Foundation For Successful Social Media Marketing: From Tools To Service

by , May 22, 2008, 7:15 AM
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The first generation of social media was a collection of social tools and features that Web sites began to implement including profiles, blogs, friendships, networks, ratings, reviews and more. While exciting at first, those features can quickly become stale.

So what's the next stage? What have we learned to create valuable results for business and better experiences for consumers?

I believe the answer is rooted in a fundamental mind-shift from social media tools to social media services.

A social media services approach will package these tools for users to create services that they want and need. It sounds obvious, but most companies are still simply adding tools to Web sites--and the tools don't always help users connect, nor do they provide meaningful benefits. This is a natural evolution and the companies that apply this first will win, and just as importantly, monetize their social media efforts.

Here's an example. A computer manufacturer wants to transform its Web site from mostly product content and support forums to a social media site. They want to develop stronger relationships with their customers.

The tools approach would add the usual social media features. They would call it a community or a branded social network, and then wait for the Facebook magic to happen: Users would create profiles, write blogs, add friends and come back to the site daily.

Not likely!

In contrast, the services approach would define a set of valuable tasks or experiences that customers want, and then package social tools together in ways that deliver them. The services might help customers discover new ways to use products, let them learn from one another, or simply get the most out of products they own based on their primary usage.

By understanding what their customers want, the computer manufacturer can create a social media site with services to make these goals simple. The site would then do things like auto-connect customers who own the same products, use them for similar tasks, or who purchased them at the same time. With this approach, users can be engaged immediately; they get a personal social network and a group of people with whom they can share, discover and learn together.

In addition to meeting the specific needs of customers, a services approach must also build around the different types of people, based on their social activity.

Every site has a mix of creators, critics, collectors, joiners and spectators according to Charlene Li of Forrester. All of these types are valuable--in fact, critical. You need creators to create content, critics to comment and filter the content, and spectators because they are typically the largest segment and will drive your Web site's numbers and represent that marketable audience.

So should you throw all of these people into the same experience and hope that they figure out how to use the tools to do what they want to do? Of course not. Their experience should be tailored to proactively facilitate the things they want to do.

Let's take a second example. You have a television show and want to create a social media community to keep and increase your fan base. Your viewing base probably consists of diehard fans, loyal viewers and people interested but perhaps not caught up on the story line and characters.

A services approach would recognize that your diehard fans want to talk about the show, story lines and characters. They want your show to succeed instead of being cancelled. They also want to show off their expertise and perspective. Your services approach should empower these people because they will create content, spark discussions and evangelize for you if you help them.

For example, your services approach should spotlight these members and recognize them with special badges, highlight them on your home page and reward them for their contributions. You can enable them to create and manage mini-communities around their favorite characters and story lines. They become community managers who scale cost-effectively, and they have authentic credibility with your current and potential fan base.

By taking a services approach, you engage your visitors by their personal interests and needs and make it simpler for them to engage with you. Personal networks will form not because you provided that feature, but because you took it a step further and acted as a broker to help create relevant relationships. And your site will grow because you are empowering and rewarding your advocates to do so.

The services mindset creates a foundation for successful social media marketing. That marketing success is what many have yet to see, but if your mindset moves to services, you'll be a lot closer to measurable marketing success in social media.

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