The Social Web: Mature Enough for All Media and Marketers to Participate

©IDG Communications, Inc. Photo contributed by Matthew Mikaelian.

Thursday, August 5, 2010
Matthew Yorke

I have spent a lot of time this summer discussing the merits of social media, the main players, why social is so important and how we at IDG are working with it. As the long days of summer start to ebb, I thought it made sense to write about what I hear from clients and what people talked about during a few panel discussions that I attended or moderated. These thoughts are in no particular order—a little bit like a series of Facebook updates I guess.

Social media is free. This comes up a lot with technology marketer clients who are new to the social world. To create a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn presence is free today. What is not free is your investment in terms of time to understand what is going on in the social world, how best to interact with prospects, create content that users engage with and recognize and reward user engagement. None of this is free or very easy. It’s no different from believing that after talking to a few publishers you could craft a media plan. Social media is indeed “earned media” in that you are doing all of the above to earn the attention, time, trust and endorsement of your target audiences, but it isn’t free.

There is a lot of discussion about the value of the many of emerging social metrics. The one that garnered the most amount of debate is the value of a retweet or comment to a tweet. Some people feel that this is worthless or close to it. I strongly disagree. I find a retweet or comment on content to be more valuable than someone who is unknown, clicks on an ad and may spend just a few seconds on a marketing page before disappearing. In social networks someone has decided to follow you or a brand, consume content and may choose to comment or share the information. That simple act of sharing or commenting is an implied endorsement of the content with the added support of a link. Now that’s valuable engagement for publishers and marketers.

Location-based social networks such as Foursquare, Booyah and Scvngr are seeing phenomenal growth rates, and it’s not just U.S.-centric. But marketers and non-users are treating these companies just as they did Facebook and Twitter in their early days. The common refrain is, “I don’t get it,” “who cares” or “it’s just a fun thing for kids.”

Well, there’s some truth in all that. Sure it’s a bit of fun and also for a younger generation today, but Foursquare passed the 1.3 million user mark this summer. There is a trend here as Facebook has passed 500 million users. These new applications and ways of communicating and sharing with each other start as consumer plays, perhaps dominated by youngsters and leading digerati, but they quickly become mainstream and from there ultimately become a business imperative. I saw a statistic in July that 87% of all U.S. companies have a social presence. Still think it’s for consumers and kids? The shocking thing about this stat is, what on Earth are the other 13% thinking?

So what do location-based services have to offer marketers? Well, it’s very early but you are beginning to see frequent users get rewarded with offers from Starbucks and other neighborhood stores. I have read of Las Vegas hotels giving free champagne to Foursquare users who check in when at a property. Why would a Las Vegas hotel do that? After all, hotels are experts at taking your money, not giving away theirs. The hotels see value in building relationships and rewarding customers, who in turn have in some tiny way endorsed the hotel or at least promoted it to their friends and social connections by checking in.

Sharing is becoming commerce quickly. We are moving from a world of social media dominated by status updates to a world of social commerce. Look at the incredible success, valuations, money raised and growth rates of companies such as Groupon and Gilt. They are starting to transform retailing and marketing. Groupon has built a business around getting people excited via their social connections in a product or service with a heavily discounted price for a limited time. Gilt uses many of the same techniques with limited time offers. Sheer genius that points to the future of social commerce.

Lastly, what is very clear is that last year everybody wanted to talk about and try social media but were largely terrified by their own lack of knowledge and control. This year everybody wants to talk about social media because they realize it’s here to stay and has a tangible impact on brands and sales. Indeed, we are close to dropping the “social” from social media as all media—Web-based, mobile and location-based—becomes naturally social.

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