Understanding and Aligning the Value of Social Media

The economy still weighs heavily on everyone’s mind, and we’re seeing drastic changes in traffic patterns. Hopefully, with changes in the U.S. political climate, things will turn around a bit.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve also been watching many self-proclaimed marketing gurus speak of social media’s role in filling in the gap during the economic downturn. While social media should be a part of any forward-thinking and transparent company, I would urge caution if you believe that you can monetize it easily or quickly. It’s also not a magic pill for traffic building.

But for those who think I’m a naysayer, I must admit I am a social media addict. I will also go on the record to say that you can successfully use social media for marketing.

The biggest problem I have with the term “social media” is that it isn’t media in the traditional sense. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the others I don’t have the word count to mention aren’t media; they are platforms for interaction and networking. All the traditional media — print, broadcast, search, and so on — provide platforms for delivery of ads near and around relevant content. Social media are platforms for interaction and relationships, not content and ads.

To be truly effective using these interaction platforms, you must understand why we use them.

Real-Life Example

Before Halloween I teamed up with Chris Brogan to play a game using Twitter. We called it Trick or Tweet. Here were our rules:

  1. Send a tweet to someone and ask, “Trick or tweet?”
  2. If they say, “Tweet,” you must provide them with a couple of interesting people they should follow. If you don’t provide them with someone new, then you owe a trick.
  3. If they say, “Trick,” send them a link where they will have to contribute to charity using the ChipIn widget. The maximum we ask anyone to donate is $20 for the day. Every cent we collect will be sent to charity.

We raised $282. Not too bad. But more important, we learned more about what moves people to take action. We learned that people loved to play but are less willing to pay.

As of this writing, Twitturly shows there were 150 tweets with an estimated reach of more that 165,000. This only measures the number of people who sent the link around, though there were many others playing. Clearly it was a successful game, but the metrics didn’t translate into the big money I had hoped for charity.

While this is an anecdotal example, it demonstrates social media’s power to reach and engage people — on their terms, not yours. People are attracted to people. People used the game mostly to connect with other people.

Social media isn’t an advertising and branding platform; it’s a hyper-interactive relationship-builder. Social media isn’t a magic pill for traffic woes; it’s used to deepen longer-term relations.

When you engage in social media, you enter into an unspoken social contract. You are in a relationship; it goes both ways. There are boundaries. Respect and trust must be earned.

Tips for Using Social Media

Here are a few ways to view and use social media:

  • Be transparent. Share the good and the bad.
  • Be yourself. People want to connect with real people, not with plastic packaged images.
  • Don’t breach the social contract by doing nothing but selling your wares.
  • Take interest in others and share valuable information, even if it doesn’t benefit you directly.
  • Listen. You can learn a lot.
  • Be patient. Let things grow organically.
  • Viral campaigns can and do work, but they are the exception to the rule. (In other words, only the masses have the power to deem something viral).

I look forward to meeting and tweeting and Facebooking with you about marketing and social media, or anything that we both find interesting.

Join us for a Consumers and the Influence of Blogs: What It Means for Your Marketing Mix on November 20 at 2 pm EST. Find out how online consumers discover blogs and navigate between them, what kind of opportunity blogs represent for advertisers, and much more!

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