Sunday, April 27, 2008

part 2: social networks. simplified.

Social Networks are technology platforms that facilitate meaningful interaction among people. In other words, they make it easy to share with each other, to build upon that which is shared and to discover people, places and things. Social Networks, though a dominant force in the evolution of the internet, are just one part of a much larger movement referred to as Web 2.0. We’ll start there.

Web 2.0 is the “new” web that has changed from a “read-only web” where most users go online to read and review content to a “read and write web” where users go online to generate their own content.

This change in online behavior (Web 2.0) has been facilitated by the development of technology that allows non-tech-savvy internet users to publish content relatively easily (i.e. blogs, wikis, video/picture sharing sites). One of the most influential of these technologies is the social networking platform also referred to as the "architecture of participation."

These platforms (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut) allow users to create profiles and then connect their profiles to their friends’ profiles so they can keep tabs on each other and share content (videos, music, pictures, messages, events, notes, etc…). They also have powerful search features allowing users to locate lost friends and classmates and reconnect. Users can also see who their friends have listed as friends allowing them to grow their network through mutual connections.

MySpace was really the first very successful social network and most likely your first introduction to this phenomenon. MySpace allows users to easily create and control their own personalized “space” on the web. They can post pictures, pick their own background, stream their favorite music, rebel against convention, preach against rebellion, communicate with friends, find new friends and discover lost friends. In many ways, a MySpace page is as much a vehicle of self-expression as a teen’s bedroom.

Facebook is a more structured, formalized network that is less customizable and as a results, easier to use. Facebook seems to be emerging as the “mature” MySpace.

LinkedIn is really just a glorified address book that can be shared with people you know. The primary benefit is being able to search not only your professional network but anyone connected to people within your network. As an example, I have 124 contacts in my LinkedIn network giving me access to over 2.9 million people (friends of friends of friends).

It’s About People. Not Content.

In the early 90’s, there were websites that made it easy for users to create their own web pages (Tripod, Geocities). The difference between those sites and the social networks of today is that those early sites had no easy way for users to get their friends to the web page or to let them know that it had been updated. It was pretty boring to have a web page that nobody saw! Those sites didn’t survive but their demise demonstrated one very important point: Web 2.0 is not about user-generated content. It’s about user-generated content that is a result of social interaction. In other words, it starts with the people, and then comes the content. Therein lies the lesson for us marketers.

Brands are constantly trying to harness the power of social networking to build community around their products. Though sometimes an emphasis on really strong content (i.e. BeingGirl.com by P&G) is enough to draw like-minded people to a network, for small businesses without multi-million dollar budgets, it’s not likely to be successful.

The key to marketing via Social Networking is not to create your own branded network but to tap-in to the networks that already exist. People want to spend time where their friends spend time. If every company has their own social network, and consumers accept this and participate, they will never cross paths with friends again since everyone will be dividing their time across 20 different networks.

Widgets

There are many ways to take advantage of social networks as a business. In fact, there are hundreds of businesses that exist solely for this reason. One big business today is the development of “widgets.” Widgets are applications that can interact with social networks and operate within the network platform. You can create games, contests, etc…, all with a widget that users can add to their profile or use to interact on their friend’s profile. The main benefit of “widgets” is that they allow you to associate your brand with something fun that users enjoy and deliver a brand message at the same time. Widgets are also somewhat viral in that as one person adds the application to their profile, all of their friends are notified and are likely to add it as well. This pattern continues thereby increasing your exposure at little to no additional cost = viral.

SocialMedia.com is keeping a running tally of the "total number of apps (Widgets) installed" on Facebook: 12.8 million as of July, 2007. That refers not to the number of applications, but to the number of users who installed the widgets to run on their Facebook pages or blogs. I’m sure this number has more than doubled since.

Simple Marketing through Social Networks

According to eMarketer's, 38% of all Internet users, or 72 million people, used social networks at least once a month in 2007. Among 18-34 year olds, 25% visit social networks daily and among 9-17 year olds, 55% spent between 5 and 30 hours per week on social networking sites.*

If you are not ready for widgets, there are also more “traditional” ways to market via social networks.

Using Google Adwords as a campaign management tool, you can place ads (text, image or video ads) on many of the popular social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Facebook recently launched its own campaign management tool making it easy to geographically target specific demographics with your ads.

Through the Google Adwords and Facebook campaign management tools, advertisers can place ads on a CPM (cost per thousands impressions) pricing model or a CPC (cost per click) pricing model. Which one you choose depends on your objective: brand awareness = CPM; lead/sales generation = CPC.

Basic ads on these networks driving traffic to your website is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leveraging the power of social networks. Facebook allows you to create your own “group” that people can join to rally around your industry/product/service. It also allows businesses to create their own “page” that people can “fan” or “opt-in” to receive updates when new content is posted. I’ll explain these tactics in more detail next week.

There are many strategic, creative ways to harness the power of social networks. If you think your business could benefit from an updated internet marketing strategy leveraging social media, contact me and I’d be happy to help. jspring@prstore.com

*Dynamic Logic "Ad Reaction 2007," Grunwald Associates
Web 2.0 Chart by Social Computing Magazine

1 comment:

Lisa Hoffmann said...

Thanks for doing this series, Justin! It's not easy keeping up with constant social media developments, but it's so important for business owners to engage online. I'm sure lots of people will appreciate your efforts to help sort it all out.