Forrester Research has identified the "Best and Worst of Social Network Marketing 2008" using its own review criteria to judge the strategy, value and socialization of social-network marketing campaigns by 16 leading brands across four industries. The companies utilize such social networks as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Imeem and Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces.
Best and worst practices for engaging and spurring special-interest communities into action were the creation of Chevy, Dell/Microsoft (Red), Kraft's DiGiorno Pizza and Sony BMG's Alicia Keys. Whether it was the (Red) effort inviting visitors to interact with sponsored mountain climbers or Keys sharing her personal videos and voice messages, the "winners" embraced a call to action, valuable content that supports members' goals, and Web site interaction.
However, in the first in a series of related reports on the subject, analyst Jeremiah Owyang concludes that "most firms fell short" of some of Forrester's eight criteria. Most notably, 13 of the 16 firms' marketing programs were not "self-fueling" by offering elements like member-created quizzes, social games and other interactive options. The difference is corporations having to create their own content, media and advertising to support their sites rather than leaving it to user-generated content. Marketing efforts failed to encourage discussions and other online interactions, such as contributing comments and voting.
Most of the companies also failed to participate in their own communities by welcoming, listening and responding to--or otherwise supporting--their community members. Some of the worst examples came from Samsung's Blast, Pepsi's Aquafina, Intel and Fox News.
Forrester recommends that brands establish and rigorously maintain a community-centric experience centered on members' needs. For instance, BMW allowed members to create their own BMW-themed art using graffiti on which they comment and vote.
The success of social-marketing efforts should be determined by the speed and quality of community interaction and engagement as much as page views. Marketers must resign themselves to longer-term social-media efforts--rather than quick-hit campaigns in which they must continuously interact with consumers.
That said, there are likely to be fundamental reasons why more companies have not yet aggressively utilized social-media tools related to the time and cost of changing their legacy structures and mindsets. Economic stress actually forced the issue for some by utilizing social media devices and interactive tools to drum up and secure revenues in tough times.
For instance, in an effort to boost its online business and sagging balance sheet, The New York Times just announced a partnership with LinkedIn to deliver targeted content that can be shared among the social network's 25 million users. Other companies are utilizing next month's Olympic Games as a unique opportunity to experiment with social-media tools. Lenovo has given athletes competing in less mainstream sporting events laptops and video cameras to chronic their experiences on their own blogs.
Forrester's recent State of Consumers and Technology Benchmark 2008 report notes that while more consumers of every generation continue to embrace technology, social marketers must be aggressive and creative--especially when catering to Gen Y (38 million North Americans age 18 to 28) and Gen X (63 million adults age 29 to 42).
In fact, it appears that some social media tools used by many retailers and companies are basic, pedestrian initiatives, such as contests and community recommendations. It has become commonplace for all rank companies to market on Second Life, YouTube, MySpace. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and other online communities to drive interactivity. eMarketer estimates that by 2011, half of all online adults and 84% of online teenagers in the U.S. will use social networking. The niche's advertising is expected to generate $1.4 billion this year--which is lower than originally expected, due to the weak economy and pullback in experimental ad spending, alongside the adjustment of new tools, widgets, social games and profile sharing.
The challenge is bigger than it looks, considering that Internet giant Google still has not figured out how to monetize one of the ultimate social media platforms, YouTube, and reportedly will pay $200 million for Digg.com.
Integrating any kind of interactivity requires some level of logistical change. At the very least, companies must restructure to create, execute, maintain and renew social media marketing efforts. Online consumers must have more simplified means of interactivity, such as the creation of universal identification for posting comments on blogs, and more expeditious ways to reach the social media networks and tools that interest them.
It is easy to overestimate the ease and speed with which companies can adjust to and integrate interactive relations with their constituents. "Social networks require a different approach from traditional marketing," Owyang warns. "Rather than focusing on short-term campaigns that reach many people, community and marketing requires close personal interactions between in members and the brand."