April 23, 2007

In the real world we turn to colleagues and friends for advice on what products and services to buy; generally trying to avoid the salesperson. Understandably this is why social media is so effective and can facilitate an increase in a marketer's bottom line. No longer do we have to rely only on mass media for our information and advice. Social media (and Web 2.0 technologies) allow us to create innovative targeted campaigns to promote brand and product awareness and can provide us with valuable feedback.

In our 2007 Online Marketing Predictions report, we concluded that social networking will continue growing strong but will become very niche-like, based around unique user personalities. This trend changes the way marketers reach out to their targets. It's no longer the company that is looking for the customers. Potential customers are online, actively searching for the best place to find the product or service they want.

From blogs to podcasts, and RSS feeds to text messaging, online communities enable marketers to have a direct connection with highly targeted individuals. Understanding this niche aspect and communicating with users in a way that is non-disruptive is vital for a successful social media marketing campaign. Additionally, this shift is also enabling a new class of autonomous newsmakers and brand influencers to emerge, many wielding the word-of-mouth influence and reach of traditional media, but to smaller and more qualitative audiences.

This transformation of the media landscape creates both opportunities and challenges for corporate marketers. It takes exactness to successfully navigate and execute social media programs.

The University of Massachusetts - DartmouthCenter for Marketing Research completed a recent study on social media adoption among 121 members of the Inc. 500 and uncovered some interesting adoption trends:

How familiar are the Inc. 500 with various social media?

- 42% are familiar with social networking.
- 38% are familiar with message boards.
- 36% are familiar with blogging.

What types of social media are they using?

- 33% are using message boards.
- 27% social networking.
- 24% online videos.
- 19% blogging.

Finally, 66% of those surveyed said social media was either "very important" or "somewhat important" to their marketing strategy.

Additionally, a survey from KnowledgeStorm shows that more than 80% of business and IT professionals worldwide read blogs.

Other key findings:

- 53% of respondents say blogs impact their work-related purchases.
- 53% of respondents read blogs weekly for business information.
- 57% of respondents read blogs weekly for tech information.
- 59% of respondents are "somewhat" to "very" familiar with RSS feeds.
- 31% of respondents subscribe to RSS feeds.

Blogs, in particular, give marketers the perfect opportunity to generate interest and demand -- and more important, grow relationships with customers. However, some companies are a bit afraid of allowing a vehicle for negative comments. This should not be a concern - you look more credible if you allow some criticism. According to Bob Lutz, General Motor's vice chairman, global product development, "the key is to leave the corporate-speak behind and keep the tone conversational, open, and honest."

In the same vein, Microsoft has found blogs authored by their product managers to be very helpful. Employee blogs such as these are kind of like Open Source -- come here and help us make our product/service better, or help us co-develop. This helps Microsoft understand its customers' needs better and can help it pick up bugs sooner, which ultimately translates to the bottom line.

The ultimate goal of SMM is to establish a voice and two-way communication, turning marketing into a soft sell, rather than a hard one. SMM is clearly a viable option for reaching B-to-B and B-to-C buyers. These new online media formats help companies better address shifting preferences and opinions. Marketing campaigns will achieve even greater results because companies are now able to truly listen to and come to understand their customers' needs and wants, which is good for the bottom line.
Ryan Buchanan is CEO of eROI, Inc.

by Ryan Buchanan
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com

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