One of the great rubs against advertising and marketing within social media is that brands cannot control the environment; messaging could potentially be placed alongside some inappropriate content. Of course many marketers are starting to realize the rewards far outweigh the risks. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are extremely effective, and empowering consumers to evangelize your brand can drive a high return on spend -- but what about that initial fear regarding location and proximity?
Let's make an analogy to the real world, because that's the fairest manner of evaluating this issue. After all, online shouldn't be held to a different standard than other media formats. If I'm a marketer and I'm advertising on the side of buses and a bus gets into an accident because the driver was texting while driving the bus, does that accident have a negative impact on my brand? If I'm advertising using GoCards in a bar and a fight breaks out in the bar where a number of people get injured, does my brand suffer as a result of that environment? I don't think the answer is yes; I think that consumers are smart enough to understand the difference between real-world events and marketing.
Of course I can already anticipate the backlash for this analogy. The naysayers will note that outdoor advertising and online are two different beasts -- but I would maintain they are not. All advertising should be held to the same standard: Even though environment needs to be considered, it should not be THE deciding factor in whether or not a brand participates. The deciding factors should be the ability to deliver a viable target audience, forecasted performance against clear business objectives, and opportunity to impactfully convey a message.
Environment is one of the components to be considered -- and for pharma and some other brands, it can be a stronger factor in the consideration -- but if your consumers are there and they are active, why shouldn't you consider being involved and participating with them?
Social media is able to deliver a targeted audience, and it is fast becoming a requirement in a marketing campaign. The addition of reach and pass-along that comes from social media far outweighs concerns regarding the environment. Plus you have to consider that, whether you like it or not, your brand is already there. A quick survey of leading social and community-based sites like Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, Digg, Yelp and ExpoTV yields a number of brand mentions. On all of these platforms you will find consumers talking with consumers about brands, and your nonparticipation gives them free reign to do and say what they like. At least when you're there you can be involved, respond, and demonstrate a desire to be engaged at that level -- which goes a long way to increasing your effectiveness as a brand. This increase can lead to sales.
Brands try to drive awareness, increase consideration, and drive intent that results in sales. You may be looking to drive sales from new customers or increase frequency of sales with your current customers. In either case, however, your customers are in social media. You cannot afford to ignore them, but you have to enter this world with the right set of expectations.
Expectations are a baseline for measuring success, so you need them to be set correctly. What kinds of experiences do you have -- and how would you have addressed the expectations differently in advance?