A lot of people are caught up in the flurry of social media marketing. Like anything that changes lives and livelihood of so many millions of people, it is difficult, confusing and frustrating to connect the dots of this complex collection of activities. For anyone even close to utilizing the internet these days, you can not avoid the nouns associated with the phenomenon of social media: including blogs, blogging, Twitter, social bookmarks, Web 2.0, wiki's, widgets, news feeds, RSS and others. This article aims to provide some structure around which many of these seemingly unrelated pieces of marketing work can be anticipated in the marketing effort for an organization. Even if it is a one person organization.
What is Social Media Marketing
A lot of us think of marketing in terms of advertising, since that is the most visible aspect of marketing to most of us. Who has not seen a TV commercial or listened to a radio as or read an unsolicited e-mail pitching some type of product? Social media marketing is more than outbound messaging (commercials in whatever medium) from organizations. First off social media (or Web 2.0 as it is also known) refers to the use of 2 way users communicating via web assets. Notice that the operant word is user. This is different than the prior web generation (Web 1.0) of one way communication from sellers to buyers (or users). Web 2.0 allows sellers (producers) to participate in this two communication (whether it is user-user, or user-seller) and to affect change.
Social media marketing utilizes this two-way channel, in all its variants, to obtain marketing information (market research), to develop products, develop and deliver marketing messages, and provide after-market product support. Social media marketing strikes probably the most timely and intimate involvement between producers and users of products and services ever seen before.
The Abyss of Social Media Marketing
The largest issue that those choosing to master social media marketing is being able to establish and maintain a handle on the overall process. This comes about because the process of social media marketing is very circular. The problem is that it never ends, but must always progress forward with a coherent goal. You can blog until the cows come home, but it needs to be done with a solid intended exit, it must proceed forward with each occupation, and needs to work with other elements of the marketing mix (online and offline marketing).
Like any endeavor, there is an intended exit associated with every step in the sales or lead conversion cycle. The steps that an individual user goes through in their internet queries to solve their need or to cure a pain, include awareness of their need, connecting the needs to words, comprehending a possible solution to their need, recognizing superiority of a particular solution, and the ultimate buy-in purchase or agreement. This is even true when there is nothing to actually buy. For instance social issues go through similar steps until final purchase of social program becomes the adopted answer (for instance, banking industry bailout as a social answer).
Here are the major functions of the social media marketing (SMM) process that will be discussed in this and other articles in this series. It is very important to restate the fact that this process is never completed. Just like the people that say life is not a destination but a journey, so it is similar to social media marketing. As soon as you reach a goal another one will be replaced and the process continues. Therefore we do not speak here so much about stages of the process, but rather the major functions in the process that are ongoing. The functions or steps of SMM:
1. Formulation of goals
2. Marketing research
3. Outbound marketing
4. Inbound marketing
5. Measuring results
Step 1: Formulation of Goals
The many goals that you can set out to accomplish in SMM: increase awareness of need, or solution, itemize the common need (or solution) terms (words) and the number of users that commonly recognize them, the extent of recognition of a solution , understanding of the superiority of a solution, purchase (or agreement of) a solution. Since SMM is an online medium, the number of users you are engaging is a sub-population of all users and farthermore, the number of these users is limited to only those that you have been able to reach online. In the next step you will quantify how many users there are out there, and how many are reachable on or offline.
Step 2: Market Status (Market Research)
In prior generations of the discipline of marketing, we would have called this function market research. However, since the market (collection of users experiencing a similar need) changes frequently due to its continuous self-involvement, the status of the market needs to be established on a more frequent basis. So we need to determine the level of need (in terms of numbers of users) that exists in the market at one time and how many other alternatives there are to fulfill this need. You also need to find out how would your propose that users solve this need and in what are the ways that exist that would allow you to become a unique solution. The one thing that is critical to online marketing is establish the sample of keywords that characterize the pairing of need with solution.
Keyword research is the central function of market research since most of the indexing of needs, solutions and alternatives for messaging pivots on these keyword strings. For example, keyword research shows that semantically, diaper rash would exhibit the following daily individual Google searches (as of today):
Diaper rash 3,616 searches
Baby rash 1,989 searches
Face rash 1,989 searches
Desitin 730 searches
Diaper cream 730 searches
Since each one of these indications a separate level of users' relationship to the need and product, the market messages may need to be different. Diaper, baby and face rashes may or may not have something in common as a problem. But relative to these need based searches, you also see above a significant reduction of the daily number of searches to specific brand (Desitin as an example) or generic solution (diaper cream).
Step 3: Outbound Marketing
Since the variety of marketing vehicles are so varied and numerous, this is where the real heavy lifting of SMM is. Outbound marketing includes: e-mail or e-coupon advertising, blogs, social bookmarking, micro-blogging (specifically Twitter). The creation and moderating of content has become a rather large job. The project management of this function needs to be centralized in large organizations and in small organizations needs to be given a sufficient amount of time to be accomplished. This is where a marketing plan comes into play. Using a spreadsheet you need to decide who is doing what and how much time and money needs to be sent doing it. Step 4: Inbound Marketing
This function identifies SMM as a distinctively unique one of much of our prior history with marketing or advertising: that is, the ability to gain message-by-message feedback and intervention from users. Summarizing the input of daily integration with users in terms of attitudes, suggestions, knowledge, sales results need to provide moment-by-moment response to the individuals that are delivering, monitoring, or moderating content to users. Enough direction from the centralized marketing function needs to be provided initially and regularly to be able to respond to the market.
Step 5: Measuring Results
Measuring results means how are the long term goals of marketing being served by the SMM effort. The easiest result to measure may appear to be sales results. This is true if it is a pure product or service organization, but if the need is to determine the social acceptance of the mitigation of a carbon footprint of automobile transport, for example, it may be a little more complex to measure. In order to measure the results of awareness, recognition, or suitability of competitiveness options these can be measured by voluntary bullets. One unique aspect of SMM is what I term the confederation of need – which is the ability for an individual to find a community that shares similar concerns, needs or desires. This is critical not only to know how many users the you can reach, but to also know how to apportion your time outbound marketing channels.
So, as you can see SMM is all about marketing information, continuously. As you may have learned earlier in your marketing career, quality marketing information can never count on to be free. Some inducements to users to participate in information gathering should be expected. SMM is as much an art as it is one of science. People that have equal measure of artist and scientist will flourish in this very new career endeavor.
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© Copyright – 2008 Frank Dobner