Thursday, August 30, 2007
can we market products in social media?
Social media are web sites (online media) that people visit to interact with (socialize with) each other. Old, conventional web sites ("Web 1.0") were pages you could just stare at, read, and buy something from. The only interaction typically available was a contact form or email. Very boring.
Web 2.0 includes social media sites that you can create profiles in, upload photos and video to, or have your own channel of communication within.
Usually these user communities revolve around tools, like blogs (Facebook), bookmarking (del.icio.us), people search (Spock), micro-blogging (Twitter), music sharing (GarageBand), productivity tools (8apps), world-changing activism (Zaadz), file sharing (Pownce), expertise sharing (Instructables), or photo sharing (Flickr).
Justin.tv, for example, enables you to have your own TV station. You can broadcast live streaming video, and create episodes from raw unedited footage. Perfect for special events and virtual tours.
People join these social media sites to socialize, not to buy things. They want to connect with peers, share their thoughts and feelings, ask for technical help, showcase their art, distribute mp3s of their music, and generally have fun while learning from the experiences of others.
They do not join to be inundated with marketing messages, advertising, or commercial spam.
Socializing by definition excludes sales hype. If pushy, money-hungry salesmen showed up at a private party, they'd be kicked out, right? Aggressive, obnoxious sales pitches would spoil the fun.
It's unethical, counter-productive, and exploitive to invade these sites to push products at the communities. When companies try to do so, it backfires, generates negative buzz, and ends up doing more harm than good. Can you afford to alienate bloggers or social networkers?
Let's pause now and consider what CAN be done.
In social media, a company representative will be warmly welcomed -- if that rep provides valuable, relevant information that the community needs.
Marketing in the digital age must be approximately 80% education and only 20% sales. It depends on how desperately customers are craving a given product. If you have a unique product that meets a huge need, you may be able to increase the amount of sales in your messages and efforts.
But most businesses should keep the sales propaganda, in social media, to near zero.
Social media, and the web itself, is based on trust. Trust is gained by helping, advising, educating your audience. Promotional messages and ads are ignored or despised. But good advice, free samples, and instructional materials are actively sought, enjoyed, and respected.
See these social media sites as groups of potential friends who have needs you can meet, not as prospective consumers who you can take advantage of, or revenue streams that you can exploit. If you have a grossly commercial, non-helpful approach, you will be hated. And the negative publicity could possible ruin your business.
A great example of non-exploitive use of social media are the top marketing bloggers.
Seth Godin and Laura Ries are good role models. They give tons of advice, insight, and relevant links. Certainly, they'd like you to buy their books, seminars, and consulting services. But they almost never mention this, outside of some small, non-intrusive ads in their sidebars.
They even provide free downloads of e-books, or so much information in their blog posts, you may not need to buy any of their books or advisory services.
This is the royal road to trust, good will, and respect. Especially when it comes to social networking sites and tool communities.
Think about what expertise you have that could be shared. Study these sites. Join a few of them. Watch what needs are expressed, what questions are being asked. Then jump in and solve some of their problems.
If you gain their trust and respect, you'll probably gain some new paying customers, too!
But be patient. Social media is not a "get rich quick" scheme zone.
It's more a "get trust slowly, but surely" arena. If you hang in there, and share some trivia now and then (what movies or music you like, for example), you'll be seen as a good member of the community, a regular guy or gal, and a source for solutions.
It's all about altruism, not mammonism. Mutual benefit, not greed.
The worst mistake you can make is to pretend to be a non-commerce member of the online community, then promote products like you're an average user giving an uncoached, unbiased report.
The trust path is the only avenue to sustainable profits and long-term customer loyalty. To succeed in influencing social networks, first be a good member of the community, sharing and advising abundantly.
Market to social media? Do it the right way, and you'll do your business a great favor.