By: Ken Minkowski MBA
Your Customers Are Social Networking And So Should You.
If Facebook was a country it would be the 3rd largest in the world. According to Facebook, www.facebook.com over 500 million people are registered users and over 50% of all registered users log into Facebook every day. 200 million registered users regularly use mobile devices to access the site. Supporting over 70 languages Facebook is a global platform that has already begun to change the world. During the recent uprising in Egypt protestors were reported to have used Facebook to coordinate their activities. The stunning growth and massive public acceptance of this new form of communication is breathtaking to say the least. it has spawned numerous competitors all building their own networks and engaging every form of communications technology imaginable. Twitter www,twitter.com, LinkedIn www.linkedin.com and Youtube www.youtube.com are just a few of the now ubiquitous names in social networking. Though the focus here is on social networking in general, Facebook is cited frequently, just because the numbers are so big. So what does this mean for business?
Social networking has changed marketing the way the internal combustion engine changed travel. An ad campaign can be launched to very specifically targeted audiences with immediate near real time feedback and the message can be adjusted almost instantly in response. But the most powerful aspect of social network marketing is the ability to go “Viral”. Oh yes, viral the “word of mouth” kind of viral and definitely nothing to do with a computer virus. The Viral phenomenon has been seen with email, video, political campaigns and the like. In fact Howard Dean a candidate for the 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination used a web based “grass roots” campaign to generate millions in campaign contributions and build support. He is viewed by many as an early innovator of web based campaigning. He is also noted for having one of the most viral videos on Youtube www.youtube.com though it unfortunately was of him in a non flattering display of exuberance that some believe cost him the nomination. For better or for worse, like in the case of Mr. Dean, information gets moved exponentially through the internet by referral. In business that means a company’s message gets passed among groups of people that know each other, the classic word of mouth referral. But when you have a platform of over 500 million people that group can spawn and grow to millions of people in literally hours if not minutes. One powerful statistic to consider, the average Facebook user spends over 700 minutes a month on the site. Of the many sites that are now focused on tracking Facebook statistics www.allfacebook.com and www.checkfacebook.com have a ton of information to help you see the incredible numbers Facebook is putting up.
Adapt or die. The traditional forms of advertising are becoming less and less effective. The concept of putting out an advertisement and hoping it will reach the desired demographic is archaic. During WWII the air force would drop thousands of bombs over a target; the practice was called saturation or “carpet” bombing that is in essence what a typical ad campaign is. Not only can the results be difficult to gauge but the process is expensive and relies on to many variables. It is said that if it rains or a major news story breaks on the day a direct mail piece is expected to hit the mailboxes a downtick in response should be expected. When a typical response rate on a direct mail campaign is hovering around 1% there is not much further down to go. Print media and even television are all seeing the same trends. When was the last time you used your phone book? In the interest of fairness results vary and many factors come into consideration so this is not a call to abandon traditional media. More of a wakeup call to all those business people that have ignored social networking or dismissed it as a fad.
Who is doing it? A quick check of the site www.checkfacebook.com a non facebook affiliated site shows that at literally this exact moment there are 152,189,880 users in just the United States logged in; Indonesia is presently 2nd. But the numbers are in near real time so in a few hours the rankings will change influenced in part by the time of day; apparently some people still sleep at night. For a lot of people regardless of age, race, ethnicity, etc, social networking is just how they communicate with their friends and family. As with most game changing technology it has been accepted by pretty much everyone, every demographic is represented. Obviously the generations that were more exposed to technology at a younger age have more fully embraced it and use more of the enhancements that are available. But people from all generations and walks of life are represented because frankly it is the place to be. The technology is simple to use, the layouts are intuitive and the content is compelling enough to motivate people to adapt.
So how does a company get into social networking? The first step is to determine what the goals are. Is this a way to just connect with customers, build loyalty and create referrals or will this be a new lead generating and product promotion platform? There are many, many ways to approach social networking. There are other considerations to look at as well, what is already being said about the company on the web, is there any good publicity that can be harnessed or will some damage control be in order. A couple of key points to consider will be who is going to manage the message and how will it be measured. One mistake that many companies make is starting a social networking program and then not updating the information in a timely manner across 50 or more sites. This sends a very poor message to the community and frankly it would be better to have no presence then one that says “we don’t care”. Another common mistake is using an existing employee who is known to go on Facebook www.facebook.com , or is always Twittering throughout the day etc. The reality is the careful crafting of the message, the attention to detail and the constant updating across many networks can be very time consuming and stops being fun in a hurry. The results can be as simple as poor site upkeep or as bad as outright offending customers and putting the company in a negative light. A lot of companies are treating social network marketing or social media marketing as it is also called with the same commitment as they would any other advertising investment. There is a cost associated with it, in measurable terms such as employee time, specialized software tools, etc or in the immeasurable kind like lost opportunity or being perceived in the market as not staying current. There are marketing professionals who specialize in social networking and can help not only by getting a program up quickly but also having the knowledge and systems to maximize reach, stay on top of developing trends and act quickly on fast moving opportunities. The old saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” has never been more accurate. An added benefit to outside help is you have someone who is accountable and is a specialist in that area. But no matter what path a company takes the power of social networking can no longer be ignored. It is now a matter of how it will impact you; not if. Will it be an exciting addition to an existing marketing strategy or will the competition use it to take market share and lower your profits.
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