Marketers Struggle to Deliver Value When Treating Social Networking Sites as a Traditional Channels

Successful social networking site campaigns don't follow traditional marketing rules. This is a key statement in Forrester's recently-published report 'Marketing on Social Networking Sites'. It is the second report in Forrester's Social Networking Series for interactive marketing professionals and is authored by Vice President and Principal Analyst Charlene Li with Josh Bernoff, Katheryn A. Feffer and Cynthia Pflaum.

Huge audience
The report emphasises that "social networking site users represent a huge, attractive audience" and notes "most marketers salivate at the tremendous reach of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, which were visited by 57 million and 14 million users, respectively, in April in the US alone."

Forrester's own survey of SNS users reveal that they are: young with 68% of 18- to 21-year-old SNS users visit them every day; predominately use MySpace while Facebook is especially popular with 18- to 21-year-olds, its growth has mushroomed since it opened its platform to non-students in September 2006; want to engage with their favourite brands, More than one-third of Gen Y social networking users the population with the greatest percent of SNS users say that they would be interested in seeing a marketer's profile; and are viral leaders - daily users and users who are interested in marketer profiles are more likely to consider themselves "natural leaders" and in addition, more than one-third of adult users and more than half of youth users who are interested in marketer profiles publish their own blogs.

SNS campaigns don't follow traditional marketing rules According to the Forrester report, "by now, it's clear that successful SNS campaigns don't follow traditional marketing rules; SNSes can't be treated as channels because SNS members aren't passive Web pages."

But most marketers still use traditional marketing tactics like run-of-site advertising and static microsites to push messages into these networks. Instead, to realise the full value of marketing on SNSes, marketers should be prepared to engage in a personal relationship with users by providing something of value. Promotions are good in this context, but even better are information or brand elements that users can pass on to their friends.

As such says Forrester, "marketers should mimic how bands promote themselves on sites like MySpace - they engage their fans by posting frequently providing backstage gossip, and answering their questions." Against this background, Li concludes that marketers should 'ditch the marketing tactics' as marketing using SNS is 'about building trusted relationships.'

In doing so, Li recommends that in addition to this best practice approach marketers should:
Work with your agency, but only if it has SNS expertise. While a handful of 'top agencies' including Blast Radius have detailed customer relationship maps at their core of their process, agencies vary widely in their ability to engage with users at an individual level...Interview your existing agency to check its level of understanding of how to use social networking sites and avoid the firm if it doesn't appreciate the special nature of this community..
Develop trust and traffic with links from your Web site. Marketers shouldn't be shy about their SNS presence and, when appropriate, should develop links from their traditional Web presence to those profiles. For example, Victoria's Secret has a link on its PINK Web site to its Facebook profile. This also helps develop trust that the site is "official" and isn't one of the thousand imposters that sprout up so often on MySpace."
Leverage the new Facebook platform. The openness of Facebook's platform means that marketers have the potential to extend existing communities and functionality into Facebook.

Marketing needs to turn itself on its head
"Forrester has recognised much of the thinking that currently underpins Blast Radius' strategy. During the past 10 years, the evolution of the Internet has dramatically changed how organisations interact with customers", said Gurval Caer, Blast Radius president and CEO. "Companies are recognising that traditional marketing approaches like advertising are less effective today and so marketers are struggling to deliver value. People no longer want 'interruptive' brand communications they want interactions with their peers and true value from companies through Facebook applications or communities for sharing ideas and experiences."

"We believe that marketing needs to turn itself on its head. The goal should not be messaging customers, but rather should be building relationships from the first moment of a delightful experience that will make people's lives easier, better and richer", added Caer. "Thinking and interacting in this way will help marketing executives deliver more meaningful and relevant experiences to customers and stronger business results to CEOs. The issue as Forrester has highlighted, is that only a few agencies have the capability to allow marketers to take full advantage of this change."

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