Getting Social With Media

Last week, a couple staffers traveled to Washington, DC, for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) conference. From what I hear, the buzz at this event was tremendous. There were over 500 attendees, and many sessions were standing room only. That’s pretty impressive for a conference this late in the year.

WOMMA events always have great energy; lots of like-minded people gather together to share war stories and swap helpful tips so we can collectively raise the state of the art. Let’s face it, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is a nascent discipline, and there’s still lot of confusion about what works and what success looks like.

Chad Stoller, our executive director of emerging media, had the opportunity to speak on a panel, “Social Networks: Creating a Presence and Getting Connected,” with Randy Melcher from ecrush and Gordon Gould from ThisNext. The panel covered some interesting topics, including:

  • MySpace is getting a middle-aged spread. Over half of MySpace visitors are 35 or older. That’s more than 40 percent over last year. Meanwhile, the proportion of MySpace’s audience ages 12 to 24 dropped to 30 percent from 44.3 percent last year. It’s improbable this older demographic would find interesting things to do on MySpace, but it does indicate older folks are looking for community. Expect to see more niche social networking sites similar to Yelp and ThisNext.
  • Every brand has a community. Find and engage it. A lot of brands, including one in the audience, were thinking about creating a social network from scratch and inviting people in. This is extremely tough to do, even for top-tier consumer brands. Instead, the entire panel agreed, it’s best to leverage the current social networks that have formed organically around brands. Find a network that has aggregated an audience that makes sense for your brand, and roll your own social networking destination within a MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, or something similar. If you’re really determined to do something on your own, try a tool like Ning for an inexpensive, easy way to create something uniquely yours.
  • Are you a badge, a destination, or social currency? As a brand, decide what you’re going to be to your consumer. In other words, decide what value you’ll provide. People are what they consume, so will you give your consumers a “badge” or a representation of your brand they can incorporate into their identities? Will you create a cool place for them to hang out in and commune with like-minded friends? Or will you provide an insider piece of information they can carry as social currency or something that gives them a cool factor with their peers? Always be clear on how you want to engage consumers and provide value.
  • Real communities are about contribution. It’s one thing to collect a fan base together, and another thing to create a community around a consumer passion point. Stoller’s a die-hard Mets fan, for example. But to get accepted into the Mets community on MySpace, he needs to participate. Demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable and credible, someone who can contribute to the knowledgebase. Think about how to create this level of participation among the communities you create. Try inviting your biggest, most vocal fans (and foes) into the community at the beginning. See what happens. Don’t worry about the haters. Smart consumers know how to sort out mindless negativity from constructive, thoughtful input.
  • Metrics remain soft. Most social media sites weren’t built to provide marketers ROI (define); they weren’t built for marketers at all. So the reporting’s weak pretty much across the board. We’re currently counting our successes by how many friends we have and how many unique comments are submitted. Look for metrics to get better in the coming year, but be prepared to answer the question when you’re asked. Bottom line, according to Stoller, is “you have to be as creative with your ROI measures as you are with your campaign.”

The most interesting part of the session was near the end when an audience member asked a question that struck at the heart of why the entire topic matters at all: “Why should we care what someone on a social network says about our brand?”

The most obvious answer is consumers can tell millions of their closest friends what they think. But there’s more. Consumer comments within social media can influence purchase decisions. A new Compete Research study proves the effect of consumer-generated influence is quantifiable.

“Business Wire” says:

According to the study, 51 percent of auto and travel buyers turn to consumer generated media to narrow their purchasing decision, nearly one quarter say that consumer review sites influence their purchase decision; and 24 percent change their mind about the type of vehicle/travel reservation they end up purchasing as a result of CGM influence. Additionally, consumers influenced by CGM have a major viral effect on other buyers, with 68 percent influencing friends and family post-purchase and magnifying the overall impact.

Powerful indeed.

Social media matter. Peers are one of the heaviest influencers of purchase decisions. If you didn’t have the courage to dip your toes into the waters this year, think about doing it in 2007. Now you can leverage the collective wisdom of those first movers. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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