Thursday, April 3, 2008

THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING AND ONLINE MARKETING

Hi, everyone!
This blog was created as my final project for the COM 425: Information Technology and Human Values class at The University of Tampa. My goal is to find out what interactive media gurus, online marketing experts and social media users like you think about the future social media marketing and its impact on the way we communicate. I really appreciate your input and thank you for dedicating your time to read and comment on this blog.

If most of you agree, after the project is finished, I will create a link to this blog from my personal website and Interactive Media and Online Marketing Blog. Please add yes/no at the end of your comment.

So, here are my thoughts:

The buzz around social media is elevating. Social networking sites are becoming popular targets for the companies striving to reach their customers in effective and, at the same time, seamless ways. Today, organizations have an opportunity to become their customers’ virtual friends and though leaders. And companies are readily stepping down from their corporate pedestals into the world of profiles, message boards, bulletins, YouTube videos and blogs.

In the introduction to its GIO 3.0 Report IBM writes “CEOs, like JetBlue’s® David Neelman, post videos directly to YouTube.™ General Motors® executives communicate directly to customers and other stakeholders through blogs. These days it seems as if every company, organization, and individual—be it a billion-dollar multinational, a local government, or a person with a passion—is navigating the new communications landscape and experimenting with blogs, video, and custom publishing.”

MySpace is already populated with the B-C companies’ profiles and profiles of the virtual characters that project brand images and endorse products and services. LinkedIn and Squidoo give B-B companies a chance to establish themselves as industry experts. Second Life has taken social networking even further and allowed companies to not only to connect, but to meet their potential and current customers in the cyber space, invite them to events, sell them virtual products… so on.

As a young professional getting ready to start my career in online marketing, I understand what a successful social media strategy means to a company’s bottom line. At the same time, as a Facebook and MySpace user, I feel a little uncomfortable about big companies entering the world of social networking.

When I created my Facebook profile four years ago I knew that other users were college students, professors and staff members. Three years later, Facebook decided to go for a big buck and ‘tainted’ mine and millions of other profiles with junky widgets, promotions and banners adds - something that MySpace has been long known for. Today, companies are going even further. By creating profiles on social networking sites they are winning our trust and becoming a part of the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong. Many YouTube videos, corporate profiles, sponsored blogs and more are fun and informative. The rock climbing gym that I go to has its MySpace profile, and I am happy to have it as my ‘friend’ to connect with other climbers and stay informed about upcoming trips and events.

My question is, if companies will fully embrace social media as their marketing tool, then what will be left to us, average users, to connect and communicate with each other?

24 comments:

Adam Broitman said...

Tatiana

That is a great question!

I think that corporations will always try to "fish where the fishes are" and as long as consumers are spending time in social networks, brands and corporations will do their best to infiltrate these environments.

The nice thing about Facebook, in my opinion is that brand presence is more muted than it is on MySpace or some of the other social networks.

I think the true value of brands being in social environments (which still has not been fully realized) is their ability to add value to the experience. I feel that if brands are offering something of value to consumers, in an opt in manner, consumers will be less likely to be offended by the presence of brands. In fact, these consumers may even be happy that a particular brand is present in their social environment.

If a brand were to enter a social environment with and old fashioned mentality, they will be shunned and their efforts will be ineffective (presumably leading them out of that particular environment).

In short, the modern consumer will always be able to find ways to thwart unwanted messages and it is up to brands to speak in a way that make them welcome and even valuable!

Tatiana said...

Adam,
thank you for contributing to my project and being the first one to comment. I agree with you on the notion that as long as companies are offering valuable web content they will be able to build and maintain relationships with their customers and prospects. I guess the trick behind a successful social media strategy is becoming a thought leader and your customers' friend - not just another loud corporate voice.

Tatiana

Scott Monty said...

Hi Tatiana,

You pose an interesting question - what will companies claim in social media vs. what will be left to individuals. I don't think it's an either/or proposition if done right. There's room for everyone.

Throughout the next year or so, the social networking space will become white hot for organizations. Companies are looking to become part of the latest trends and be where their customers or prospects are. The question is, will they be able to do it in a way that doesn't turn consumers away?

For example, I'm really not interested in a company being my "friend." It's clearly a ploy for the same tried-and-true push marketing. If I'm interested in a brand, I'll seek them out myself and make myself known. But if employees of a company are part of social networks and act like real human beings by conversing with me and representing their companies openly, I'm much more interested in what they have to say.

In addition, companies that are part of social networks and are responding to concerns or remarks about their brands are the ones that will succeed. A great example of this is Dell - there are at least three high-profile Dell employees on Twitter: LionelAtDell, JohnAtDell, and RichardAtDell - and they all are very responsive and interactive with the community.

So, in my opinion, companies will thrive in this space when they act like real people - because in the end, it takes real people to create and upkeep profiles on social networks. By listening, learning, and joining in the conversation will they be able to be successful at what they do.

Tatiana said...

Scott,
You've brought up a very interesting point: social media is about connecting with people or in your example, with the company’s employees. When people who represent a certain company in social networks are responsive and interactive, this company's customers and prospect feel valued, which is a key to long-term loyal relationships.

Tatiana

David Scott said...

Tatiana

One thing we need to get right is the definitions. From what I've read on your blog, you understand the nuances of the different things like online marketing, social media marketing, and social network marketing (all are different).

I just posted on that:
http://www.webinknow.com/2008/04/what-the-heck-i.html

The most important thing to remember is the millions of people turn to the web for answers to their problems. Companies that realize that will be successful.

Companies no longer control the sales process. Buyers do.

Best
David Meerman Scott

social-media-university-global.org said...

I agree with much of what has been said previously. The great thing in Facebook is that older people and brands can be there without necessarily bothering people who aren't connected as "friends" or "fans." the fact that businesses use the telephone doesn't make it less useful for you. Social networks are just a new and more powerful way to connect. And just like you can block phone calls because of CallerID, you can do the same in social networks.

If the brands don't get involved, there won't be the economic benefit for networks like Facebook to be created. If Facebook doesn't respect its community, it could lose it. I think Facebook has done a good job of meeting some business needs while protecting its users from the significantly different level of commercialism that you see with MySpace

kanter said...

I agree with a lot of what has been said already by my esteemed colleagues.

I'd like to turn the question back to you with a little bit of a twist. Since you are, a "digital native" and have been a social network users before there was a strong business presence -- I am wondering what you think about the growing presence of nonprofits in these spaces promoting social causes?

Have you ever joined a "cause" on Facebook - like breast cancer or stop global warming? If you did, did you make a contribution or recruit friends? Why?

Do you think that nonprofits and social causes should have a presence on social networking sites - and what do they need to do to be able to talk to folks of your generation?

Tatiana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tatiana said...

Kanter,
I didn't know that you could support a cause on Facebook, I guess the nonprofits haven't reached me yet. But I do support a cause - Sierra Club - through MSN messenger.

The same benefits and risks of social media marketing apply to both, for-profit and nonprofit organizations; it gives those organizations an opportunity to get out there and have their voices heard.

For their social media marketing efforts to be effective, these organizations have to develop strategies that harmonize with the vibe of the social networks and other social media outlets. A good example I can think of is a pink ribbon as a gift on Facebook.

May be a nonprofit organization can come up with a widget that will allow Facebookers to rate each other on how "green" they are. Or "Send a Panda - Save a Panda" campaign where each dollar spend on a 'panda' gift on Facebook get's donated to the WWF.

Tatiana

Jake said...

Great discussion and great comments already left.

In some respects, this dynamic has always existed, if not in this scope. I remember my parents horning in on my conversations with friends in high school.

I believe we've started a process of leapfrog where individuals/groups will find something fun, companies will want to join in, then those individuals/groups will get tired of the "adults" interfering and will move on to the new "private" location. Then the cycle repeats.

That said, as Scott points out, PEOPLE participating might help to slow this process a bit, but I'm not sure it'll ever be "solved".

Good question!

Tatiana said...

Jake, great analogy between parents "horning in" their children's conversations and companies interfering with the dialogs unfolding in the social networks!

In my opinion companies are slowly 'stripping off' their corporate authority and become more approachable and responsive. Yes, as Scott wrote “Companies no longer control the sales process.” They have to play by the rules of the social media and their users.

Jeff T said...

Your question highlights a real tension in the use of social networking by both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

On the one hand, online social networks can be effective ways for coordinating action, from raising money to reaching customers to building a fanbase for a music career.

At the same time, we have visceral negative reactions (a la Jake) to what political philosopher Jurgen Habermas described as the colonization of the lifeworld--the reduction of alternative spaces beyond the mundane to hyper-rationalized extensions of the market and political spheres. It's one reason I deliberately do not run my classes through Facebook--I don't want to play a role, however small, in making Facebook less of a personal freezone for my students.

aschweitzer said...

I posted this comment on Beth's blog, but I'm going to share my perspective here as well:

I think it's great that we're taking advantage of new(ish) tools to enhance our work. Yes, the online tools have the potential to be used as a bludgeon (maybe a foghorn is a better analogy) to reach as many people as possible, but that's not going to be effective. So seek out and connect with people who are already invested in your organization and/or cause and are active users of social networks. But you need to invest the time to develop those relationships.

Online and offline, you still should be genuine, know your audience, and reach out with a message that speaks to them. Being interested and engaged is a two-way street, if you don't care about your audience and their needs -- whether they are volunteers, donors, constituents, the larger community -- why should they care about and support your organization? In the end, it's still about developing and nurturing real relationships -- whether that relationship is online or in the "real world," with your organization or as an individual.


Ashley


PS. There's a post at Net Squared right now about the Attention Economy.
http://www.netsquared.org/blog/britt-bravo

PPS. My organization (Nonprofits Assistance Fund) does have a facebook group, which we hope grows into a place where the nonprofit community and its allies can share resources and ideas on nonprofit financial management. Hopefully I'm putting my philosophy into practice.

Tatiana said...

Ashley, thank you for the link! The article is very insightful. Here's an excerpt that I found particularly interesting:

"The Attention Economy is a marketplace where consumers agree to receive services in exchange for their attention... [T]he Attention Economy is different from the traditional meaning of an economy, because it isn't about buying and selling - although ultimately those things may occur...

A key point is that The Attention Economy is about the consumer having choice - they get to choose where their attention is 'spent'. Another key ingredient in the attention game is relevancy. As long as the consumer sees relevant content, he/she is going to stick around - and that creates more opportunities to sell."


This passage supports the idea - to some extend expressed by everyone who has contributed to this project - that as long as companies/online marketers have something meaningful and valuable to say, social media users will stick around.

Lee Aase – who represents social-media-university-global.org on this blog – wrote on Beth Kanter’s blog How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media:

“I think that for marketers, whether non-profit or for-profit, the key is to be more personal vs. just another corporate site. If people can interact with friends on a site, and if you behave like a normal human being instead of a crazed marketer/salesperson, you have the ability to create some new relationships and strengthen others. But social networks aren't "push" media. If all you do is talk but never really listen, you will turn people off...whether digital native or not.”

Tatiana said...

Jeff,
That’s right, most people don't get too excited over a sales-person knocking on their door trying to sell them a set of knives. I'm fine with the companies utilizing social media as their marketing tool as long as they don't intrude my personal space. I wonder if there is a way for those companies to develop marketing strategies that will allow social media users to be more proactive and still be effective.

Junghyun said...

Tatiana,

This is a very interesting issue and I think we have been/will be struggling to draw a boundary between "corporation-free" and "corporation-laden" in any kind of online services.

I think it might be inevitable for any type of online services to invite or accept corporation participation as one of the major sources to create profit. Posting corporations' advertisements has limits in producing money and allowing more aggressive or invasive participation from corporation might help expanding or diversifying online companies' profit models.

Even though this might be a necessary step to take for social networking websites, it might not be happy news for users. First, as Jeff mentioned briefly, you have to deal with the presence of corporations or their people in Facebook or MySpace. This might be ok as long as corporation people can distinguish their personal and working lives. However, they might become your potential bosses!! What if they see your pictures drunken at many different bars? There is no guarantee that your private life would not affect your job search if you become too cozy with corporations as your "friends". You might not be able to become personal and free in your own websites with the presence of these corporations (even more so, as your interaction become personal with them). What an irony.

Secondly, I am concerned about mixing “addictive social networking use behavior” with corporation products. Some of users need to go to their websites more than 30 times a day and even feel anxious if they do not have access. Corporations might want to actively participate in social networking websites, because they know that users spend a lot of time there. However, in the worst case of scenario, what if users of social networking websites become shopaholics in addition to social networking addicts because of their close bond they built with certain corporations in cyberspace? I know it might be a little bit too extreme, but I think that it might be interesting to discuss this potentially dangerous or controversial topic.

Geoff_Livingston said...

If companies fully embrace social media, then they will become part of the community and contribute to us. Otherwise they will simply be spammers... and ignored.

Chris Brogan said...

I just got back from spending the day with IBM. They have some bright people looking into the social media space, and they're learning what their role can be in these new waters. I think that many large organizations are figuring out that social media is worthy of their time.

But not simply as another marketing channel. It's a toolset meant to engage people, to promote conversations, to build multi-modal experiences. So why let that be simply a marketing tool? That's like saying email is a marketing department tool ONLY.

Social networks will shift in the coming years to velvet rope experiences, where you have to prove some level of credentials to have a seat at the table. We'll choose to use the networks (and we'll have more than 2) that best relate to our needs, and that give us the best tools to develop relationships of value to us.

Conn Fishburn of Yahoo said today, "Bring wine to the picnic." If companies don't bring something of value to the communities they intend to view as potential marketplaces, I'll agree with Geoff Livingston's comment that they'll be asked to move on.

Wishing you well.

TDefren said...

I don't worry about this question, Tatiana, as I believe that the corporations who invest appropriately in Social Media will be seen as good corporate citizens, whose individual members participate equally and openly as community members (see http://twitter.com/comcastcares or @zappos or @RichardatDell for examples).

The marketeers who do it "wrong" will be unceremoniously booted (via open ridicule that hurts their brand, thus forcing an abandonment of the services).

There is room enough for consumers and corporations, so long as the corporations take a humble, human approach.

Kevin said...

As many have responded here, the short answer is that there's room for everyone.

However, while there was an argument that we can still choose the channels we want (be it TV channels, or web sites we browse), there is still an implicit effect commercialization may have on users.

If we consider the components involved in a conversation, we'd realize that the medium we converse on isn't entirely under our control. That is to say if we are using a hosted blog service (e.g. Blogger.com, Wordpress.com, Vox.com), the medium itself may encroach on users if the service providers are feeling the pinch ($$$) and advertisers have their way.

I'd say that on a psychological level, users aren't entirely intellectual lemmings, that exploitation (e.g. best video contests) occur when users themselves feel uneasy about it. It's a grey threshold, so corporation savvy with their relevant communities would learn to thread it well.

Hope this helps!

Aside: I'm also asking a relevant research questions on my blog, "Would you hire a Social Media Strategist?"

Mike said...

As said numerous times above, a great series of comments precedes mine.

A key mantra has been/should be, "Companies don't blog, People do." Whether blogging or other social media tools get employed by a company or agency - it's important to understand the person(s)-to-person(s) aspect.

Most of us drive or live under a roof of some sort -- and yet we're still seeing cars sold and homes built. There's room. And the companies who approach things on a peer-to-peer relationship will be successful.

Clara Kuo said...

I agree with mike. People blog, not companies. In addition to that, from a consumer perspective, marketers have to consider the level of information fatigue that is getting to be a problem for most of us who have acquired social media apps as a learned habit versus it being natural to younger folks. A lot of my friends manage their apps to one or two applications, and don't necessarily participate in conversations. Because of the overwhelming availability of information, people will create their own mental spam filters to remove the information that they do not want. Second, they will also believe their peers rather than companies who proclaim to have x, y, and z qualities.

Barbara Kelly said...

Tatiana: I came over to you through Beth's Blog and lighted on the discussion about nonprofits. I would like to invite you and any discussants here to check out ammado (www.ammado.com) which is an online community of nonprofits and socially engaged individuals who support and act on global and local causes, humanitarian, environmental, etc. Your perspective and participation would be very welcome.

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