Recently on the Social Marketing listserv, we’ve had an interesting discussion of Facebook and other social networking sites. Brian Cugelman, who is with the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at Wolverhampton Business School in the UK, made what I thought was the best case I’ve seen for why social marketers need to consider using these sites in their programs. I asked Brian if he would do a guest blog post on this, and he graciously agreed…
Why Web 2.0 matters to social marketers
Some quick thoughts by Brian Cugelman, MA
I’d advocate using FaceBook, along with a few of the other Web 2.0 sites for the simple reason that they provide a small number of websites with the largest outreach potential. In fact, Alexa ranks YouTube, MySpace and FaceBook in the top 10 of all websites in the world.
Moreover, by moving through networks of friends, interest groups and geographic cliques, it’s possible to zero in on target audiences in ways that are not as easy in regular Web 1.0 environments, unless of course, you’re paying for advertising. Newsweek recently published an article about a research project, by Danah Boyd, that showed some demographic differences between FaceBook and MySpace. In short, FaceBook has an older and more educated network (the reason why it’s worth so much to potential buyers), while MySpace has a younger, more sub-cultureish network with many musicians having their online presence there.
The Tipping Point/Linked/Viral Marketing/Word of Mouth/Dell Hell/6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon fad has created interest in any online environment that allows people to directly connect to others, be it email, blogs, or social networking sites. The idea is that the people become the media–so it’s not MySpace that is the media per se, but rather the people themselves. The sites just connect people and reduce the social transaction costs required to interact, which means it’s easier for people to share digital objects of interest. No doubt, by building a large network of social media relationships for any campaign, campaigners will be able to better increase their chance of triggering a viral buzz, which amounts to your message being spread further—which saves you time and money. And by being sent through personal networks, it is perceived to be more credible, and consequently, I believe this can fast-track the formation of social norms while increasing the odds that people act on the messages.
If the medium is the message, then it’s worth considering the media effect of having an online presence in these major online networks. I think the media artifact of social media is the appearance of cool and hip, which you may wish to present depending on your target audience. I suspect in a few years, this media effect will be negligible as the competition has been swooping in on these popular sites for some time and they’ll soon become commonplace.
It’s one thing to set up a FaceBook account and quite another to do the leg work to engage your constituency. The question of whether or not to use these sites is a quantifiable one: is the effort worth the impact? Though it may not be easy to answer this question, it’s possible for campaigners to test out their online campaigns by tracking the impact of their Web 2.0 outreach, and measuring online behavioural goals against references in order to start evaluating the gains versus resource expenditures.
An ethical consideration that faces Web 2.0 social marketers is the question of whether they’re being intrusive or dishonest. Although some social networking sites have policies against companies advertising, a number of organization operate on these sites; they’re upfront about who they are and what they stand for, without any hidden agenda. Several months back, I met a number of Greenpeace activists at FairSay’s eCampaigning Forum. One coordinator told me she had volunteers working around the clock to build relationships on MySpace, and she was working on trying to move the relationships from MySpace to offline activism–they have over 67,000 friends. And it’s not just activists—I believe all the US presidential candidates have MySpace accounts and a few months back, reports emerged about ‘who had the most friends in MySpace’. These well run social media campaigns provide a good template for how to conduct business in these sites in an up front way.
Also, an interview by Andy Sernovitz, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s CEO provided a number of insights about trust, ethics and spreading word of mouth messages. He distinguished between word of mouth marketing and stealth marketing, drawing an ethical line between honest and dishonest e-marketing. On the honest side, Andy’s description of word of mouth marketing boiled down to all the techniques companies employ to respectfully engage customers by joining the online conversation about their brands, products or services. In practice, this means representatives have to respect netiquette conventions and honestly declare who they are. On the dishonest side, he described stealth marketing as the unethical practice of deceiving customers by inserting their views into customers’ online conversations through misrepresentation and forcing their way into the conversation.