A Headline from 2007: ‘The Importance of Social Marketing’.

Continuing the theme of reflecting on a series of articles I wrote back in 2007/2008 (the first on reaching Generation D (Digital) and how much the media and marketing landscape has changed since that time) the second article I wrote focused on the emergence then of a new buzz phrase called ‘social media’.

What remains a consistent and important theme for me in our changing world is that the principles of marketing remain the same: understand the audience, it’s not just what you say but how you say it and how did you measure it.

And there are new principles to add too. The first I have recently written about in Marketing Week: don’t just focus on the channels but more importantly, what fills the channels (content) and secondly ‘first mover advantage’ is no longer……well, an advantage.

Whatever happened to Scoopt, Digg, Dopl, Moli and Binweevils……

Here is the article (2007)

The Importance of Social Networking.

If you haven’t heard of Scoopt, Digg, Dopl, Moli and Binweevils, you soon will. Social Media is the buzz phrase of 2007 and these sites will be joining the growing throng of social networking sites that form part of what has become known as social media.

Nothing new in the art of communication: sharing information, news, music, photos knowledge and gossip amongst friends, families and work colleagues. The key difference today is that technology is enabling a new ‘social media’ that’s moving from the physical to digital, from local to global and to immediate and ‘democratic’.

Millions of people are joining numerous online communities to do just that, but are we witnessing only the latest fad? How do marketers start to engage with consumers in this new digital social media space? What does it mean for media businesses looking for wholly new acquisitions to add to their existing channel portfolio?

The early signs are that we have a phenomenon on our hands but one that may be short‐ lived. From a business perspective it appears to reflect the dot com acquisition madness of the late 1990s, born out by a revolution in a shift in power and influence from corporations and their brands to communities of consumers with an opinion. Corporations like Murdoch’s Fox enterprise and CBS believe this new revolution having acquired MySpace and Last.FM for $580m and $280m respectively.

Rupert Murdoch said back in 2006: ‘’It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes this revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and destroy ‐ not just companies but whole countries’’. Having come into the new media space comparatively late, he had a point. We’re already seeing the power, influence and effect of social media which we’ll come back to.

But what is ‘social media’ within the context of our digital world? In its broadest sense it encompasses any number of community‐based or peer to peer interactions across multi platforms: blogging, wiki’s, user generated content, online social networking, podcasting and many others. In effect, it’s the ability for consumers to write, shape and distribute any form of content (be they words, audio or visual) within communities across any number of digital platforms with little or no constraint on how they do it.

Power and influence is moving toward individuals or groups of individuals. The most familiar or currently most talked about element of social media is social networking including sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Bebo and Pizco. The numbers in terms of user traffic is impressive, hence the interest for marketers in reaching new audiences in this new space and those businesses on the acquisition trail. The challenge for both parties is that there are many more on the way. What is popular today may be just another fad tomorrow.

The four top key sites in the UK account for about 30 million unique users: 8 million on Facebook; 10 million on MySpace, 11 million on Bebo and 4 million on Pizco. The rate of growth has been phenomenal in the first six months of this year: Facebook grew by 366%; Myspace by 25%; and Bebo by 63%. To put that into context, the Internet grew by 6%.

However, whilst the younger age bracket was responsible for driving all of the traffic initially, it’s becoming more prevalent across the older age groups. Surprisingly, 42% of Facebook users are over 35; 47% for both Bebo.com and MySpace and 53% for Piczo. What was once perceived as the domain of “youth” is now far more widespread and broader in its appeal.

There is a clear opportunity in targeting these vast numbers of people across online social communities. But as ever, the traditional principles of marketing and connecting with consumers, remains: ‘it’s not just what you say but how you say it’, also increasingly in the digital world ‘who are you saying it to and what response can you expect’. It’s too early to say how best to reach and communicate with these vast audiences.

Experimentation is critical and the often used mantra of ‘risk can reward’ can be applied. However, it should be supplemented with ‘but approach with extreme caution’, not least due to the effect that rubbing your audience up the wrong way within social network sites can be met with both an immediate and less than flattering response to your communication which can then snowball from a little local difficulty to full on global brand destruction.

Recent widespread publicity included HSBC reversing its decision to withdraw interest free student loans after thousands of students set up a group on Facebook to “stop HSBC” but more positively, the decision by Cadbury’s to re‐ introduce its WISPA brand for a limited period following the set up of “bring back WISPA” group.

Businesses and brands have to start to enter into a dialogue or conversation with consumers rather than dictate to them.

Where do the opportunities lie in connecting with consumers? For a start, in this new “community” space, it won’t be through traditional one dimensional creative communications. Whilst ad banners will have their place, the opportunity lies in weaving and integrating content and communications relevant to the environment in which consumers are engaging.

It needs to be relevant and engage the audience to which you are targeting: Trip Advisor created a Facebook application that allowed users to show all the countries they had visited on a world map which became part of their profile page; X‐ Men 3 provided free download wallpaper and reskins of MySpace profiles, Cadbury’s creation of a drumming gorilla viral, while Binweevils is moving beyond pure chat toward creating engaging and interactive properties for kids.

But is the growth of social network sites just a fad? It will be if they remain platforms for “chat only”. New sites are emerging all the time and users as ever will migrate from one to the next, with no sense of loyalty or sustainable relationship.

The value for site owners, their acquirers and marketers is to build social networking sites that engage with users and importantly, retain them by collaborating with them to contribute and shape content that they want, so that they feel it’s their domain, into which brands are then invited to participate and interact.

Value in these businesses, for marketers and those on the acquisition trail can be realised by harnessing other platforms such as mobile, either through direct acquisition or strategic alliances (as recently announced by Bebo and Orange)

The threat to growth and value will also be compounded by safety and privacy concerns and the increasing number of businesses that are banning employees from using social network sites during office hours. The latest horror for one of the top telecoms brands was their advertising being placed within a group for the British National Party – control of where advertising was placed was out of their hands, but the association and publicity surrounding the debacle is all too evident.

The future for many social networking sites remains in the balance for owners, marketers and acquirers. The power, influence and high numbers of users has undoubtedly left an impression. But with more and more sites coming to market, the key will be to retain users through collaboration and by developing and delivering new and innovative content and communications beyond the “chat format” and to harness the experience through additional multi channel platforms.

The end.

Nine years after writing that piece, the principles of marketing still (and indeed should) still resonate. Clearly ‘social marketing/media’ became more of a phenomenon than any of us imagined but weaved into its continuous prolific presence and evolution, key principles remain: understanding the audience, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, evaluate, evaluate, evaluate and perhaps most importantly today, keep an eye on the channels but focus more on what fills the channels.