do you want to reach a certain market more often? Do you want to change the message for a particular market? You might set a marketing goal around an event such as a product launch. Or you might be experiencing, or think you are about to experi­ence, a crisis of some kind: a product recall, a government investiga­tion, a strike.

Start by defining the business goal you are trying to achieve through this whole activity and come up with important dates. For instance, if the business goal is a successful product launch of a new product, nail down the date that product is launching and whether there is any kind of prelaunch beta period or anything that might affect the launch.