Current Issues – Social Media Marketing – Take 1: Rhyme & Reason

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Social media marketing has been called the biggest change in business communications since the introduction of mass media. As every organization wants to be a part of this growing and pervasive media shift, no marketing and communications professional is immune. Over the last six months, I researched social media, talked to experts and applied my own knowledge of how clients operate, to better understand this new phenomenon. My analysis has led me to the following conclusions:

  1. There is a fundamental lack of clarity about social media. I asked a number of smart and savvy senior communications professionals to define social media and the responses were all ambiguous. In addition, the view that social media is still a new and unproven trend has caused many organizations to take a “wait and see” approach.
  2. In fact, the relevance of social media is not just hype – instead, it’s well-founded. As new technologies continue to change the way people communicate and obtain information, the use of social media is poised to expand dramatically. As a result, businesses deciding to “wait and see” may actually fall behind.

This Insight is the first of two “primers” focused on social media. In this issue, we’ll look at the overall social media environment and the major market trends that are affecting its growth. The second issue will focus on social media approaches and tools to make the overall experience more effective and manageable.

To begin, it’s important to define social media and social media marketing and understand the overall landscape as the basis for developing a program.

Social media is an umbrella term for all networking sites, podcasts, blogs, wikis or any other online collaborative media that invites and creates dialogue. Social media marketing is the use of social media for the purpose of direct sales, marketing and public relations in promoting a person, organization, product or service. This includes showcasing ads, videos and press releases, reporting news coverage, and expressing opinions, all in the context of inviting reactions and forging online conversations.

While social media is automatically associated with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, these are social networking sites and but a few of the overall number of social networking sites now available. According to Frost & Sullivan, the business research and consulting firm, there are actually more than 300 social networking sites currently operating.

Social media also includes video services such as Flickr and YouTube; Wikis that allow for the easy creation and editing of interlinked web pages to form community websites, corporate Intranets and message boards (Wikipedia is the “wiki” is the best known wiki website); blogs or “web-logs” that post commentary on virtually any imaginable topic; and websites – even traditional corporate websites – that have become social media participants by allowing visitors to post comments.

In fact, the Web itself is a social network. As The New York Times reported in the Sunday, May 16th business section, “The links on the trillion Web addresses found by Google, and within the billions of Tweets that have followed, form an incomparably vast, truly worldwide, web of recommendations, supplied by fellow humans. In this sense, the open Web has a strong claim to being more “social” than does Facebook.”

Second, social media is growing and evolving fast. It’s important to stay vigilant to changing usage patterns so that plans can be adjusted accordingly.

The popular use of social networking sites began to take hold in 2005 when young people began communicating via MySpace and Friendster. At the same time, the number of blogs had grown so exponentially that Google launched a separate blog search capability.

Only five years later, an estimated 184 million bloggers create 570,000 posts every 24 hours to reach 70% of Web surfers. Meanwhile, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have emerged as household brands recognized by both young and old alike. As the social media industry matures, it’s not unlikely that today’s stars turn out to be yesterdays’ news.

Consider the following: MySpace, which is still considered a leading social media player, has 60 million members in contrast to Facebook, which boasts over 400 million users and is now the number two most popular site in the U.S., behind Facebook. Members spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on the site, with adults ages 35-59 representing its fastest-growing user segment. Meanwhile, You Tube, which just celebrated its 5th birthday on May 17th, recently reported that it uploads more than 1 billion videos per day, demonstrating its increasing popularity.

The data and “buzz” about Twitter, may be telling a different kind of story. While Twitter reports that 50 million tweets are created each day – significantly more than the 300,000 daily tweets of 2008 – Computer World reported in January that the growth rate of new users is slowing and a lot of current Twitterers are inactive. In my research, a number of people commented that they have “soured” on Twitter and expect that it will undergo a major business change over the next 12-18 months.

Third, e-marketing statistics reveal that social media is an attractive forum in which to influence opinion and sell products and services.

According to the February 2009 issue of eMarketer, there were 82.5 million content creators and nearly 116 million consumers in the US in 2008, with both of these numbers expected to climb significantly by 2013. In addition, Econsultancy reported in July 2009 that an estimated 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know while 70% trust opinions from people they don’t know.

Taking these statistics in aggregate, one-third of the US population digests online information with an overwhelming majority trusting the information they review, regardless of the source. As a result, social media presents a natural forum in which to exercise a marketing and sales campaign.

Fourth, the explosive growth of smartphone usage is a game-changer. The one trend that most social media experts are watching is the explosive growth of smartphones. Nearly 20% of adult Americans now use smartphones with Gartner expecting these devices will account for more than 33% of all phones sold by 2013. In addition, many analysts are predicting that smartphone sales will outpace laptop and desktop sales over the next 2 to 3 years. This has put a major emphasis on mobile data usage that Cisco Systems estimates will grow by more than 100% per year from 2009 to 2014, reflecting greater emphasis on pictures and videos in peer-to-peer communication.

How are smartphones being used? A study from Ruder Finn revealed that Americans spend nearly 3 hours per day on their mobile phones to educate themselves, conduct business, manage finances, instant message, and follow email. It also revealed that 91% of smartphone owners use the mobile web to socialize (as compared to 79% of desktop users).

This poses significant issues for marketers. Communications need to be directed to social media sites, individual companies need to create applications for smartphone usage and content creators need to design information for consumption on a 2×3 inch screen!

Fifth – social media marketing is its own integrated marketing platform. As an early advocate of integrated marketing, I have long believed that a company’s revenue and profit goals are more positively impacted if communications are delivered through a full spectrum of disciplines — advertising, direct marketing, events, public relations etc. — and across a wide range of media channels – print, broadcast and digital.

In analyzing social media, I had a light bulb moment. Social media marketing is the technological, modern day and “inexpensive” solution to integrated marketing, providing a single platform on which to execute a full range of communications tactics.

On one social media site, an organization can post their ads and press releases or initiate a direct marketing effort. And the benefits are clear. As Wikipedia defines it, social media offers reach, accessibility, usability and recency by being able to post information, make changes and achieve rapid response rates. Together, this achieves the Holy Grail of marketing: ROI.

This issue of Insights is the expressed view of Maria Lilly and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Associates. A special thanks to Jake Wengroff and Steve Blinn for their helpful perspectives.

For more information, please phone 718-855-1853 or email: mjlilly@mjlilly.com.

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