Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Social Marketing Plan Starts With "Social"

I came across an interesting post this morning: "How To Build a Social Marketing Plan."

It didn't get off to a great start. The following are the first six steps:
  1. Start small
  2. Define your market objective
  3. Select your target market
  4. Assess your current web capability
  5. Set a strategy
  6. Measure your engagement
In short, this advice comes straight from the desk of Captain Obvious. What professional marketing plan wouldn't include these elements?

It gets better, though. The following are included under the header "Important advice" (and is good enough to quote in full):
  • Pay attention to your customers -- don't just sell. Traditional marketing has all been one way. A company decides what messages it wants to project on its market and it broadcasts those messages out via an ad or press release. But new word-of-mouth tools are two-way media and they offer the remarkable advantage of a real conversation. Listen to your market, take into account what they have to say, and you will have a very loyal set of customers.
  • Content is king. Content is critical with any of the new word-of-mouth tools. What you offer must be relevant, interesting, and authentic and designed to bring readers back. Add new content often. Remember that when content is not updated, readership will drop off, often rather precipitously. Make certain that your content (or comments) add value and aren’t just to self promote. If they are, they will stand out as such and you may regret it.
  • Give to get, but mostly give. If there is one truism in using any of the new word-of-mouth tools, it is that you must give to get – and give generously. On a group at Facebook, be the one who answers the question or provides the help and advice. Your generosity will earn you visibility in the group and give you credibility.
These three points are critical, and they're usually the elements that marketers forget. When you attempt to market through social networks, you are crashing a party. The people at that party were already having a good time when you showed up, uninvited. They're not going to take kindly to you blasting them with a self-interested, top-down message that reeks of insincerity.

Social networking is a conversation. If you market through these channels, you need to join the conversation and respect your customers as equals within the relationship. More than that, you can't ask them to give you something (their money, their attention, their regard) until you've offered them something equal or greater in value in return.

As Microsoft would say, welcome to the social. Social marketing is a conversation and a transaction. The prospect is challenging, a little frightening, and (if you're in the right line of work) deeply exhilarating.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Community: The New Info Overload

I've read a couple pieces lately about a new form of information overload: online communities. Apparently we're all so busy with Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed that we're abandoning blogs (or so says this piece on TechCrunch). Soon, it would seem, all we'll have time for is Twitter feeds.

This is a nice little irony for those of us old enough to remember the original "information overload." This was back in the days of Web 1.0, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it was a serious problem that a whole bunch of news feeds and websites were pushing data at us all the time, far faster than we could consume it. It was literally "push" back in those days; I remember a fairly popular screen saver that would display news and information headlines when your computer was inactive.

(Which, by the way, in hindsight looks like the stupidest publishing plan of all time. Great, display time-sensitive information on a subscriber's computer at the precise moment when you know s/he's not using it. That will work for sure. You can then use the proceeds to fund a door-to-door sales operation that caters exclusively to customers who aren't home.)

So where's the irony? For many of us, Web 1.0-style information overload was mitigated by ... blogs. Blogs covering niche topics have become some of the most effective information aggregators out there. I know I don't need to read the sports section, because I read blogs written by people who read it for me. I don't need to follow political news, because (again) I have a trusted blog whose authors consume that information, break it down, and spit it out for me in easily-digestible nuggets. So the notion that blogs themselves will be overcome by the sheer weight of ambient information being pushed out by Twitter, Facebook, and innumberable cell phone applications is curious, since that's exactly the problem that helped make blogs popular in the first place.

It also poses a question: what is the information digest of the future? Because we're certainly not going to be content with information overload, any more than we were the first time around. If blogs die because we no longer have time to read them, what will take their place? It certainly won't be that super-randomizer known as Twitter. It might, though, be an ambient information aggregator that digests Twitter feeds and news and commentary and sports scores and ... who knows, maybe even blog posts ... and spits all that out in an easier format to take in.

Crack that nut and you've got one hell of a service. But I don't know. For now I'm sticking with my blogs.