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March 17, 2008
Reflections on social media networking and marketing
With Bitstrips you don't need to be able to draw to create your own comics. Alas, that's still no guarantee that you'll write something clever.
These days everyone seems to be talking about social networking and/or social media marketing. Until fairly recently these were topics for tech nerds and Web marketers, but now more and more people are wondering how they can use Facebook to market their programs or products, or how Twitter can be leveraged as a tool for campus communication. I don't have an immediate answer to such questions, but I thought this would be a good time to reflect a bit on what I've learned about social media.
Online social media marketing and networking aren't really that new. People have been connecting via blogs for several years now, and even before the World Wide Web, people were connecting on Usenet News, listservs or other services. What's new is the array of social/Web 2.0 tools now available to us. Today we have services available that will allow us to make "friends" online with whom we can:
- share and organize our bookmarks via services such as de.licio.us or ma.gnolia,
- send short messages via Twitter or generate discussions and share files and links via Pownce,
- recommend articles and sites on Digg, StumbleUpon or reddit,
- network with like-minded souls and share best practices through topically centered networks, such as University Web Developers on Ning,
- compare music tastes on last.fm or book suggestions on goodreads,
- archive, share and discuss photos on Flickr and Zooomr,
- share personal information, promote bands, products or services on MySpace, publish status updates, join groups and become zombies on Facebook,
- ponder intellectually meaty issues on Big Think,
- connect with fellow bloggers on MyBlogLog and find out which bloggers are linking to your blog on Technorati, and even
- create cartoons on Bitstrips.
These are but a fraction of the options available in the social media world of Web 2.0. From the descriptions alone, it is easy to see how many of these could play into our marketing strategies. After all, what organization wouldn't want its public sites being shared online?
Social media marketing: online word-of-mouth
Whether people are buying a new shampoo or deciding on a doctoral program in biomedical engineering, they will weigh the opinions of friends and colleagues more heavily than the brochure they received in the mail. This doesn't mean that we no longer need brochures, just that online word-of-mouth and viral marketing can often serve to enhance our other marketing strategies.
Of course the trick with this is the same as it always has been; word-of-mouth referrals are driven by satisfied customers, not marketers. We can pave the way and create opportunities to make this happen more easily, but we can't put words in people's mouths or on their social networks.
For example, I can't just go digging cool news stories from Case Western Reserve and expect everyone to follow suit unless I develop a reputation for digging worthwhile reading material. To do that I have to become a more active member of the digg community where I make connections, digg the recommendations of others and recommend pages that I think my followers will like. That sort of activity takes more time than most of us have (including me—one does need to sleep after all) and for many organizations spending time on such activities is just not cost effective.
If marketing is the only reason you are considering social media, then it may not work out unless you've got the resources to implement it and a product or service that people like to talk about. But if networking is your goal, then you may get some marketing benefits as a by-product of your other activities. If you're a faculty member making connections with peers in your field via Facebook, sharing sites on de.licio.us or Stumbling your colleague's research articles you could find your peers reciprocate by sharing links to your articles, blogs or Web sites as well. This isn't a matter of quid pro quo, it's more like link karma. Those who respect your work will link to you as you do for them. It happens on social networks just as it does via phone calls or e-mails.
As a result you could soon discover that your sites are getting more traffic, your articles are reaching a wider audience and you're meeting more peers with whom you can share best practices on polymer research, collaborate on a cognitive science study, discuss new insights into Proust, or whatever else may be of interest.
Marketing impact of my social media activity
Last July when I wrote Web 2.0 & Social Networking can enhance "findability", I was just beginning to experiment more actively with social media. I was already blogging, commenting on other blogs, sharing photos on Flickr and tracking blog reactions on Technorati. I just wasn't doing it proactively. Since then I've joined more networks and spent many a night online connecting with Web developers, designers, bloggers, marketers and other like-minded souls all over the world. I started this primarily to learn more about social media. I kept with it because I made some great friends who shared some great ideas and sites. And somehow, in the process, readership of this blog increased substantially.
Between July and December of 2007 subscribers to the blog (those reading via RSS feed) increased by 55%. Unique visitors to the site, # of visits and page views each increased by more than 200%. While readership has risen steadily since I started the blog in 2005, this was a noticeable upturn.
If I'd set out on my experiment with only a marketing goal in mind, I don't know that it would have worked out so well. As I've since discovered the key is in making connections—which can only be done by becoming a participating member of whatever community you join. But if you find a community of interest, whether pertaining to your research, work or hobbies, there are many benefits to be had.
Social Media Resources
The following articles related to this topic weren't found through Google; they were either written or recommended by people I've met through social networking.
- Cultural Voyeurism and Social Media
- Recruiting through social networks
- Social Media is About Sociology Not Technology
- Social Media Marketing & Optimization
- Social Survey: Del.icio.us
- Social Survey: StumbleUpon
As another result of social media networking, the Web Development Blog is now a member of BlogHighEd, a blogger network covering a vast array of topics pertaining to higher education and related fields.
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