Western consumers are blasted with so many promotional
messages a day – some estimate up to 3,000 – that they simply tune out and move
on. This year a Forrester Research study found that only 13% of consumers buy
products because of their ads. Online, the marketplace is even more cluttered.
New e-commerce shops are cropping up by the thousands. Webmasters scramble to
develop the next big SEO strategies, while the corporate websites they serve
are becoming less trafficked by the day. So how do businesses break through
when they’re likely to be ignored in this sensory-overloaded environment?
Welcome to community marketing. Sites like MySpace.com,
Multiply.com, LinkedIn.com and Facebook.com have created social networks that
are ripe with opportunities for businesses to connect with online communities
in a way that builds credible brand awareness, tests new products and,
ultimately, drives interested customers to the virtual door.
Facebook.com, which started as a place for college students
and alumni to connect, has opened its platform to all users to become one of
the fastest growing sites of its kind. It features a clean, professional look
and multi-use, customizable functionality. For marketers, this means that they
can develop a portal that extends their reach to thousands of targeted prospects
by building communities of like-minded consumers who then become brand
ambassadors, spreading the word about the latest and greatest product lines.
The irony of this strategy is that, in order to be a
successful marketer on Facebook.com, you must NOT be a marketer. This approach
hinders on your company’s ability to connect with consumers in an organic,
relationship-driven way. After all, people don’t join these sites to seek out
advertisements; they’re there to make connections with others. As soon as paid
ads, opinions or reviews enter the picture, credibility is lost. Game over.
Clearly, this can be tricky business. Where do you start?
First and foremost, get to know the site on your own. Set up a personal page
and experiment with the platform. Almost immediately, you’ll become fluent with
- Profile: A rich data source of
background information, blogs and personal preferences that users can see
and share amongst friends.
- Networks: Users can join groups of
a regional, business or scholastic nature or create their own.
- Homepage: The news feed that keeps
the user up to date on all activity surrounding their friends and
networks. It lists events, connections and other posts adjusted to limit
or increase the amount of content.
- Events: Groups can organize,
invite, manage and promote online or in person gatherings to their
- Multi-media: Facebook allows
audio, video and live streams to be posted on its platform to engage
- Advertising: Savvy marketers can
post “flyers” on the right hand column of the site, which can be highly
targeted to specific markets based on Facebook’s vast data system.
- Applications: This is the
distinctive advantage of Facebook.com. Users have hundreds of interactive
applications at their fingertips to share with friends. These range from
basic “gift” sending capabilities to the ability to play online Scrabble
with their community.
Once you familiarize yourself with Facebook, you’ll quickly
find that the one way to make a splash and create a viral phenomenon is through
the applications function. Users can build their own applications within the
platform to create a customized experience.
Wal Mart has effectively applied this strategy with its
College ’07 Facebook campaign. Users can research the store’s offerings, create
dorm room checklists, and even compare notes with their new roommate. The
“Roommate Style Match Quiz” allows students to determine their personal living
style and learn what the items will match that personality. Roommates can then
compare notes on each other to find a compatible (Wal Mart) décor that suits
For the innovative retailer, this type of relationship
building holds great promise. Consider a clothing business that is exploring
potential inclusions for next season’s collection. A company representative can
test new designs within the Facebook community by forming a group of
style-savvy consumers. These “insiders” will receive sneak previews of
pre-store fashions that, with the right application, can be personalized.
Perhaps users can send photos that can be manipulated so the
users can virtually “try on” the clothes. They can invite friends to vote on
their favorite looks, thus expanding the network and encouraging future
purchase while the voting is collected into application that ties into the
backend buyer system for making good calls on potential new lines before they
Social marketing is still evolving as a powerful tool to
connect to your. Social capital is the currency, but losing credibility in the
community can bankrupt your online status very quickly.