Marketers Should Hedge Bets in Social Media

I recently had a chance to talk to Chris Winfield, CEO of Blueglass -- a new integrated marketing company combining social, search, and other online capabilities -- about current and emerging trends in social media. Our conversation touched on an issue that has been on my mind, and in the news, more and more over the last year: how advertisers can limit their dependence on social networks and other third-party social media players by fostering more direct relationships with their target audiences.

"Advertisers are going to want to bring their audience with them and hopefully control that audience within their own sites. One thing we'll see more and more of, is bringing all those conversations on Facebook and Twitter into your own properties" Winfield predicted, in part by "marketers making Web brand sites more engaging."

Of course "control" is something of a misnomer, Winfield noted, as the consumer is in control every step of the way; "audience share" or "access" might be better terms, or "relationship bandwidth" if you want to get jargon-y (my suggestions, not his). "And that's not to say that you're going to abandon the big sites," he went on. "Clearly they're still really important tools for online marketing." But there are some very convincing reasons "you should make sure you don't put all your eggs in one basket."

First of all, "things change so quickly now," Winfield observed: "MySpace two years ago was the hottest thing out there, now it's almost fallen off the radar," and marketers who concentrated all their resources on MySpace are now scrambling to catch up with their audience on Facebook.

This goes back to a dynamic I touched on in a previous column: the rapid rise and fall of social networks, apparently due to simple novelty, with little to actually anchor audiences on any one site. According to separate figures from comScore and Quantcast, MySpace's total U.S. audience has declined from about 74 million in May 2007 to 46.5 million in May of this year, while Facebook has soared from 35.7 million to 130 million over the same period. Or just think about Bebo, a promising new social network purchased by AOL for $850 million in 2008, recently offloaded for an embarrassing $10 million. This volatility in audiences and valuation is amplified by redundancy, resulting from the proliferation of new networks which do similar if not identical things (for example, the recent wave of location-based services).

And there are other reasons to hedge your bets. As Facebook has demonstrated with its ongoing makeover, marketers can't always count on social networks to stick to their promises. This was best explained by Jeremiah Owyang, a partner specializing in customer strategy with the Altimeter Group who took Facebook to task for its new community pages in a recent post on his blog, noting that the new pages (which use the same logos) duplicate and compete with the official pages created by the brands themselves. Owyang pointed out that brand advertisers don't have any direct control over the community pages, and also can't respond to inaccurate or hostile content.

So how should marketers go about hedging their bets? Winfield offered some general advice: "Keep it simple at first. If you notice that people are talking about your brand online, create a forum on your site, and also engage with them in those other forums, and start to get some of those people over on to your site." Some of the best targets are "people who are asking or answering questions about your product or service online. People like being experts, and there are cool, simple tools to add Q&A functionality to your site." Winfield added: "The great thing about that is that not only are you allowing people to talk and interact on your site, but you're also able to do cool things like find out where those users are from, demographics, other really useful data."

3 comments about "Marketers Should Hedge Bets in Social Media".
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  1. Jon-Mikel Bailey from Wood Street, Inc., July 8, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

    You would think this would be a "duh" thing for people but it is amazing that more often than not this concept is completely foreign to most. Great post!

  2. David Shevock from DecisionStep, July 8, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.

    Thanks for the insight. I think companies will begin to use the social networks for getting the word out and gaining access to "friends of friends". Eventually they will all need to move the conversation to the brand pages when related to the brand. Plus, lots of times, there is a huge can click "buy" if the consumer is sitting on YOUR product pages...

  3. Jon DiPietro, July 9, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    This approach rarely works and will never have the punch that participating in existing social media channels does. Why would someone spend time on your web site to talk about one brand when they can hang out on a universal site and talk about ALL the brands they care about?

    On the rare occasions when this does work - at first - the enthusiasm quickly wanes and the forums that Winfield recommends become abandoned in favor of the next shiny object. He says, "The great thing about that is that not only are you allowing people to talk and interact on your site, but you're also able to do cool things like find out where those users are from, demographics, other really useful data." Sounds like Winfield hasn't seen Facebook Insights.

    I'm continually astounded by the people who use the migration patterns of social media participants as an excuse not to do it. He says that marketers who concentrated on MySpace are now scrambling to catch up to Facebook. What were those fools doing for the last two years?? This did not happen overnight. It takes about five minutes to set up a Facebook fan page and if your original social media marketing plan was a piece in an overall strategy, then it should migrate fairly easily from one channel to another.

    The problem, in my view, is that most marketers try to use social media like a new place to post brochures and shout at people. It is not done as a means to provide value to their followers, drive traffic back to their web site, and then convert visitors to leads and leads to customers. They just keep throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope enough of it sticks.

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