Accessible digital video, simple uploading, broadband. As soon as I watched my first video on YouTube, I knew it was going to be big.
After all, marketers go where the consumers are. And with 100MM daily views, it didn't take long before clients boldly proclaimed that they wanted to leverage the video site as part of their marketing programs: "I want to be on YouTube."
To me, this sounds like a marketer looking to embark on a social media crusade with a brand, ready to embrace the "consumer-in-control" movement and think outside the traditional marketing box. While the instincts of this marketer are dead on -- taking your brand to the social media arena is an important ingredient in the marketing mix -- the challenge is assimilating the entire social media landscape before you leap.
Many marketers today are still primarily focused on traditional media channels and are not familiar with the array of social media opportunities at their disposal. When they decide to finally shift their tactics, their kneejerk reaction is to jump into the most obvious choices, like YouTube and Facebook, without honestly evaluating these new channels' strengths against their own corporate goals.
The reality is that YouTube, a sexy, high-profile Web 2.0 darling, is not necessarily the right vehicle for most marketers. The good news is many social media web sites and tools have matured to the point where marketers can really begin exploring opportunities that do make sense for their business. Here are some examples of ways that companies have leveraged the social realm to elevate their brand.
Tweets heard in the Amazon
Arguably, one of the hottest social networking sites today is Twitter. It's a relatively simple service, which is probably what causes many marketers to dismiss its powerful influence. However, when you consider that in just a short period of time Twitter has grown from an idea to a phenomenon, it's worth your time to take a look at it.
This is precisely what the marketers at Amazon.com did. Amazon was looking for new methods of engaging their customers one-on-one, specifically around their Amazon MP3 service. Knowing consumers crave deals and that competition from services such as iTunes is intense, Amazon launched the Amazon MP3 Twitter feed.
Amazon MP3 is a simple concept -- Twitter users simply sign up to Amazon MP3, which sends alerts about special MP3 download deals and includes a link where they can take immediate action. The model appears almost too simple, but since its launch, more than 5,700 people have signed up for this quick and easy direct connection with a global brand.
MyMoney's on Facebook
Like Twitter, Facebook is another social media site that has taken on a life of its own, with more than 65 million passionate users. Despite its success among the general population, it seemed like only politicians such as presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain were leveraging it to promote their brand effectively.
But marketers are starting to test strategies beyond just creating their own pages. For example, Fiserv, a leading provider of information technology services to the financial industry, recognized Gen Y consumers as desirable prospects for many credit unions. To connect the two sides, Fiserv launched a Facebook application called MyMoney, which lets users search, join and manage funds from their credit union account from their profile pages. To leverage Facebook's viral capabilities, every person who adds the MyMoney widget then alerts their friends, which creates a powerful, self-propelled ripple effect that will ultimately continue to drive adoption. It's a very simple concept but has been a huge success, as the average user spends about 20 minutes on their Facebook page daily and 36 credit unions now support the application.
Coke heads out on the town
Even big brands like Coke are taking notice of social media's potential. Coca-Cola recently released a Facebook application for its brand Burn. The application allows users to create a customizable virtual avatar and then "go out," either with existing friends or new ones. The next day, users can check their avatar's blog to see what went down the night before, and view images that show both avatars hanging out. The end result replicates a real-life night out at the club, and users come away with a shared virtual experience that faithfully delivers on the brand promise of the night-extending Burn energy drink. Again, it' a concept that most marketers might not have considered, but when you find out the application recently crossed 150,000 installs with more than 85,000 users active on a monthly basis, you might wish you had.
Liberty Mutual takes responsibility
A final example involves Liberty Mutual. Most people are familiar with Liberty's TV commercials, revolving around the good Samaritan butterfly effect (i.e., one person helping another stranger creates a rippling effect that grows unbounded). After receiving an overwhelming response from consumers, Liberty was looking to maintain the momentum of this campaign off the airwaves. The answer was a blog campaign called, "The Responsibility Project." The site is designed to, in its own words, "get people thinking and talking about responsibility," and invites interested consumers to become a part of the discussion around a charitable campaign. The company transformed a one-way conversation broadcast on TV into a site that features a blog and video, all designed to get people to take a more active role in their community -- all while interacting with the Liberty Mutual brand.
Meeting the social media challenge
The examples above are just a small sample of the ways that businesses are turning to social media sites to help enhance their brands. What's important to keep in mind is that there are some challenges that come with this social movement. First, marketers going social need to be prepared to embrace a less interruptive model and find ways to join the conversation, build relationships, add value to the discussions and inspire content creation. This is clearly something that the Liberty Mutual team recognized with the launch of its site.
Businesses must also nurture these efforts, as the results will not come immediately and the benefits might not be as pronounced -- a fact that many traditionalists struggle with when attempting to justify the campaign to the folks upstairs. Most likely, when Amazon launched its Twitter program, it was not barraged with consumer inquires the next day; momentum and buzz take time. Furthermore, these efforts need to be active with content that provokes responses (i.e., Amazon promotes discounted music and features a variety of content ranging from new material to music classics). In time, since they are an active and engaged part of a community, not only will brands build loyalists and evangelists, but marketers and brands will also be able to gain invaluable insight and feedback.
The third challenge marketers need to overcome is adoption. The growth of social media has turned it into one of the most powerful sources of customer reach. The issue is that while CMOs want to move in this direction to create optimum brand health, the need to focus on more "here and now" things like moving merchandise and acquiring customers to ensure the ongoing health of their businesses is even stronger. For these CMOs, the challenge is finding common ground between the two. In today's climate, it's the marriage of the traditional and the social that will ultimately determine the success of the business.
The final challenge is measuring and maintaining the effort. Determining the success of these digital technologies is squarely focused on adopting new measures of success. When measuring the social campaign, more traditional online measurements such as unique visitors, the frequency of visits and time spent on the site are less relevant. Now marketers are challenged with using new metrics including content consumption (i.e., how many people are visiting you and what are they looking at?); how much content is being created by visitors; whether people are social bookmarking the site with Delicious, Reddit and StumbleUpon; what is being said about the brand and the number of people who are subscribing to your RSS feed. It is with the answers to these types of questions that you can more effectively evaluate your social media effort.
By now, most businesses recognize that social media is a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately many are not moving beyond this acknowledgement into action. Social media makes sense for virtually every organization -- not because it is the most inexpensive form of media, but because it gives marketers myriad new ways to connect with their fast-growing audiences and ultimately evolve their brands with their honest feedback. The key is looking at all options and then finding the ones that make the most sense for your business.