How to Get Get Social Networking to Work for Your Business

If you’ve come within a couple of miles of your clients during the past few months, you’ve probably been asked, “How can we use this social networking stuff?” And for good reason. Social networking has been hot stuff for a while now, and it seems like a no-brainer when it comes to advertising. After all, you’ve got millions of people who have self-identified with what they’re interested in, who post loads of personal information about themselves, and (probably most important) who actually make connections between themselves and people like them. An advertiser’s dream, right?


Astronomical valuations aside, so far social networking sites haven’t fared too well when it comes to advertising performance. Even though lots of folks use the services, nobody seems to want to click on the ads. For the most part, performance just ain’t all that great.

Even so, I haven’t come across a marketer who isn’t searching for a way to truly leverage the power of social networks in a consistent way. Sure, some folks have had hit-or-miss success with viral campaigns and other word-of-mouth generating activities, and others have scored big with widgets, but many of us are still scratching our heads, trying to figure out how to get our hands around this stuff.

Now I’ve found a piece to the puzzle: Rapleaf.

You may have come across these folks before in their public persona as a reputation search engine. If you’re wondering what your online footprint looks like, you can enter your e-mail address into their search engine and get a reading on your online reputation based on social networking ratings and other online activities. It’s a pretty cool way to keep tabs on how you look online. But the real story (as far as we marketers are concerned) is the company’s business services.

Rapleaf allows you to quickly and inexpensively find out the social networking footprint of those you’re marketing to. Just send the company your e-mail list and tell it what social networking sites those on your list are using, their demographics, the numbers of friends they have, how many widgets they’re using, even their interests. Rapleaf digs into the usual social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc.), as well as newsgroups, commerce sites (like Amazon), review sites, forums, and news groups, and even searches the general Web to find out where your people are and what they’re doing online.

It’s mega-cool. Really. Why? Because it finally gives you the data you need to plan successful social media campaigns. It also gives you the ammo you need to go your clients (or your bosses) and be able to say with a straight face, “Yeah, our customers are using social networking. A lot. Now what are we going to do about it?”

According to biz dev VP Joel Jewitt, Rapleaf is currently being employed by a number of big-name consumer package goods and consumer products companies (he wouldn’t tell me who as they haven’t had time to clear their results with their clients) and several very large political campaigns (“two out of the three remaining candidates” as of a few weeks ago) have signed on to learn more about what their constituents are doing online.

What’s really mind boggling is Rapleaf’s API (define), which lets the tech-savvier automatically discover what social networks their leads belong to. By plugging into Rapleaf’s database, companies can respond to leads by directing them to the social networks they actually use. Say you get a lead via a contact form, and she’s got a page on MySpace. You can send her to your MySpace group, which you’ve put together as a personalized response to show you already know where she is! You can imagine how well this would improve responses to social networking-linked promotions.

The more devious (or paranoid) might wonder how far this could go. Could Rapleaf build lists by harvesting e-mail addresses based on friend lists? Could it mine potentially embarrassing data? Yes. But it won’t. “We could do that kind of stuff…people ask us to do it all the time. But we won’t,” says Jewitt. “We’re committed to transparency and being ethical.”

Pretty cool philosophy. Pretty cool company. And a pretty cool way to (finally!) get social networking to work for you and your clients.

Meet Sean at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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