Email is becoming marginalised despite the fact that people are spending more and more time on the internet. It's not because of an alternative messaging phenomenon that is rapidly emerging nor is it due to a tectonic technology shift. Where people used to spend most of their time emailing, they now spend almost all of their surfing time on social networks. Despite its limitations and its quirks, social networking is rapidly becoming a part of our routine, integral to how we spend our day.
As this phenomenon refuses to abate, the marketing community is trying to figure out ways to harness this emerging medium effectively.
Think of the nascent stages when the internet was slowly streaming into our collective consciousness. For marketers it meant still thinking of print ads but gloating over the fact that the ad included a www. address. Slowly the thinking evolved into having banner ads, and then bigger and more intrusive banner ads on select sites with links to the website.
Internet phenomenon like blogging and search engine based surfing drove fundamental changes in consumers’ surfing behaviour while marketers spent their time investing in and trying to figure out the ROI on bigger banner ads.
Similarly, the current marketing approach to social marketing seems to be centred around having Facebook tags around web pages that people can like and share, creating Facebook pages for brands and services and then focusing effort on getting people to like those pages.
This is a restrictive approach and closes out a magnitude of options that social networking opens to marketers. First off, social network sites can be evolved into terrific market research tools. An examination of the type of profiles that like The Family Guy Facebook pages or the Manchester United pages or even the Lindsay Lohan page will provide a lot of insight on how some of these vehicles cut through conventional demographic stereotypes.
Also, many people take quizzes and answer contests on Facebook sharing the results with their friend who then go on to take these quizzes themselves. Brands, product concepts and marketing incubation ideas can be successfully seeded through this route for marketers to get results from engaged customers. E.g. best shampoo for your type of hair quiz by any shampoo brand or best trainers for your style of running by sports brands. Creating social networking properties.
People share everything from virtual flowers to cooking tips with their friends. Here is an opportunity to create branded options for sending on a standalone basis or within game formats. E.g. organic produce manufacturers can brand the vegetables on Farmville.
Finally social networking helps in identifying and targeting affinity groups including vegetarians, rugby lovers, beer enthusiasts or just plain reading buffs.
Its time for brands to start their marketing plan with a social marketing strategy first and then evolve it to other media rather than the conventional other way around approach.