Social media: the next Rubik's Cube?
Martin Cash has a story in this morning’s Winnipeg Free Press about how businesses like Inn at the Forks are using social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) to market their products online. In the article, “Social networking = successful marketing,” Cash also quotes Kyle Romaniuk, Creative Director and Principal at Winnipeg’s Cocoon Branding and Neil Patel from Webidiotz, a Winnipeg web design and marketing firm, on the value – and necessity – of a social media component in any marketing campaign today.
I thought Cash did a great job of explaining the phenomenon for small business owners who still might not see social media's potential to help connect sellers with buyers. What I found just as interesting, though, was a comment a reader had posted at the bottom of the article on the Free Press website:
Twitter and Facebook are both fads and by the time businesses get on board there will be replacements. Ask anyone how their MySpace advertising is going. MySpace started in Aug 03, became the most popular social networking website in 06, in 08 Facebook became the most popular (and MySpace had to lay off 30% of their workforce).
This commenter echoes opinions I’ve often heard from people who don’t use social media sites. While I suspect this opinion comes from not understanding how these technologies work, it continues to surprise me – and more so as these tools become ubiquitous.
Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook (and yes, MySpace) allow organizations to connect with people “out there” who share interests. Their value for marketers is that they can identify potential customers or supporters in the noisy marketplace based on what they say and do online, and target messages containing information likely to be of interest to those potential "leads".
As we discussed in first-year PR this past year, if you wanted to market a new brand of knitting needles before social media, you pitched your story to “hobby” media, and there were relatively few options for targeted advertising. I mean, you could buy an ad in a knitting magazine – but what percentage of knitters buys knitting magazines? And of those who do, how many buy every issue, and are likely to see the ad you paid good money for?
Of course, there were other things you could do to market your new knitting needles, from running contests for knitters to sponsoring knitting events to putting up posters in community centres where knitting clubs meet. But these were all relatively time-intensive, expensive endeavours, especially if your tarket market was geographically dispersed.
Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter allow you to find your target markets where they like to hang out online, and just as importantly from a marketing perspective, where they like to share information with each other – for example, in Facebook groups and using Twitter hashtags (e.g. #knitting). As Cash’s article points out, it’s a relatively inexpensive endeavour, it doesn’t necessarily require a major time investment – and it delivers audiences who might never have heard your messages otherwise. Getting “on board” takes very little time or investment; all it requires is an Internet connection (or even proximity to a library offering public Internet access!) and some strategic thought.
Are Twitter and Facebook likely to be replaced by some shiny new thing down the line? Of course. Some might argue that the same thing has already happened to a degree to radio and many print newspapers. But as long as they have audiences, they continue to play a valuable role in marketing initiatives.
Marketing is about showing real, live people how your product will help them live better lives, in one way or another; social media give us the ability to zero in on the right people with the right messages.
While the platform may change as technology improves, the fundamental shift toward increasingly personalized marketing is no fad. Smart businesses will get on board before their competitors have made Facebook “friends” or Twitter “followers” of all their customers, leaving them wondering where everyone went.