Over 800 million unique users visit YouTube each month.
200,000,000+ estimated number of blogs worldwide.
Over 800 million active users on Facebook.
175,000,000 log on to Facebook at least once a day.
140 million active Twitter users. 340 Million Tweets per day.
Social Media is the new buzz word in marketing circles, but what does this phrase really encompass. Ask 10 different people and you may very well get 10 different answers that overlap each other in several places.
Wikipedia defines Social Media as:
“Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It’s a set of technologies, tools and platforms facilitating the discovery, participation and sharing of content. It is transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).”
“Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video. Technologies include: blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, crowdsourcing, and voice over IP, to name a few. Examples of social media applications are Google Groups (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), MouthShut.com yelp.com (product reviews), Youmeo (social network aggregation), Last.fm (personal music), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Avatars United (social networking), Second Life (virtual reality), Flickr (photo sharing), Twitter (social networking and microblogging), Open Diary (blogging), and other microblogs such as Jaiku. Many of these social media services can be integrated via social network aggregation platforms like Mybloglog and Plaxo.”
What is included in the definition tends to vary, but there’s little debate over its increasing popularity and relevance to marketing executives. Consumers are sharing their thoughts and experiences on every brand and product you can think of on forums, blogs and networking sites around the world. They are rating products, writing their own reviews on sites like Amazon.com and other consumers are listening. This online word-of-mouth is an ever-increasing factor in what consumers decide to purchase and participate in. It’s effect on the way people make purchasing decisions is only going to increase.
Many businesses are harnessing Social Media as a new channel to market to potential customers. Webinars, blogs, customer forums and podcasts are just a few ways to get into the Social Media Marketing mix.
Wikipedia defines Social Media Marketing as:
“…In the context of Internet marketing, Social Media refers to a collective group of web properties whose content is primarily published by users, not direct employees of the property (e.g. the vast majority of video on YouTube is published by non-YouTube employees). Social media optimization (SMO) is a set of methods for generating publicity through social media, online communities and community web sites
Social media marketing has two important aspects. The first, SMO, refers to on-page tactics through which a webmaster can improve a web site for the age of social media. Such optimization includes adding links to services such as Digg, Reddit and Del.icio.us so that their pages can be easily ‘saved and submitted’ to and for these services.
Social media marketing, on the other hand, is about building ways that fans of a brand or company can promote it themselves in multiple online social media venues…”
“…The premise of social media marketing is engaging with the consumer and providing value. It is important to maintain the sanctity of conversational economy..”.
Before You Enter The Social Media World
It is tempting to dive right in to Social Media when you start finding relevant sites and blogs. But, it is always better to have defined a set of objectives you wish to reach as well as a list of tactics for getting there. These objectives and tactics will probably change and evolve as you go about your plan, but it is important to have a clear starting point at the beginning to work from. This will avoid a lot of wasted time and effort on your part.
Are you trying to drive traffic to your site? Generate qualified leads for the sales team? Create buzz around a product launch? Become a known expert in your field? There are any number of reasons you may want to launch a social media initiative. Your reasons will determine which tactics you should use. But, once you’ve chosen them, how can you measure their effectiveness?
Web Analytics can track your page views over time to see if there are spikes or general increases in traffic when you post to blogs, leave comments or otherwise engage in social media. You can track the amount of RSS subscriptions your blog is getting. You can even track inbound links from others to your site or pages. Use Google Alerts to tell you when and where you or your company are being mentioned on the web. These are just some of the ways to get a handle on ROI in the Social Media world.
Basic Forms of Social Media
Social Networks –
These sites allow people to sign up and build their own personal profile or webpage with their own content, sometimes including pictures, videos, links to other sites and more. Users can then connect with friends in the network to share their profile or invite outside friends to join. Examples include: LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook.
Social Media Release / Online Newsroom
These tactics represent more than just a regular press release or recent news section of a web site. They are press releases that include rich media such as photos (high resolution for print media, low resolution for web sites), audio, video, animation, bookmarks or other social tools. Posting these to your online newsroom provides readers and journalists with great content to link to, share, or use to write articles about your company easily.
These are tools that allow people to find and share events that relate to a specific category or interest. They can be live events at a specific location, or online events such as webinars or video releases. You can monitor social calendars about your industry to see what prospects and competitors are doing or even launch your own to make your site a more valuable resource in the industry.
These web sites are all about collaboration and user input. They allow users to add content and/or edit the information on them. The best known of these is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.
Videos can be produced and placed on your site and on sites such as YouTube. Be sure to tag your videos with the keywords you believe your target audience will use to search for such content. Produce them for product demos, training, lectures or any topic you think may be of interest.
Examples include: Veodia, UStream, Kyte, BlogTV, Veotag.
These are audio and video files made available by subscription on sites such as iTunes. Users can download them and view them at their convenience. Businesses can produce a podcast to mark a company milestone, share case studies, executive interviews and more.
Webinars are used to conduct live presentations via the Internet. It is typically one-way, from the speaker to the audience with limited audience interaction. A webinar can be collaborative and include polling and question & answer sessions to allow full participation between the audience and the presenter. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, pointing out information being presented on screen and the audience can respond over their own telephones. There are web conferencing technologies on the market that have incorporated the use of VoIP audio technology, to allow for a truly web-based communication experience.
These online broadcast are great for lead generation and brand awareness. People sign-up to view your webinar at a specific time live, or to view a previous one archived on your site. Consider producing a webinar to introduce a new product, solve a common industry-related problem, discuss an important industry issue, any topic that will be relevant to your target audience. It is important to provide informative and useful information to your viewers. They are “attending” to learn, not to view a hard-sell commercial for your product or service.
The oldest form of online social media are forums – online discussion sites, often organized around a specific topic or area of interest such as coin collecting, music and software applications. They can be self contained or exist as a feature in a web site. Unlike a blog, forum content comes from its users who post questions and receive answers from other forum members. To find forums in your area of interest try the forum search engine Board Tracker.
Content Communities –
These communities exist to share a particular type of content such as popular bookmarks, photos or videos. As in social networking sites, you register and receive a homepage, then you upload the content you want to share. Examples include: Flickr (photos), YouTube (videos), Digg (news) and del.icio.us (bookmarks).
Content sites usually allow tags or tagging – users can attach keywords to label content in order to help others organize and search through it.
A method for Internet users to store, organize, search, share and manage bookmarks of web pages on the Internet.
In a social bookmarking system, users save links to web pages that they want to remember and/or share. These bookmarks are usually public, but can be saved privately or shared with only specified groups. These bookmarks can usually be viewed chronologically, by category or tags, or via a search engine. Some social bookmarking services also draw inferences from the relationship of tags to create clusters of related tags or bookmarks.
Many social bookmarking services provide web feeds for their lists of bookmarks, including lists organized by tags. This allows subscribers to become aware of new bookmarks as they are saved, shared, and tagged by other users.
As these services have matured and grown more popular, they have added extra features such as ratings and comments on bookmarks, the ability to import and export bookmarks from browsers, emailing of bookmarks, web annotation, and groups or other social network features. Allowing users to easily bookmark your web site, forum or blog will help you gain visitors and popularity.
One of the most well known and widespread social medium, blogs are online “journals” with entries appearing in chronological order, often archiving old entries. Many blogs allow the posting of comments that give them great interactively with users.
Although most blogs are not revenue generators there are a growing number that are. These blogs are actually businesses employing writers to generate content and accepting advertising targeted to their reader demographics.
You can use Google Blog Search or Blog Pulse to find blogs covering the topics you are interested in. When you do find a blog that suits you check out its Blogroll – a list of recommended related blogs. Now you’ll have many to choose from to find the ones that are right for you.
Like its name suggests, microblogging involves small posts of content or updates that are distributed online as well as through a mobile network. These posts are also available through RSS subscriptions. Think of it as a combination of blogging and instant messaging. Many news sites are using microblogging and it was also part of the Obama ‘08 campaign strategy.
Example: Twitter, Jaiku, Tumbler
A mashup is a digital media file that contains any or all of the following: text, graphics, audio, video and animation, drawn from pre-existing sources, to create a new derivative work. Digital text mashups, for example, appear by the thousands every day as users of blogs and forums copy and paste text in posts and comments on their topics of interest. Video/audio mashups are a major portion of YouTube’s content.
These online tools allow you to create your own mashup by integrating many different types of content into a single, portable format. These streaming “channels” can include photos, video, audio, text, RSS feeds and more. You can then place your collage or mashup on your web site, blog or social networking page where others can experience them.
Examples: Sprout.com, SplashCast
Using Social Media to Your Advantage
Social Media initiatives require a drastically different approach from that of traditional media. You can’t just enter a forum and start broadcasting you USP or mission statement hoping that people will respond. They will respond…negatively that is. These savvy users don’t tolerate spamming or hard sell content. Consumers are there to share information and opinions, their cynical and tired of being blasted 24/7 with advertising messages. They want useful information from their peers or from experts in a particular field. So, give it to them. Don’t think of it as another advertising campaign but as a two-way conversation with potential customers. Be sure to be honest about who you are and who you represent and you’ll gain respect.
When identifying where on the web to participate in social media don’t guess or take a shotgun approach. Ask your current customers what online sources they use. Research where and what is currently being said about your company and/or industry. Companies like BuzzLogic allow the tracking of keywords and phrases on blogs and social media sites. You can also take advantage of Google Alerts, alltop.com – an online magazine rack of popular topics, compete.com – tracks traffic on web sites, to find the right places to begin.
Spend significant time monitoring these sites to learn the tone and attitude of users before you join in the conversation. Once you do begin start slowly, putting out content and comments that are valuable to your target audience. You’re not just communicating with active users, your content is also being read by “lurkers”, people who read the sites content but don’t actively participate in conversations. These “lurkers” far out number active users.
Use social media to your company’s advantage. Everyone involved in the initiative should see themselves as a brand ambassador, so make sure they are all on the same page as far as positioning, goals and attitudes. Remember, in all social media situations you want to be seen as informative, positive, honest and helpful.
Ongoing participation by your brand ambassadors is extremely important to your success. Long-term, meaningful involvement in a network will get you the kind of online reputation you’re looking for. Everyone involved should meet regularly to discuss current activities, results and future opportunities. This kind of initiative will have a positive effect on your search engine ranking as the fresh content, comments, trackbacks and incoming links all count in your favor.
Many businesses have shied away from Social Media for fear of negative comments or feedback. Yes, if you start a product forum or blog on your web site you may see some negative content sometimes. But it is better to know what customers really think of your company and products, and to address it in a positive, helpful way, than to remain ignorant of their opinions and problems.
Social Media is an important force that is only growing stronger, much like the internet itself. The technology and applications are ever-changing but the opportunity for marketing your product or service remains the same – opening relevant, honest conversations with existing and potential customers to drive brand awareness and sales. The story of your company will be told on the internet whether you participate or not. Wouldn’t you want to have a hand in writing it?