Social media marketing, what the hell is it and are you using it to your advantage?
Social media marketing is all the buzz in online marketing these days, and for good reason. It happens to be one of the most effective and affordable online marketing strategies in today’s online business, and if you are wondering what it is, it’s today’s version of the old word of mouth marketing we’ve relied on back in the old days of the 1990′s and earlier, you know what I’m talking about, the days before the Internet.
Good Old Fashioned Word of Mouth
We all know that old fashioned word of mouth marketing still exists in the our world of local business, and if we think back, we remember how effective word of mouth marketing really can be. We know it’s effective because there are still entire verticals of non-Internet advertisers who rely heavily on word of mouth marketing. I’m thinking of my small hometown in Central Pennsylvania, a population of 3,000 people, a town where if I needed my driveway paved, roof replaced, or car repaired I’d begin my search for a reliable contractor in the local Yellow Pages, but also what I’d do is seek advice and recommendations from friends, family and neighbors that had similar services or experiences. Occasionally I might pick up the phone and call the neighbor for advice, but most often I’d seek this advice while seated at the local diner, while pouring my coffee at the local convenience store, or in the local tavern. Why do we seek this advice in these places? It’s because we believe in our neighbors word of mouth and these are the places we meet our neighbors.
What does word of mouth look like in the year 2008?
If we think about what social media marketing is we realize it’s really nothing new, it’s simply the word of mouth marketing we grew up with and have relied on all our lives. I think of myself and how I’ve adapted to email for much of my communication because I live 200 miles from my hometown and have friends who still reside there, and I can’t rely on actual word of mouth communication with them, so instead I use email to socialize with several of them. And for the ones that don’t use email I really don’t communicate with them on a regular basis because I’ve really passed the point of picking up the phone just for a chat.
But now there’s that entire Internet savvy group of friends I communicate with frequently, even though I’m not within 50 miles of the nearest one and even though I rarely pick up the phone and call them. This new new social networking thing allows us to carry on conversations just like I did at the local tavern or while on the telephone. Of course I realize it’s not the same thing because the Internet doesn’t replace actual face to face human interaction, but there is that younger demographic that would disagree with me on this, because they were introduced to this online social interaction at a much younger age and it’s now an acceptable form of communication, and for many it’s their preferred method of social interaction. And maybe it’s not the preferred method for me and you, but we can still enjoy the benefits.
The Commercial Value of Social Media
The idea of belonging to a social media network alone really simply isn’t enough to excite me. But add a mix of marketing to the idea and my interest begins to peak. For example, the whole idea of creating and administering my own My Space page is about as interesting to me as watching grass grow. But the idea of running advertising on a community Website or on a high traffic blog appeals to me because of the revenue generating potential, and that’s why I participate in social media in the way that I do -through a marketing lens. Because I’m always looking for an angle to exploit the social media for it’s marketing value, I’d consider myself a social marketer not an authentic social media user.
And although we tend to focus on the most popular social networks like My Space and Facebook, the true beauty of these social networks is that there are networks for just about every community with topics rapidly expanding into new niche areas all the time. This expansion makes tactical planning much easier because as we learn how to triangulate topic and audience identification with marketing strategies, the result should be less cost in market testing and research, and quicker campaign optimization and overall higher converting campaigns.
One example of the niche social network is the Acoustic Friends Website. It’s a social network for acoustic musicians, fans, and others that have an interest in Americana, Bluegrass, Folk, Irish/Celtic, Old Time String-band and the music of Singer – Songwriters. The site even provides a unique service for its members by allowing them to advertise and sell their own music in the Website’s music store. And the advertising rates are very affordable in comparison to MySpace and the others, beginning at around $250 per month for a 160 by 600 sky scraper ad. If you can identify a portfolio of niche Websites to conduct your marketing, like Acoustic Friends might be to niche businesses in the music industry, then most of your online marketing battle is won.
Remember, Social Media Marketing is the new word of mouth advertising.
Besides using the standard display advertising on these social network Websites, how can we use this new word of mouth? You and I may not be inclined to spend most of our day chatting in this new world of social networks, but there are people who do. And often these people are well known throughout various social networks as subject matter experts, or at least they are damn popular throughout these networks and have a loyal following. If we can find out who these popular social network users are then we might be able to leverage their online presence to do much of the online marketing for us. I think at this point we are approaching the viral marketing definition but it is an extremely effective method capable of producing long-term results in traffic referrals and brand awareness. Your hurdle is finding the bloggers, community Website members and forum members and convincing them to market your business. But they are certainly out there and you need to use them to your benefit in this new world of old school word of mouth marketing.