2010: A Social Media Odyssey

By Les Kollegian
Jacob Tyler Creative Group

les kollegian social media
This is an interesting time to be in marketing. Technology isn’t just changing the way we reach our customers, but the new mediums available mean that even our messages themselves have to change if they’re going to be effective. Nowhere is this more true than with social networking. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are starting to actually live up to the expectations that advertisers set for them years ago, but not necessarily in the ways we originally expected them to.

Instead of updating profiles and treating tweets like segments from an online newsletter, businesses are finding that social media is the means to start a conversation, not a lecture. Customers aren’t content to sit back and hear what we have to tell them – they want to be involved, give feedback, and shape the direction of the dialogue.

There are some exciting shifts taking place, but like all changes in trends, there are going to be winners and losers; companies that take advantage, and those that fall behind. Here is what you need to know to make the most of social networking this year:

Marketing takes on a new meaning with social networking.
There’s still a time and place to promote your relative strengths, show off your unique selling proposition, and hook potential customers with a targeted headline… but it’s not on Facebook, or any similar site. What people search for on social networking platforms is different even from other websites: they don’t just want information, they want cutting-edge news, reactions, and insight.

That means these are good places to be an expert and build your brand, be it personal or corporate, but a terrible forum for flat-out promoting products and specials. While tweeting about a special you’re offering, or mentioning it in your profile, may be acceptable for every seventh or tenth time you make a post, doing it more often is the social networking equivalent of spam (or suicide, as I like to call it). It won’t make people hate you; they’ll do worse and ignore you. Use the majority of your real-time space to position yourself as an expert authority or source of industry insight. Do not just hawk your products.

You have to flip the format. For the past ten years, web designers have lost sleep fretting over the way pages load on this browser, that browser, or worse yet, on multiple versions of the same browser with different configurations (i.e., Microsoft Explorer 6.0, 7.0, 8.0… those of you in the industry know what I am talking about). Every web designer’s compatibility nightmare is bound to continue for at least a while longer, since now we can’t even say whether a visitor will even be using a small touch screen or a mouse. The newest generation of mobile devices has finally taken them completely to the mainstream, meaning that your site and profile had better work in a variety of formats.

Mobile platforms work particularly well with social networking because both encourage instant updates. Neither are about what you’ve done, but what you’re doing. As a marketer, that means your customers are expecting rapid-fire updates and availability, so take advantage of the media and use it regularly to reach clients on the go.

The message is more important than the source. Being famous isn’t what it used to be… at least online. A plumber from Cleveland, or a grandmother from Grand Forks, can gather more friends and followers than a music producer or Fortune 500 CEO if they speak to subjects that people care about. This is the kind of thing that drives public relations people crazy, but it’s also why the opportunities in social networking are so strong.

Online, everything runs on attention. If you can build a following, you can always find ways to profit from it. To do that, though, you don’t have to spend a fortune or get yourself on the front of a magazine. You do have to come up with something that’s more interesting than what people are reading now. There’s no secret, but there isn’t any shortcut, either.

It’s all connected. There’s not really any such thing as a “social networking strategy” anymore, just like search engine optimization, blog marketing, and other online marketing strategies are fading away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they don’t still matter, but that they’re ceasing to be separate things. The way to come out ahead in today’s marketplace is by viewing each as just another piece of the entire media and marketing mix – separate instruments combining to play a tune your buyers want to hear.

As I said, social networking is finally starting to show some of the results that marketers and business owners hoped for when they started using them years ago. By using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (among other social network platforms) effectively, what you’re really doing is creating a low-cost opportunity to market virally – to not just tell someone something, but use them to tell someone else. It’s the 21st century equivalent of word of mouth, only better, because it can multiply your message exponentially in the blink of an eye.