Social media has been defined a thousand different ways, and for the sake of this article I'll say this: Social media is a medium that concerns itself less with the properties it lives on, but rather focuses on ways in which people can connect, share, search, and consume content throughout a given community.
Every day I speak with advertisers looking to get involved with social media, advertise on Facebook applications, or simply figure out where their brand belongs in the socialization of the web. They tell me about meeting with salespeople who pitch their property or ad network, when they invariably hear words and phrases that I'm starting to fear, such as "engagement," "virality," and "value to the user."
At the same time, the other half of my day I'm speaking with social media application companies -- the people who run some of the largest social communities on the web. I work with them to develop products for advertisers, programs that will result in the above overused words. In doing this, I've realized that these offerings do not get produced from simply looking at the metrics of the application or the property. The most important thing to understand is what the users within this community are acting upon, asking for, or sharing.
I'd like to offer some details to help agencies and brands take necessary steps to:
- challenge sales reps that throw around buzz words
- build a program that stems from the user
- ensure they are focusing on the right metrics, from the start
Let's first go back to the definition I created for social media, and take note of the part about focusing on people. When you focus on people and what they are doing, the opportunities for brand integration are actually pretty easy.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts on creating a campaign based on the users, not the property:
1. Users: Understand what users are doing before you decide what your campaign is actually going to be. It's important to recognize what is happening within the community you plan to engage. Are moms sharing advice, or are college kids looking for travel info? Are users competing for points or trying to win a game? When you understand what they want, you can then ask yourself, "Can we offer anything of value?"
2. Value: If you can offer value, it is important to not only know, but focus on the fact that social media is all about people. It is a communications platform, not the latest "kick-ass property" a publisher has built and then tries to make money from serving ads. Circle of Moms is the fastest-growing community of moms, not the best mom website. Where I've Been enables friends to share travel advice, it's not a travel website. Users do not value a web property because of the aesthetics nor because the ads "don't bother them too much." They do appreciate the ability to connect or share, and the ads are contextual and speak directly to their current activity. The creative execution should focus on creatively offering value and giving people -- yes, people -- something they want; not creatively coming up with a way to fit messaging into a 300 x 250 banner ad unit.
3. Momentum: The media plan should enable users to build momentum for you, rather than be self-contained. If you understand the right metrics and the current activity of the users, you will quickly uncover the opportunity. And with that, you will see a much bigger opportunity than serving ads and getting clicks. Like it or not, social media programs are bought with the best understanding of "what could happen," not "what will happen." The more you try to predict and force results before the campaign starts, the further away you get from truly joining the conversation.
Marketers often look at the results of a competitor's successful campaign, say, "I want that," and expect to be able to buy "that." What they don't know is that many of the most successful social media programs were created when a brand took a risk -- the marketer was not guaranteed the results that occurred, but rather made valued decisions based on strong potential.
4. Metrics: The metrics you need to understand are not about the property itself, but rather about the people with whom you may be able to connect. The metric you want to know about the social media application Visual Bookshelf, for example, isn't the number of pageviews, but rather the fact that Visual Bookshelf has more daily reviews than Amazon.com. This is what true engagement is all about. When you engage with people, not a property, you can actually drive sales, drive results and impact the brand.
An agency client of mine once wanted a good CTR to its website. I didn't feel I could provide that. But I could drive purchase intent because there was such a great opportunity to connect with the users. The agency didn't want that because it was tasked with driving users to a website that it had spent so much to build. So, I put them in touch with a performance-based ad network.
Bottom line: Social media is about people, not properties or impressions or engagement or whatever else we sales people come up with next.
(Image source: rtpl.org)