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It is undeniable that social media’s influence on communication, media habits, and pop culture continues to strengthen, so it’s no wonder that marketers are determined to leverage digital communities to make convincing connections with their target audiences.
However, the urgency and hype have caused many marketers to overlook the fundamentals required for tangible impact. Initial approaches have fallen into three distinct categories:
1. “If you build it, they will (probably not) come.”
This first-generation approach involves brands launching their own online communities. It’s a strategy that makes an unrealistic assumption that consumers will flock to a sponsored destination site to obtain information or to connect with other people who are passionate about the brand’s products. While a focused community can be a good communication tool for existing customers, it certainly doesn’t help with driving awareness among new audiences.
For example, a few months ago Starbucks and Dove unveiled their own social communities that encouraged consumer feedback and product ideas, but were criticized by many in the industry as overwhelming users with overt ads instead of allowing them to communicate without marketing intrusion. Although the My Starbucks Idea platform provides corporate executives a way to prioritize and quantify ideas with its voting system, each user submission on the site averaged only 20,000 votes.
2. Live among them
Lao Tzu, a Chinese taoist philosopher, once said, “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them.” This is the mentality of the second social media approach which entails integrating marketing messages within existing communities. Integration, which I discuss in more detail below, requires more than just throwing up a banner that offers a free ringtone. Lately, movie studios have executed some well performing campaigns and applications (which could be positively influenced by people’s preference for trusting their friends’ movie recommendations). Paramount Pictures, for instance, launched an application called VooZoo that gives Facebook members access to footage from thousands of movies within Paramount’s library to send to other members. Another example happened earlier this year when the marketing team for the thriller “Cloverfield” ignited a hot viral campaign by giving communities and bloggers mysterious video clips and back story to the movie’s characters before the film’s release so that audiences were intrigued and had a compelling reason to forward links to their friends.
By participating in popular social networks, instead of trying to create one that the public must find, a brand is more likely to have natural conversation, fluid interaction and stronger results.
3. Know when to compromise
An emerging approach for leveraging the popularity of social media is using a combined strategy – engaging users where they already congregate as well as leading them to a unique experience elsewhere. A good example is Mytopia, a new company that operates a stand-alone website for casual gamers and also “powers” the gaming sections on several social communities and blogs. Irrespective of which platform users enter into Mytopia, they feed into one large pool and are able to play games – like Backgammon and Chess – together in real-time. They can also team up, send messages, exchange virtual cash, and trade items. As a gamer, this combination strategy is valuable because it increases the number of players against whom to compete. As an advertiser, it’s valuable because the brand’s message can be embedded within the games (i.e. Doritos logo on the felt of a poker table) and saves time and money by enabling one transaction to reach users across numerous social platforms.
In summary, when it comes time for your marketing team to formulate a game plan, be certain that they understand the different benefits and risks of these three options in order to identify which is more likely to produce real results for your company.
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