Social networking sites

I’ve never shied away from a good heated debate. Confrontation and dispute are the cornerstones of innovation. Two people standing in a room agreeing with each other is rarely the background for a story that ends with progress or, at the very least, change.

Along those same veins, I’ve never been afraid to admit mistakes, omissions or errors. Failing to do so translates into a failure to learn and grow, both professionally and personally.

In the last two days I’ve received some e-mails from colleagues who, out pure entertainment, decided to take me up on my offer to read this blog. Both noted at least one major omission in my analysis of social networking sites; and, to be quite honest, their criticism is spot on.

I failed to recognize the ability of a site like Facebook to generate positive word of mouth.

Interestingly enough, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association — yes there is such a monster — notes on its Web site that facilitating positive word-of-mouth referrals begins with meeting and exceeding customer expectations in terms of service, product quality and responsiveness.

Score one for this old dog. As I stated in a previous post, new media or traditional media — it all begins and ends with the consumer.

The final bark

That fact is people are far more trusting of each other than they are of marketers or corporations. It logically follows that brands will hope to leverage loyalists by having them forward links and messages to folks in the “friends” listings and invite likely prospects to join new clubs. These efforts in and of themselves cannot be considered a complete marketing campaign; they should be paired more traditional approaches and all of it must answer to the objectives stated prior to the onset of the campaign.


Social networking, podcasts, widgets, RSS feeds, blogs … the tools at the modern marketer’s fingertips are many and varied. Yet with all the bells and whistles, the ultimate goal with these new elements remains the same: To motivate and persuade consumers.


The only way to effectively communicate with consumers is to know who they are and what they want. That doesn’t change whether you are writing copy for a newspaper ad or designing a firm’s podcast. Far too often, marketing professionals find themselves so engrossed with exploring the possibilities of their new toys they forget to actually consider how the new abilities will be used to forward their client’s message, assist in building brand awareness, increase market share and, yes even sell more products.


Social networking is an excellent example of such overzealousness. Sites like Facebook primarily operate as a means of connecting friends and colleagues, hence the term SOCIAL networking. These sites were not established with commerce in mind, yet many a young marketing pro will tell you they are clearly the wave of the future.


Oh yeah, how?

  • Targeted banner ads?Nope. The latest statistics show few Facebook users actually click the ads that accompany profile pages.
  • Groups?It’s an excellent avenue for re-enforcing existing brand loyalty but it does little in the way of paving new relationships. The people in these groups clearly have an expressed interest in the brand and would likely seek out information through other avenues if not through Facebook.
  • Leveraging the wealth of information collected through the site? To a degree sure, but if you push too far, you’ll face a nasty backlash.

 Ask a communications specialist how they use social networking sites to their advantage and you’ll likely be on the receiving end of what will sound vaguely reminiscent of a politician’s stump speech.

Here’s what Jim Keyes said about Blockbuster’s use of Facebook:

“This is beyond creating advertising impressions … It’s about Blockbuster participating in the consumer’s community.”


Notice the pure lack of substance in that response? I only have one thing to say to those touting social networking as the next great marketing tool – Where’s the beef? Show me the proof that a client’s message is connecting with consumers via Facebook, otherwise let me be, I have ad copy to write.


 Now some suggest the blog is going the way of the dodo, adding the new medium lacks an ability to effectively address modern audiences. I disagree. The secret to a successful blog is masking the marketing messages with a compelling story, one that will engage audiences over the long haul. Pairing Nike with a blog by young runner training for his or her first NYC marathon would be an excellent means of initiating and maintaining consumer interest in that lifestyle segment.


There is one new medium with which companies simply cannot live out – the Web site. Web sites — while perhaps lacking the sex appeal of some of the edgier new media — represent the most effective current tool for marketing professionals. With hundreds of millions of potential customers actively surfing the Web, a company’s site is quickly developing into its primary face in the modern marketplace. Consumers turn to it for an endless parade of reasons, from tracking down store hours or return policies to making a purchase or filing a complaint.


Web sites offer consumers the ability to interact with a company on their schedule and at their pace. This interaction, be it clicking through to particular pages or playing a selected video clip, in turn aids the firm in developing a finely tuned database. A well-constructed database allows marketing professionals to develop targeted appeals as well as anticipate
emerging consumer needs.
Check out this link to Barbie’s Web site:

Tell me an 8-year-old girl isn’t going to want to explore every inch of that!

In addition, Web sites can serve as natural launching points for some of the other forms of new media. Related blogs, videos, RSS feeds and widgets can all be integrated into a firm’s base Web site.
The final bark

Web sites are essential in the new age of marketing, but no new technology exists with which industry professionals can casually dismiss that tried and true industry tenet: Know thy customer. To reach and persuade consumers, a marketing strategy must still prove itself relevant to the target audience; simply being in the same area of a vast number of people is not enough to insure your message is being heard. Don’t believe me? Try yelling something in a crowded stadium. Think anyone past the next row heard you?