Marketers are being pressured to “get involved in social media” by the powers that be. As a result, many companies are doing things the wrong way by trying to use tactics that may have been effective on other mediums like television and print. It is critical you understand why people join social networks and what they expect from companies. The key in the beginning is to listen to what people are saying before you respond and offer insight. This is a forum where consumers are providing uncensored and often brutally honest feedback about your business.
Social networks, much like Web 2.0 as a whole, are creating buzz among CEOs these days. But chances are even though your boss is harping about the need to get your company in to the social space, he or she is not an active participant there. Most likely do not have a good grasp of just what social networks and social marketing entail -but do not tell them that.
Again, like Web 2.0, there is a rush to jump into social networks. There are more than a few examples of companies that have built profiles on the most popular sites only to neglect them. That is akin to building a shiny new office building before there is a staff to fill it and letting the building sit empty. The first step is to research the market, then get a lot, and finally, only when you are ready, lay the foundation.
The same is true on social networks. Rush jobs and stagnant pages can leave your customers feeling unfulfilled in a medium where they have grown accustomed to instant gratification. Before setting up profiles and sending out friend requests, you need to understand the goal of each platform. Only then can you decide where you company fits best and how you can harness the power of the social Web to have an impact on your business’ bottom line.
Social networks, though only gaining wide popularity in the late 2000s, have been around in various forms on the Web for well over a decade. Web communities like GeoCities, let users create websites and connect with other users with similar interests. It included chat functionality and discussion boards, much like rival AOL, which peaked at more than 26 million subscribers in 2002.
GeoCities is no longer an active community, but it did leave behind lessons taken by its successors. Much of GeoCities’ collapse is attributed to a change in the terms of service after Yahoo! purchased it in 1999. Yahoo! infamously stated all content on the community, including pictures and text, was its property, a decision that was quickly reversed after public outcry.
According to a BBC article, Yahoo! officially closed down GeoCities websites in mid-2009.
One of the biggest differences with today’s social networks is they are making money. Social networks allow companies to target specific user groups, since the networks themselves are able to provide a laser-like focus based on the demographic information they collect during registration.
Today’s networks also have a better-defined focus as it relates to demographics. You may remember the chat rooms in AOL ranged from topics like “People Connection” and “Friends & Flirts” to “Parenting” and “Diet & Fitness.” Instead of just a chat room within a larger community, many social networks today with millions of users started with a specific demographic in mind, and each still serves that group to a degree. You may recall MySpace grew quickly as a site for unsigned musicians while Facebook started as a way to connect with other students at your specific college.
With that in mind, it is important to know who is on each network and what they are looking to do before putting your business there. For example, a T-shirt printing company might appreciate the young MySpace audience while a financial services firm would find little benefit from a page there.