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.

Network Growth Using Online Communities

This generation of consumer social networks are much smaller, far more focused networks- which helps the midsize and small marketer as well as the biggest enterprises. When used in Social Marketing, this implies a ‘long-tail’ strategy. Pick some sort of very specific interest related to your product or service, be it model trains, home brewing, or scrap booking; find the social networks in that arena; and see how you can participate.

The social network strategy is not just for consumer goods marketing; it's also profoundly useful for business-to-business marketing. Dentists, doctors, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers all may have an interest in social marketing using networks. Do you create your own, or leverage an existing one?

Right now, LinkedIn is perhaps the best-known business-to-business social network. You should also look at joining other online communities focused on specific markets. However, if you're a large enterprise, you can start creating an online destination around what you do, your products, and your technology, tapping into the interests of your customer base.

As an example, think about the narrow focus of Genzyme, which works to discover successful drug therapies for rare diseases. If my child had a rare disease, I would want to know about the Genzyme community. I'd want to know why it costs so much to develop a drug for my child's dis­ease. I'd want to meet other parents with children suffering from the same illness. For Genzyme to facilitate those contacts and bring me that information would be much more powerful for Genzyme than if I were to obtain it somewhere else, say from Google or from raredisease.org.

The opportunity here is to show that you're an important commu­nity source for authentic information, not just marketing hype. In the business-to-business world, IBM has been a business machine and computing technology company longer than anybody on the planet and has more patents in its fields than anybody else. So, if you're a technology/software buyer, you would reason that IBM must have something thoughtful to say to you or help you. Maybe you're think­ing of buying new servers and you wonder whether you should use open source software .... IBM has the credibility to offer answers and host this kind of valuable content.

Similarly, GlaxoSmithKline has the credibility to talk about breathing drugs. Lilly has the credibility to talk about diabetic drugs and diabetes. Toyota has the highest satisfaction of car owners in the world; it has the authority to talk about how that happened without giving away any proprietary information.

Companies that are not the largest, highest rated, most successful can take the Avis approach, "how we try harder." Or, like Heeling Sports, show people having a wonderful time with the product. Use the social network to start a dialogue.

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) ran a major on­line campaign to promote its PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld game console. Its television ads were designed to drive traffic to the website, which includes information about PSP's game-sharing, on­line, and Wi-Fi capabilities, as well as details on some of its games and its media player. The ads also point to Sony's Passport To ... social network travel site (PSPassport.com), which promotes Sony's univer­sal media disc travel guides, developed for the PSP in partnership with Lonely Planet.

The site encouraged visitors to contribute their own travel stories; Sony posted the best each month as features on the site. And it offered a monthly Q&A competition with chances to win PSPs and travel guides. SCEE was getting conversations going with its target audiences, giving them more reasons to return to the PSP sites, and spotlighting its brand as an authentic source of information and entertainment.

A Slow Build, Not a Quick Transaction

It's tempting to go for the quick transaction: One click on Amazon and you've bought the book. However, what LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube have taught us about the social network is that you don't have to go for the transaction right away. Create an attractive environment and community; invite people to come, spend some time, meet some people, share some stories, download some content, and you know what ... you'll probably sell stuff.

It's not just about advertising, it's about links to other things, talk­ing about products, talking about experiences: Did you see the Heelys video? Did you try the virtual racetrack on Pontiac's Second Life site? If people feel comfortable in a social network setting, and even if it is on a company site, they trust you. They are going to share information.

The other lesson from YouTube, LinkedIn, and FaceBook is that our ideas of privacy are in flux. Some people complain about a lack of privacy, but others are videoing themselves in their bedrooms talking about their so-called lives, disclosing everything about their friends or makeup or bodybuilding. Don't judge it. It's the behavior of the next generation-your customers are doing it, watching it, blogging about it. The real issue is: How do you act in a more social way, rather than a transactional way, to create a brand?

You have to start with some kind of architecture, and I would argue that you have to think about a social network the way you think about a building. The better architect you are, the better social network you will have. Don't confuse this with the software itself. Many companies use proprietary technology, but you can also go to companies like Five Across (fiveacross.com), Neighborhood America (neighborhoodamerica.com), and Kick Apps (kickapps.com) for social networking software.

Recently there was a PBS special about the future of the library. They say libraries have a big future. Almost everybody on the show dis­agreed: Who needs a library when you have Google and the Internet? The historian David McCullough believed the library has a big future. One of the main reasons they emphasize this is the need to be in a special place. You may remember visiting two very special places- church and library. The library was quiet, orderly, a place of thoughtful contemplation full of people who enjoyed the same ex­perience. The architect had to provide different places for people with different interests: the children's corner, the history area, biography section, fiction shelves, poetry, and so on.

Behavior has not changed that much. The power of creating spaces that people want to come to, want to feel good in, is all part of this movement of social networks and the building of communities. Companies have a right, even a responsibility, to build their own communities and provide spaces for their customers to talk to one an­other, places for them to learn (using tools like podcasts and mi­crosites). Of course, these communities are places where visitors control what they see, say, do, contribute.

So, if you're Pfizer, you want to create a space for a community of physicians, patients, caregivers, insurance companies, and legislators. If you're Whirlpool, you want a community of dealers, distributors, service technicians, suppliers, and regulators. If you're Citibank, you want a community of investors, regulators, customers, media contacts, and financial advisors.

The earlier you embark on the architecture of your own enterprise social network, the better it will become over time as your community tells you what they like, what they don't like, what you see working, what you measure, where you go. Social networks have proven to be the most powerful tool for social marketing.

Network Growth

In Social Marketing, it’s all about the quantity and quality of impressions you make on your targeted audience. The larger the audience may not bring in more sales leads. In fact, with the wrong set of leads, your company can go broke spending all available time and resources contacting the wrong people- the world is really that big!

So, the trick in Social Marketing is to create a sphere of influence that encompasses the right set of audience. Then provide that audience with quality experiences. Massaging is important, experience is important, but when it comes to growth- CONVERSTATION IN KING. If you don’t have the resources, then out source it. In this age of high-quality Knowledge Curation, there is no excuse about, “I don’t have anything to say.”

Following the principles of Knowledge Curation, developing the correct market mix, participating in the right social networks and on-line communities, all are important. The key to growth though, is CONVERSATION.

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