Monday, February 7, 2011

Active Brand Participation as the Driving Factor Behind Online Marketing

Andy Hobsbawm, Brands 2.0 - brands in digital world

Rachel S. Demerling, “Twitter Me This, Twitter Me That.” The Marketization of Brands Through Social Networking Sites

I will probably sound redundant when I say that in the Web 2.0 world, the rules of marketing have changed. No longer companies, organizations and institutions have a monopoly on brand-related information. No longer mass media is the single source of mass information. Today, everyone is a media outlet. Today, consumers are the primary and most trusted source of information about brands and products. Add to that highly fragmented audiences and increasingly shorter attention spans, and what you will get is a totally new marketing environment in which brands need to reinvent themselves in order to stay afloat and to grow.

In this new environment it is no longer enough to simply broadcast a message. To be heard - and listened to - brands need to become active participants of communities and conversations that take place online. With new territory, come new rules. And there are three big challenges that brands face online.

  1. Lack of control. I have already mentioned that, today, consumers are the main and most trusted source of information about brands and products/services. And it looks like it is not going to change. Instead of trying to take control over what's being said about them - which is, needless to say, is impossible - brands should encourage the flow of favorable consumer-generated content through reviews, comments, photos, videos and more. Brands should be ready to get negative feedback as well and use this feedback to their advantage by responding in a timely and constructive fashion. In her article Demerling writes that consumer feedback "provides the retailer with invaluable information about what their consumers like or dislike about their products, as well as what improvements can be made to increase sales."
  2. Considerable investment. No, I am not talking about money here. This was the easy way in the olden days of traditional media domination. Today, brands must invest something more valuable than cash. They need to invest their time and human resources to be constantly engaged in the conversations taking place on the social web. Marketers should stop treating social media like a second class citizen assigning responsibility for social media efforts to interns and least experienced staff members. Your social media marketing campaign should be led by an experienced professional who has a great understanding of your target audience as well as various social media tools.
  3. Human interaction. As Hobsbawm puts it, "There has only been one magic ingredient for truly compelling net interactions: people." In other words, people don't want to connect with brands, they want to connect with other people. Successful social media marketing campaigns build communities around brands. They also create brand advocates whether by appointing people from within companies or providing most dedicated customer/fans with the tools to 'evangelize' brands to the rest of the world.

The 3 Pillars of an Online Group

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Chapter 11 Review

Most online marketers are striving to build successful communities around their brands. Everybody is looking for the "secrete sauce" that will get people interested and keep them engaged. Until recently, I was sure that one-size-fits-all model for building online communities didn't exist. And those who claimed they had a proven way to make brands "big" on the web were just looking to get a quick buck at the expense of people who knew little about the principles of the Web 2.0.

As it turns out, the secrete sauce does exist. What's unfortunate, though, is that even with the knowledge of what makes an online community successful, most brands will still get it wrong. So, here it is, the 3 Pillars of an Online Group:

  1. Plausible promise. According to Shirky, this is the "essential piece that convinces a potential user to become an actual user." What is it that your brand - and, most importantly, the community behind it - has to offer. I'm really into rock climbing. So, let's say I want to promote a new climbing shoe line designed especially for women. Female climbers face different challenges than male climbers. So, my community might be based on the plausible promise that the female members will become better climbers (please note, I'm not going to promise them that they will become world-class climbers. The promise has to be plausible). By participating in my community, female climbers will gain access to information that will help them deal with women-specific rock climbing challenges, like climbing during and after pregnancy, meeting fellow female climbers, developing proper training routines and climbing techniques and such.
  2. Tools. The next key is provide group member with the right set of tools to participate. Members of my community will be able to create personal profiles, find other climbers based on location, organize events and climbing trips, share their knowledge through forums and blogs, upload and comment on photos, create subgroups (like Climbing after Pregnancy or Female Climber of Tampa groups). In addition there will be a branded blog loaded with useful information. Keep in mind that the tools you provide must be "designed to fit the job being done" and they "must help people do something they actually want to do."
  3. Bargains. As Shirky puts it, a bargain "helps clarify what you expect of others and what they can expect of you." The bargain for my female climber community is that members can expect to receive a sound advice and support from fellow members in exchange for sound advice and support. Proper language and other communication and media standards might also be part of the bargain. What's important to remember is that the bargain has to be "a part of the lived experience of interaction."
In theory, these 3 pillars of a successful online community sound pretty simple. In practice, however, it's hard to get all of them right. Deep insight into your target audience's needs and motivations and understanding of the different social tools will certainly make the job easier.

The Key to Building a Successful Online Community

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Chapter 9 Review

In this chapter, Shirky talks about the principals on which Small World networks are built and why in the world where virtually everybody is connected to everybody, Small World networks prove to be most effective and efficient at maintaining connections and moving information. Shirky writes: "Small World networks have two characteristics that, when balanced properly, let messages move through the network effectively. The first is that small groups are densely connected... The second characteristic... is that large groups are sparsely connected." In other words, a Small World network consists of many small clusters of closely connected (average) users bridged by highly connected individuals.

In social media marketing terms, those highly connected individuals are often referred to as "though leaders." The ultimate goal of many social media marketing campaigns that I've witnessed was to get attention of "though leaders" in particular industries. What many campaigns have failed to accomplish, however, is to provide those high-profile individuals with the right tools to help companies connect people with one another as well with marketed brands.

A blog post by Chris Brogan about your brand or a viral YouTube video guarantee your 5 minutes of fame. But what happens next? Have you created a space where people who like your brand can come together (think blog, Facebook page, branded community, etc.)? Have you given them the tools to connect and build relationships with one another and your brand (think: comments, reviews, guest posts, user-uploaded photos and videos, etc.)?

Too often social media marketing campaigns focus on one of the two key components of the Small World network: high-profile individuals or average users. The key is to find the right balance between the two. Let (average) users connect and talk about your brand - and everything else - in smaller clusters. This is a natural way for groups of people to exchange information. At the same time, have the tools that"though leaders" can use to bring in more people and help them build and maintain their own connection withing already existing community.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's Talk About Mass Personalization

V. Hazleton, J. Harrison-Rexrode, W. Kennan
New technologies in the Formation of Personal and Public Relations

"Since individuals are changing the ways in which they communicate whith each other, correspondingly, the methods used in public relations to create, maintain, and utilize relationships are changing as well."

One of the most significant changes social media has brought on communication was in the network-building capabilities of an average user. In the word where everybody is connected, geographical boundaries have diminished and people began to build relationships based not on proximity, but on similarity. Whatever it is you are into, there's a good chance you can find a community of like-minded people somewhere on the web. And the harder it is for an individual to meet people he can relate to offline, the stronger his ties will be to his online community.

These affinity-based online relationships together with public availability of personal information have changed the way we think of strangers (at least strangers we meet online). We relate to those strangers on a more personal level, we feel for them, we even call some of them friends.

Some marketers make a mistake of thinking about social media as just another tool to reach the masses and broadcast messages. But times have changed and your consumer expects much more than an impersonal one-way message. She wants to get product recommendations based on her past purchases or personal style. She expects to see her name spelled out in the emails she receives from your company. She assumes you'll remember her baby's birthday. What's more, she expects you to reply to her tweets and posts on your Facebook fan page.

Not too long ago, corporate/institutional participation in social media was optional, and those who weren't ready refrained. Today, however, if you are not talking about your company online, someone else is. As a company owner/employee or a marketer, you have to be ready to represent your company online and invest a considerable amount of resources to connecting with your customers on a personal level.

It's Not Just Social Media Marketing, It's a New Kind of Marketing

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Chapter 7 Review

In this chapter Shirky talks about the reasons behind the rise of successful social movements in recent years. Social tools have allowed individuals to easily find and connect with like-mended people. And, as Shirky puts it, "Whenever you improve a group's ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of." Social Web has granted virtually unlimited access to information to its users. What's more, it provided the tools for people to easily share that information as well as create and distribute new content to the masses. This information flow has empowered web users. And when enough people get together, they are now capable of changing long-established institutional, political and societal structures.

In this context, social media marketing is not just marketing on social media sites. It is a new kind of brand (organization, institution, etc.) to consumer interaction, where the consumer is well-aware that he is now an active - and very powerful - participant of the conversation. This concept can be hard to grasp for people brought up on traditional media.

Today, any marketing initiative is not just a final product of efforts by a creative agency, paying company and media outlet. It is rather a process, a living organism that evolves and changes in the hands of consumers. To be successful on social media, companies and organizations need to be ready to give up the control over their brands and messages they are so used to having. Instead, organizations need to learn how to facilitate conversations and provide customers with the tools to connect, communicate and take action in ways that are beneficial for both, the facilitating company and the users.

Personal Motivation as a Driver Behind Your Social Media Campaign

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Chapter 5 Review

What is it about Wikipedia.org that allowed it to survive - and flourish - in the environment of chaotic collaboration, where anyone can make any edits they want? How has Wikipedia managed to become a reliable source of often academic information, despite the fact that the majority of its contributors have limited (and sometimes zero) knowledge on subjects they write about? In this chapter Shirky explains that with the rise of social media, entry barriers to group communication and collaboration have almost diminished. Therefore, people don't need to be rewarded in some financial way to communicate, create and collaborate anymore. It's the "feeling good" reward that get's them going.

Marketers have always sought ways to engage audiences, get them excited and, ultimately, spread the word of mouth. In theory, today it's easier than ever to do so. I mean, all you need is to attract enough customers who are passionate enough about a particular subject and give people the tools to communicate and collaborate around it. "[If] enough people care enough about an article to read it," writes Shirky about the Wikipedia phenomenon, "then enough people will care enough to improve it." In reality though, there have to be some strong non-financial incentives for people to get together and do something.

Because there are so many non- and for-profit social initiatives on the Web these days, marketers not only have to identify and bring to light WHAT moves the audiences, but also understand WHY it moves them. This is the 'secrete sauce' everyone is looking for. From aspiration to do a good thing, to desire to get healthier, raise a happy child or simply find a good deal, every customer has a personal motivation for things they do online. A deep understanding of your customers motives will greatly increase your chances for success.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Finally an Update

I'm not a Twitter-quitter and I'm not a blogging-quitter. And although I haven't posted here in a while, there's a good reason for that. Or rather a couple of good reasons.

First of all, since my last post my husband Peter got laid off, and, as a result, we started our own family company called My Little Jules.

My Little Jules, or www.mylittlejules.com, is an online kids' clothing store where you'll find cute baby clothes and fun toddler outfits your little ones will love to wear! We search through many brands to find the ones that truly reflect the essence of childhood. So, I've been crazy-busy promoting our company and managing all aspects of this business (together with my beloved hubby, of course). If you'd like to connect with My Little Jules, here are a few links.

  1. My Little Jules Facebook page - personally, my favorite
  2. My Little Jules Twitter account
  3. Jules Got Style blog

Second, I went back to school to get my M.S. in Marketing! I'm really excited about that, although it's been pretty tough to balance family, work and school life... and squeeze a little bit of "me" time somewhere in there too. So, for the next few months, I'll be using this blog to post writing assignment for one of my classes, Strategic Media Communication, which, hopefully, will get me back into the habit of writing about social media and social media marketing!