In the early days (e.g. 2003 through 2007), social media was Missouri — in a “show me state”. As Director of Marketing or CMO, your biggest challenge was not how to leverage social media – but rather, how to justify it to the CFO and CEO. Return On Investment (ROI) metrics had not yet been established, so you had to “make it up” on the go – and then convince stakeholders that the metrics were valid. In fact, you probably had to first educate stakeholders on what social media was and how it could benefit your company.
Here we are in 2009 and the world has shifted. Social media and social networking sites are as much a household name as the “Big 3” television networks were back in the 1960’s. Today’s networks include YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The C-suite has read numerous accounts of social media driving real business value (ROI) – and they’re seeing the competition active in social networks. So now the tables have turned – the CEO is now in pursuit of the CMO to ask questions like, “what is our social media strategy” and “why aren’t we doing more of it”?
Social media is an ever-changing landscape – and that’s a good thing, as it reflects the fluid and dynamic nature of the associated technologies and communities. As a marketer, though, it means that you need to stay on your toes to best judge how to adapt to the changing landscape. How quickly do things change? Well, let’s consider the developments of the past few months:
To quote the Twitter blog, “The idea is to allow people to curate lists of Twitter accounts. For example, you could create a list of the funniest Twitter accounts of all time, athletes, local businesses, friends, or any compilation that makes sense.” For me, the launch of Lists will create a fundamental shift in the use of Twitter. First, it creates more value for users – in the early days of Twitter, the challenge for the new user was finding the right people to follow. Now, you simply need to find the right list(s) and away you go – no more need to seek out individual Twitter users to follow.
This changes the dynamic of “following”, as Lists become the new “destination” – I may follow a list religiously, but not follow individual users who are members of that list. So we’ll probably start to track “lists with the most followers” rather than “users with the most followers”. As a marketer, your goals remain the same: provide interesting and valuable content to your Twitter followers. By doing so, you may be added to other users’ Twitter Lists (a good thing) – and, you may want to create a List or two yourself, since future users may follow your list instead of your individual account.
Google and bing recently shared some details behind their social search initiatives. The basic concept here is that search engines will now index social networking activity (e.g. Twitter tweets, Facebook postings, etc.) and make that content available in search results. This immediately elevates the value and impact of your social networking initiatives – to date, the content you post within a social network largely remains inside the “walls” of that network. Now, that content becomes accessible across the entire web.
Expect more traffic to you (your Twitter account, corporate web site, etc.) and higher page rankings – if you do things right. If you’re effectively tweeting today, keep up the good work and expect wonders from social search. Now consider a second aspect of social search – inclusion of friend and peer content within search results. If I search for a restaurant and Bob (a Facebook friend) recently posted some restaurant reviews on Facebook, then I may see Bob’s comments in the social search results. Since I always trust a friend’s recommendation (for restaurants, movies, etc.) over anything else, social search will further empower the user, taking some influence away from marketers and publishers.
Consider a b-to-b purchasing decision – with social search, I may be more interested in what my former colleagues purchased compared to the latest product comparison guide on a web site. For publishers and marketers, this shift requires you to become even more active in social networks, so that your message and brand retains (and maintains) “relevance” in social search.
It’s great to see that social networks are not being formed as isolated islands – on the contrary, it seems like every network is connected to every other. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) like Facebook Connect, OpenSocial and OAuth help forge these connections. I was struck by this inter-connectedness the other day when I went to comment on a blog posting – I used Disqus to post my comment and associated the comment with my Twitter ID. I allowed the use of my Twitter profile via OAuth – and my image was automatically pulled from my Twitter profile.
The benefit here is similar to social search, as a “multiplier of goodness” to your social networking initiatives. Social search multiplies your ROI by creating a much wider audience to your social content – and inter-connectedness has a similar benefit, since it, too widens the distribution of your content. For end users of social networks, of course, there also tremendous benefits – namely convenience and security (in the example with Disqus, I never once transmitted my Twitter password).
How does this relate to virtual events? Consider inter-connectedness when registering users for an event – rather than prompting potential attendees with a blank registration page (that they need to fill out from scratch), consider inter-connecting with their membership in social networks, where they’ve already provided profile information. A convenience provided to users will result in more users.
In the days of Web 1.0, “presence indication” was all about my status on AOL or Yahoo Instant Messenger (e.g. online, away from my desk, etc.). Today, “status” is still important (e.g. am I available?), but “presence” is not about whether I’m online or not – it’s now about the GPS coordinates of my location! Services like Google Latitude and Foursquare provide social services that include physical location awareness of your friends (i.e. where they are right now – or, where they’ve recently visited). Imagine the possibilities of a physical/virtual hybrid event – one can leverage these location-aware social networks to bridge attendees of the physical event with those participating virtually. A virtual event attendee may visit a booth and see a presence indicator of a user visiting the physical booth – they can connect with one another and chat – and perhaps the physical booth visitor streams a live video (from her smartphone) to show to the virtual attendee.
Additionally, be aware that mobile-only social networks are forming (e.g. MocoSpace), which eliminates the corresponding web site – users interact solely on their mobile phones. This makes sense, as more and more computing is spreading outward, away from the PC/laptop and over to smartphones. A significant portion of social network usage these days comes from mobile devices (e.g. iPhone, BlackBerry, Android phones, etc.). As a marketer, you’ll want to stay on top of mobile technology and start planning for how you extend your marketing messages to it.
The world of social media is both dynamic and exciting – there will be lots in store for the balance of 2009 and into 2010. You’ll need to stay current and continually adjust your strategies and tactics. Check back here periodically for updates from us on the changing landscape. Good luck and have fun!
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Changing Social Media Landscape: How to incorporate into your #marketing and events by @InXpo: http://bit.ly/35Qg1W #eventprofs