If you’ve read marketing predictions for 2007 and beyond, you can’t miss the overwhelming belief that social networking sites can, and most likely will, have a greater effect on the ways companies reach out to consumers. With such great potential to engage customers in a natural dialogue, some companies continue to scuttle this ground-floor opportunity to really crank out some serious marketing mojo.
Before we break out the whooping stick, let’s back up a little bit and talk about some of the significant differences between traditional forms of advertising and the differences in social network advertising. In traditional forms of advertising, such as print, television, and even the web, there is a clear separation between editorial content and advertising. You’ll never misinterpret a Dodge commercial for an episode of the Dukes of Hazzard or mistake an adult diapers commercial for an episode of Golden Girls — no matter how similar they may appear.
This differentiation is what consumers know and what they expect.
In social networking situations, the line of differentiation can be easily hidden. What may appear to be someone talking about how much they like their new running shoes may actually be a paid PR professional making it look like she’s the average user. Trust quickly becomes an issue. And the last thing any brand wants is to be perceived as untrustworthy.
Still, the temptation has been just too much to resist for many companies. Mega-corporations like Sony and Wal-Mart / Edelman have even fallen guilty to creating fake blogs, or flogs, to promote their brands. And, frankly, it hurts those brands. More importantly, it devalues the idea of social networking as a viable option for companies to ethically and honestly engage their customer base as well as their potential customer base.
Even Craigslist.org, a site designed specifically for individuals to list free classifieds, is becoming so inundated with spamvertising that it’s had to take specific measures to counter the problem.
Social Online Marketing is starting to echo those long ago Christmas mornings when you opened the coolest toy you’d even seen… and it broke within the first day you tried using it.
So how do we keep the prospects of legit marketing through networking from getting broken?
Well, how about using the real strength of social networking: sociability.
To keep things ethical, here are a few approaches:
Create a legitimate profile that clearly lets other users know who you are and what you represent.
Then create discussion-generating blogs relative to your business. Other users will likely take it from there.
I can’t stress this enough: be REAL, and treat others as intelligent consumers. Keep them in the loop on what your organization has happening. Ask them questions about their opinions on the types of products or services your company supplies. Not only does this let users get closer to your brand, it can become a constant source of feedback and suggestions you can use to further your own company development.
Naturally, idiots may show up and trash your brand, your products, and even the person writing your blog. The natural response may be to hit back or have such posts deleted, but fight that urge. Trust users to know who has a legitimate complaint and who is simply stirring things up. Such people are immediately discounted. You may even be surprised by the likelihood of others to come to your rescue and defend your brand with their own positive experiences with your products.
Can you still talk about your new product launch? Absolutely. As long as users know you are a real person who is geeked about something your company is doing, and not just some undercover hype machine, they’ll understand. Hopefully, as they get to know you, they’ll get excited right along with you.
It’s social. It’s ethical. And most importantly, it’s just good marketing.