How is Social Media Changing the Face of Marketing?

For many years, traditional marketing was in the form of one-way communication. Through public relations and advertising campaigns, companies put forth value propositions to generate market appeal, attract and retain customers, and drive sales by talking “to” their potential customers. However, with the rise of social media such as blogs, online forums, and social networks like MySpace and Facebook, the voice of the consumer is quickly drowning out those carefully crafted company messages. With 3.5 million brand-related conversations taking place online daily in the United States, companies are realizing that marketing to today’s technology-driven consumers means engaging in two-way communication and talking “with” their potential customers.With the rise of social media, the transparency of information is increasing and companies are not able to hide behind their branding experts any longer. The successful companies of the future are going to have to establish a sense of community with their customers, listen to their concerns, and get them involved in the company. Indeed, with democratization of information through social media, marketers are finding that consumers expect to engage in dialogue with brands rather than merely listen passively. Marketers who leverage these tools are showing their markets that they are not merely window-dressing when it comes to expressing an interest in their customers.

Why Should Companies Include Social Media in Their Marketing Plans?

More and more forward-thinking marketers are realizing that social media platforms are ideal for building community and soliciting consumer feedback. They start by leveraging blogs, in particular, both to open communication lines between their company and the consumer, as well as to communicate in “short-form” editorial, which is becoming more and more prevalent as the written content of choice for today’s online consumers. Because blogs are interactive and allow consumer feedback, these blogs become virtual water coolers and a meeting point for troubleshooting, relaying feedback, and offering ideas for improvement, which can result in products and services that are more relevant and useful to the consumer. Not only does this new level of “conversation marketing” enhance customer satisfaction, but it also builds community. End users feel they are a part of the company’s process and become evangelists for the brand.

What are the Rules of Engagement for Marketing through Social Media?

Though technology-based companies were the pioneers of engaging consumers through social media, many household consumer brands have taken the leap now as well. From Facebook profiles to podcasts to virtual stores in the Second Life virtual world, mainstream companies like Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Co., Toyota, Whirlpool, and Target are tapping into the online action. These companies have learned – and some have learned the hard way – that promoting your brand through social media requires chucking out old marketing rules of thumb and adopting new rules of engagement.

But what about the negative commentary someone could post about your company? A surefire way to nip negative commentary in the world of social media is to make sure your promise matches your experience. However, in the event that you uncover unfavorable comments floating in virtual space, damage control in social media operates pretty much like it would with any other medium. You must catch the negative commentary early on, listen carefully to what is being said, and then react accordingly. If you ignore it, the momentum of the commentary will only get stronger and worse. Even though you might be drawing more attention to the problem initially, you’ll actually increase customer loyalty if you address it and respond. That says to the consumer, ‘We’re working on it. We hear you.’ And if you can’t change whatever prompted the negative comments, you have an opportunity to explain to your customers why that change can’t be made. This type of proactive engagement with your customers makes you a leader, not a follower.

Are Certain Types of Social Media Tools Better than Others?

As with any marketing plan, it’s important to take the time to study and participate in all types of social media as an audience member before engaging in marketing to those audiences. The core marketing principles of yesterday apply to marketing to tech-savvy consumers today: Identify your audience and then find the best way to reach the largest group in the most efficient way possible. As a general rule, bloggers are very targeted to niche groups, whereas social networks tend to be very broad.

Just as marketers study the media kits of newsstand publications before placing an advertisement, they should also find out which blogs, Web sites, or social networks their current and potential customers are engaging in. Audio or video podcasts can be ideal for brands that need a personal touch — a “face” to which consumers can relate. They can create a stronger personal connection between the team members behind the brand and their audience. Social networks can be good channels for disseminating special offers and company information that might not be worthy of a press release but is still interesting enough to share with consumers on a particular network. Like viral videos, social networks make it easy to spread interesting content to friends. This content will have a natural advantage in breaking through market noise, and if it’s a positive impression, it will be given more credibility than highly crafted marketing messages.

Social media is changing the face of marketing. The carefully crafted messages of yesterday are giving way to a more open dialogue between companies and consumers. As more of the marketplace embraces communication through blogs, online forums, and social networks, more consumers are giving unfettered feedback about companies and their products every day. Companies that don’t participate in these conversations are neglecting the reputation of their brand and opening the door for competitors to come in and build more meaningful relationships with their customers.

Before engaging in social media, companies need to explore the various options available and decide which methods will likely have the greatest impact on their target audience. No matter which avenue they choose -- a blog, a podcast, a store in a virtual world, or whatever else -- marketers need to think ahead and be sure they’re devoting the appropriate resources to ensure that their content is relevant, engaging, and frequently refreshed. That’s how to fulfill every marketer’s dream – by keeping consumers coming back for more.

Gay and Lesbian Social Networking Advertising - Marketing - Community

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