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4 Ways to Use Social Networks for Marketing

2011 April 6

Does your business need Social Media?  Really?  What for?

Unfortunately, that’s a question that rarely gets asked.  Social media has become so trendy that many people rush in without really thinking about what they want to achieve.  Just as you wouldn’t select your tools before you know what kind of house you want to build, you shouldn’t undertake any marketing action without clear objectives.

There are, however, good reasons to incorporate social networks (and social media) into your marketing program.  Here are four:

1. Extending Reach

Many people think that social networks are a good way to generate buzz.  They are not.  That’s not saying that it doesn’t happen.  Every once in a while we do see someone or something like Justin Bieber go viral.  Yet waiting for lightening to strike is not a strategy.

Creative departments should no longer be focused solely on messaging and positioning, but also how consumers interact with and share brands. Social networks can be very effective in extending the reach of more conventional campaigns.  Network theorist Duncan Watts calls this Big Seed Marketing and it makes a lot of sense.

Social networks, of course, are human and not technologically generated, so there are many ways to tap into them that go beyond social media.  Some are simple, like giving a coupon away with a purchase (people often give them to friends).  O2 combined social media with event marketing in their amazingly successful Orgy of Fun campaign.

Campaigns don’t end when they go “off air” anymore.  So rather than try to be the next Bieber, we should strive to be the next Susan Boyle, whose appearance before a large audience on “Britain’s Got Talent” turned into a YouTube sensation.

2. Customer Relationship Management

With Facebook at over 500 million users and Twitter at over 100 million, social media is becoming an important point of contact for consumers who want to talk directly with brands that they use.  That doesn’t include everybody, but enough to be important.

Some companies, like Comcast, have had great success dealing with everyday consumer problems, as this Businessweek article shows.  The immediacy of social media, combined with the chatty, informal environment can be just as effective, and sometimes more so, as conventional call centers.

However, there are dangers.  It’s important to remember that social media can bite back.  If consumers don’t like how they’re being treated, they will revolt.  John Cavanaugh gave an instructive post mortem on how Nestle’s poor handling of their fan page turned into a nightmare and what you can do to avoid similar faux paus and fiascos.

3. Social Listening

Social media gives us a great opportunity to listen in on what people are saying.  We’ve long known that word of mouth is incredibly powerful, now we can actually track it.  Social listening tools are still somewhat primitive, but they are improving quickly and are already being deployed to help monitor conventional marketing efforts in real time.

Rishad Tobaccowala, on his blog, gives a nice overview of social listening.  Among his insights is that you shouldn’t keep your efforts sequestered in an isolated social unit any more than you would wall off other types of research.  Rather, you need to make sure to integrate social listening into your overall marketing and customer service efforts.

He also makes the apt observation that heavy influencers are not necessarily heavy users (in fact, they don’t need to consume your product at all).  So social media may be the only real shot you have to interact with some of the those who can affect how your brand is perceived.

Another nice thing about social listening is how easy it is to integrate it into the rest of your marketing intelligence.  It can help shape and augment focus groups, monitor mass mass media campaigns and combine with other real time resources such as Google Insights.

4. Informational Search and Analysis

Duncan Watts, the network theory pioneer mentioned above wrote, “Searchability is, therefore, a generic property of social networks.”  What he meant was that one of the primary ways we use our social relationships is to find information.  I explained some ways we can do this in an earlier post.

However, what is possibly even more valuable are the strategic insights we can gain from analyzing social networks themselves.  Businesses are already begun analyzing the internal networks within their organizations to improve operational efficiency and there are a number of efforts underway to understand how social influence can be put to work for marketers.

This is still an emerging area that is poorly understood.  However, it is important to note that Google and Bing have already begun incorporating social data into their algorithms and it’s clear that similar data will be employed in the various demand side platforms that are sprouting up. Facebook, if rumors are true, will be coming out with its own search product.

As social media platforms continue to permeate their way into the fabric of the web, they are building a new data infrastructure.  It’s still tough to see with any clarity how this will ultimately affect marketers, but it’s a fair bet that the ramifications will be profound.

Do Not Go Into The Matrix

Do you have a social strategy?  No?  Good.  You probably shouldn’t.  It really doesn’t make any sense to have a separate strategy for social (or digital for that matter).

Every once in a while I see a presentation or article on how to formulate digital and social media strategy.  They usually start with a matrix which makes my head hurt and then moves to a “step by step” process that would make IKEA proud.  Inevitably, I end up feeling more confused than anything else.  As I pointed out last week, most of those people have been unmasked as frauds.

The best way to start any marketing activity is to clarify objectives.  I prefer a framework that focuses on the brand pathway, but in truth, you should use whatever makes sense to you.  Once you have a fix on what you need to achieve, you can make some common sense judgments about what tactics to pursue.

As for my personal experience with social media, I’ve found that it can be frustrating at times.  It takes a while to build a community, response rates are incredibly low and there are no shortage of jackasses who want to make your life difficult.  However, there’s certainly potential there.

If you have some other ideas about how to effectively use social networks, please let me know in the comments.  Good luck!

– Greg

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Jose Espinosa permalink
    April 6, 2011

    Great post Greg! I was skeptical after your last social post (having almost exactly the information in this post in mind), but you manage to complete the point here. Strategy is strategy, and the digital/social channel is just an aspect of it. I think too many people see social media as just another yellow pages – they put something there, but dont know what they want to achieve. The end result is no benefit at all – just another line among millions. Or worse they know what they want to say, but are saying it to all the wrong people.

  2. April 6, 2011

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Jose!

    I get your point about “yellow pages.” New paradigms need to extend old ones. Historically, we’ve been focused on targeting, positioning and messaging, not we need to build interaction mechanisms and build a creative idea across an increasing number of channels and a multitude of collaborations.

    The “big idea” is becoming a network of smaller ones.

    – Greg

  3. April 7, 2011

    Well written and good breakdown with the bullet points. I also like the idea of always following up statements like “We need to be more active in social media” with “Why?” At least walk through the process, versus doing a knee-jerk reaction, so social media becomes part of an overall strategy versus end-all. Of course your Subject Line caught my interest because Mantis Pulse Analytics helps out with bullet points #2 and #3, and we like being part of that overall strategy.

  4. April 7, 2011

    Thanks Brian,

    Good luck with Mantis Pulse Analytics!

    – Greg

  5. Mark permalink
    April 11, 2011

    Perfect post and something I’ve been hammering at for some time now. Social media is a tactic and as a tactic it should be part of well considered strategy. All the points you made are spot on and clear. I see another application for SM.

    As someone involved in medical education and adult learning SM has an important application in adult learning especially in healthcare. It is known that adults engage in learning when they seek solutions to problems they have. And we know for adults to engage we must respect their time constraints and must allow the the learner to be self direct.

    Two fundamental principles of learning: Must have an affect and be social. Affect is linked to solving problems that are important to the learners and social is learning with others not just alone in the library. SM offers learners an affective social to learn.

    SM can be an effective part of an extended learning plan/strategy in healthcare where seeking solutions to problems is a critical driver of online learning and more.

  6. April 11, 2011

    Good point Mark. The interactivity of social media does allow for a more nuanced communication strategy, especially for cause marketing, health and financial services, etc.

    – Greg

  7. April 29, 2011

    Great post. Very well said.

    There are lots of insights about brands, products, features, customer sentiments available in social media. You can listen to few key words or listen on Twitter or set up fan page on Facebook but that may not capture what is really going on in the market. In order to get this level of insight takes months to set up properly and lots of expensive enterprise level text analytics software.

    Businesses need real time insights and don’t have time and resources to set up do it yourself projects. So, we have taken few vertical starting with banks and consumer electronics to provide this type of detailed insight out of the box in form of nuggets that anyone can consume from the web site and get more data from us. I would love to get your feedback on our approach and the depth of data we are providing. Our site is

  8. April 30, 2011

    Thanks. I’ll check it out.

    – Greg

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