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The “Social” Conversation . . . Evolving

The evolution of the conversation regarding social media and social networking is occurring – taking the dialog beyond the technology to the strategic use of social media and social networking for marketing objectives. Bringing together a few Forrester Research publications on social networking and a recent Harvard Business article on social strategy, a framework for using social media strategically to reach your marketing objectives is emerging.

Following up to Groundswell, Forrester’s Josh Bernoff writes “Objectives: The Key to Creating a Social Strategy” and “Social Technology Strategies for ‘Boring’ Consumer Brands” – two reports that apply Forrester’s strategy methodology, POST – People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technology to direct the social conversation with actionable strategic road maps for using social media in marketing.

The help with the people part, if you don’t have the resources to research your customers, can be gleaned from “Understanding Users of Social Networks,” by Sean Silverthorne (published September 14, 2009 by Harvard Business School). This report distills research for understanding users in the process of developing a social strategy, answering the questions, “how are people using social networking sites?” and “what are they doing?” A few key insights from this report:

– Pictures are the killer app of all online social networks – 70% of all actions related to viewing pictures

– Social networks are a form of “voyerurism . . . biggest usage categories are1.) men looking at women they don’t know, 2.) men looking at women they do know, and 3.) women looking at women they know – overall women receive two-thirds of all page views”

– It’s the 90/10 rule with Twitter – “90% of Twitter posts were created by 10% of users”

– Women are more likely to create content (comment) and men are more likely to reference other content (re-post or link)

Another big take away – the advertising model is not successful on social networking. It’s about jumping in and participating, in some form, in the discussion. Again, with Forrester’s strategy methodology, POST, understand what your customers are doing in the social space first, then participate in a strategy that fits their social behaviors.

Most of us marketeers market a product or service that is less than “sexy,” which means we can’t “talk” directly about our products if we want anyone to participate. But, on some level, our products/services do solve problems. So referring to Josh’s report, “Social Technology Strategies for ‘Boring’ Consumer Brands: To Create Borrowed Relevance, Get Customers Talking About Their Problems.” Pick one of your product’s pain points and then create the dialog around that issue.

Our role, as marketers, is to host, facilitate, and/or participate, at some level, in the discussion with this “borrowed relevance.” Find how your product is relevant to your user, then tap into that pain point to create the social dialog. The Harvard research takes it a step further and suggests finding a “social failure in the offline world” and then choose the appropriate strategy to find that brand connection. A few social failures could include:

1.) Anonymity: maybe the product you market solves a problem that people don’t want to disclose. Great – here’s your user ID – no name required! For instance, maybe the topic is taboo – it’s easier to discuss personal finances or a medical condition with a user ID than with a name.

2.) Proximity: if distance is the social failure, then getting your audience together online, may be the answer.

3.) Probability: if the chance that your user’s offline social network doesn’t includes the same “type” of user, then creating an online social network will help bring those users together.

So, if you aren’t lucky enough to market athletic shoes or electronics, and can’t talk about your product directly, then start listening to your customers to learn what’s relevant and jump into the social media pool. Remember, it’s not about how well you swim, it’s about being at the pool party . . . and just make sure you invite the women!

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