Marketing Pushback Hitting the Social Networks

A post by my friend and colleague Shama Hyder got me thinking about the increasing use of the social Web for marketing. We marketers are taking our first steps toward a much larger use of this medium. This is analogous to where e-mail was around 1995, or the Web and pop-ups were a short time later. In those two cases, marketing zeal clouded more than a few marketers’ better judgment. The result? Spam filters and pop-up blockers are now standard features, along with the legislation that drove the United State’s current Do-Not-Call Registry.

We all recognize that the social Web is the place to be for a lot of reasons. The question before us now is: will it remain the place if we treat it as just another forum for interruption? I contend that it won’t — at least not for marketers — if we don’t carefully follow the emerging rules of etiquette on the social Web.

In her recent post Hyder takes some — but not all — of the marketers jumping into Facebook to task. Right now it’s a few bad apples, but the rest of us have a stake in this. I’ve seen some of the same communications in Facebook that Hyder references. Same thing over on Twitter, where I get the occasional spam or follow request (“following” is the Twitter equivalent of “friending” on Facebook) from someone using it for SEO (define) related link building. In addition to not following these accounts, I generally report these spammers, which takes just a couple of clicks. Nine times out of 10, I’ll get a note back within 48 hours letting me know the account has been removed.

On Facebook and MySpace, it’s easy to report a spammer and prevent this particular account from contacting you again, but whether the account is ever removed is another matter. Unless removed, the spammer remains active and the message to others is that they have a good chance of survival in the larger networks. The large social networks, in addition to serving the social roles they were built for, are becoming impression factories at least partly for this reason. That isn’t good for any of us.

Ironically, there’s a huge opportunity for marketers on the social Web, without spamming or even intrusion. I’m not talking about banner ads and similar online media, long established on MySpace and increasingly entering Facebook. I’m definitely not talking about throwing sheep, as much fun as it might be. I’m talking about well-planned, integrated social media. The strong work, for example, done for BMW on Facebook’s Graffiti Wall by GSD&M Ideacity and Dotglu. The average participant spent over three hours painting and wrapping her BMW! Think the audience was a little engaged? I’m talking about applications like SocialVibe.com, where you pick and promote a sponsor and a charity gets the proceeds. And about applications like ProductPulse, which I recently wrote about (disclosure: I’m a part owner of and advisor to Friend2Friend, the parent company of ProductPulse).

So how should one behave? Here are four guidelines based in part on a larger set of best practices that I talked about in a recent Webcast (registration required).

Practice Transparency

Be transparent. Social Web participants are smart and motivated. They don’t want to see their social space overrun with ad clutter. It’s pretty easy to separate ads from content on TV or in a magazine. On the social Web, however, it’s often not as clear. If you meet someone at a party, the first expectation is that the conversation is social, not promotional. It’s the same on the social Web; the expected context is social. If it’s anything else, you need to disclose it upfront. By the way, more often than not this works to your advantage. By providing advance disclosure, you ensure that the useful information you share ends up being credited back to your brand.

Integrate Channels

Social media, like any marketing platform, works best when it’s an integrated part of a larger effort. In a past column, I examined the Brooklyn Museum’s use of social media. These efforts are integrated with multiple channels and extend to the policies of the museum itself. Integrating your campaign increases its effectiveness. This is just as true when using social media as when using any other medium.

Identify Your Brand

Building on the rationale for transparency, make sure your brand gets the credit. The marketing benefit of a social campaign is, of course, the conversation. If people are talking about your ad or the great party they went to but fail to mention your brand, what have you really gained? Make sure your identity is part of the campaign.

Define and Measure Success

Track and measure the key metrics that apply to your social media campaign and to your overall campaign. In 2004 Forrester Research noted, “When executing a cross-channel campaign, 40 percent only measure individual channel success, while 32 percent only measure overall campaign success across channels. Just 28 percent determine both overall campaign success and individual channel contributions.” It’s still a rare occurrence for the available metrics to be fully exploited in determining success, and even rarer still in newer socially based campaigns that are themselves fundamentally measurable.

There’s a huge opportunity to do great marketing on the social Web. It starts with transparency and disclosure and with the recognition that participation and influence trump command and control. As Hyder notes, success via social media is far from intrusive practices. It’s all about initiating, nurturing, and maintaining relationships.

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