Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.

What is social media marketing?

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Since I recently joined Spring Creek Group, a few family and friends have asked me what I do all day. Here’s an answer:

Mass marketing was the dominant form of marketing in the 20th century. It arose in response to rapid urbanization and the desire for companies to push messages out to as many people as possible. In the 1920s radio was the primary technology for delivering mass media and marketing, and after the Second World War the television.

Then a funny thing happened: the next big technology to come along, the Internet, is turning out to be a more challenging environment for mass marketing. Radio and television rely on commercial breaks, interrupting content programming to deliver an advertisement. The Internet is a more cluttered and busy environment. People are able to tune out ads more easily, and advertisers are having a hard time figuring out how to apply the old mass marketing techniques to this new online medium.

Enter social media marketing. The Internet may have broken the old mass marketing paradigm, but it’s a fantastic place for people to find information, connect to each other, and widely share thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions. This is how marketing primarily happened prior to radio and television: people gathered input from friends and family to make decisions. In fact, this has always happened, even in the age of mass media. The difference is that the Internet enables people to have much larger networks, moving from just 150 face-to-face connections to in some cases over 2 million digital ones.

Social media marketing builds on the discovery, sharing and communication strengths of the Internet. By engaging people in forums, blogs, article comments, and social networks, marketers help people discover and share business stories. This new media landscape can be a little intimidating: there is almost no buffer between the audience and the marketer, people are talking all the time, and the ground rules are very different. How should a marketer engage? Here are three basic steps to consider when approaching social media:

1. Set the strategy. Before we can start, we need to know what we’re trying to accomplish, how we’re going to do it, and how we’ll measure success. Like any other marketing effort, this requires setting our strategy.

  • Determine the objective. As marketers we’re most often responsible for driving demand: building awareness, shifting preference, or deepening engagement. But our objectives could also be improving customer service or soliciting feedback for product development.
  • Review the company’s assets. Every company has something unique and valuable that can be used in social media to fuel a conversation. This might be content, or it might be pre-existing relationships.
  • Set the metrics. Each objective naturally lends itself to certain success metrics. These might be secure stories, move sentiment, drive leads and conversions, increase fans and page views, or resolve service requests.

2. Engage: but remember it’s a conversation, not a campaign. Mass marketing was about planning a campaign and projecting the message out to an audience. Now, we can engage directly with people. We’ve moved from one-way marketing campaign to a two-way conversation, which has several implications for how we conduct our marketing efforts:

  • Start by listening and learning. Good conversationalists are good listeners. So though our natural instinct as marketers is to tell our companies’ stories, we instead need to start by listening to what customers are already saying. There’s a lot to be learned first.
  • Follow the norms. In social media we must always be open, honest, authentic and transparent. Blatant shills or fake blogs are sure to be found out and cause a backlash.
  • Find the influencers. Having lots of conversations with lots of people can be very time consuming. It just doesn’t scale very well. To ensure our efforts have the most impact possible, we can focus our outreach to the people who are most opinionated and connected – the influencers.
  • Add value. To establish relationships and trust with influencers and others, we need to give before we ask for something in return. We can’t just show up for the first time and ask for a product review.
  • Maintain a sustained effort. Relationships don’t happen overnight, and require continual investment of time and energy.

3. Track and optimize. We set our metrics when preparing our strategy. As with any other marketing effort, once we start to engage we’ll just want to track how we’re doing. We need to collect and analyze data, come up with insights about what’s happening and why, and then determine what actions to take to improve results.

In a way, the Internet has allowed marketing to come full circle, back to a time when word of mouth was the dominant way information was shared. We’re still in the early days with this technology and figuring out how to use it, but the basic structure just described – figure out what to do (strategy), do it (engage), and figure out if it’s working (track) – is a good starting point.


Written by nealfreeland

July 7, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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