Social Media Marketing and Relevant Brand Building

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Neha Gohad, a Student at Manchester Metropolitan university posted an interesting question on LinkedIn Questions. She asks what is the commercial appeal of Social Networking Sites for Brands?

I am doing a Research on Social Networking Sites in UK and their implications for Brands and effects on future consumers as a part of my Masters Dissertation at the Manchester Metropolitan University. The top Social networks in UK such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo are amongst the most popular destinations . eMarketer reports predict the UK advertising spend on these networks would be well over £115 million in 2008 and forecasts this figure to go up to £285million by 2012.

These were the two parts to her question with my thoughts on each:

1. Do you think the Social Networks would fail to attract users if they are exploited excessively by Marketers/Brands?

Certainly. We saw the backlash to Facebook’s “recomendation” engine that caused concerns among users. Privacy will continue to be a concern among the general population, and exessive exploitation usually tends to cause privacy concerns. But beyond that, brands/marketers need to pay careful attention to how their “social interactions” impact the user’s experience and the user’s ability to interact.

The new paradigm of advertising is all about user-control or user-influence–something difficult to handle by traditional legacy agencies and corporations. Slapping “banners” on a social portal is a losing proposition for the most part when you consider the saturation and the click throughs — still worth it in some cases, but quickly fading as an effective approach as far as social media marketing. According to the brand, marketers need to be either subtle or in-your-face — the point is to be engaging according to the audience.

2. What factors/ approaches do you think should be considered most important in future for Brands on Social Networks? [eg: peer recommendations, highly targeted approach, interactive/ entertaining/ engaging campaigns etc]

Certainly targeting is a major factor — even more so in social media marketing than ever before. Without the right market segmentation strategy, it becomes challenging to craft an engaging and relevant message. It seems to me that peer recommendation has a lot going for it, but with some minor exceptions, it is yet to be executed to its full potential. For example, in Facebook, I keep seeing a recommendation-based ad for Visa Small Business from a couple individuals I do know and trust, but the thing is — I don’t have my own business. So, while the referring social aspect is right-on, the message is still not relevant to ME!

Not all social marketing needs to be entertaining. Just look at Mint.com — I fully enjoy using their “comparison” charts that show my spending against others in my city or state. The key is to make it relevant, useful (if its not easy to use, it will never be “engaging”) and what the user wants.

Honestly, I’m not sure that the old phrase “content is king” is valid anymore. Not because content is un-important, but because the phrase is not consumer-focused. Its now about the user — what it wants, how it wants it, when it wants it, and in a language and style most relevant to him or her.

There is the paradigm in which social media marketers need to start shaping their strategies.

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