It’s the second session of the second day of SMX Social Media, and it’s all about how marketers (particularly at larger companies) can get involved with social networking communities. It can be tricky and hard work. If you do it wrong, you not only won’t get benefit from it, but it could hurt your brand. We’re going to find out how to do it right.
Speaking at this session are Rob Key of Converseon, Sarah Hofstetter of Emerging Media and Client Strategy, and Adam Sherk from Define Search Strategies.
Rob is talking about engaging community. Community is becoming the center of the web universe. But there are so many communities now. How does a marketer manage them all?
Look at the marketer as cultural anthropologist. We as marketers weren’t necessarily invited into these communities. They are evolving and growing — different languages and standards are emerging for each social network. Second Life, for instance, is very different from LinkedIn. Marketers may not know the landscape of each network.
We’re getting to a place where the marketer has to learn each network and operate in each differently. And sometimes a community may reject you as a marketer if you try to infiltrate their network. You need to learn about them, find out who is leading the group, participate, and learn the language. What does the community need and how can you help? Value and cultivate the relationships.
Second Life in particular has a bias against corporations coming in. Users there don’t think companies understand the environment and in some cases have avatars standing around with signs, protesting potential land purchases by corporations such as Starbucks. Who knew these things!
The Second Chance Trees project was a move to become integrated in the Second Life Community. They created an island that enabled Second Life users to plant trees, which in turn triggered the planting of a physical tree. [I thought I had heard of this project before. Darren Barefoot talked about it at Gnomedex this year.]
Giving up control helped the project be successful. People created cards and dedicated trees to others, for instance. Many pages became well-indexed in Google, which helped drive traffic back to the source site, and the community embraced the project.
Listen to the community before you jump in. Understand the policies of the communities you’re getting involved with, and have a plan.
Next up is Adam, who works on helping companies get engaged with online communities. Social media marketing takes a multi-department approach. If you’re a large company, you need the coordination of marketing, customer support, IT, design, and legal, at the very least.
Common pitfalls are having no strategy, lack of support, poor coordination, inappropriate content, lack of understanding about the community, hiding the affiliation, and being overly promotional. Enthusiasm is great, but needs to be coupled with an overall strategy.
But never fear, there is path to success! First, great content and great ideas are a given. Which sounds like work, but there you go. You need to sell upper management on the concept so you get the resources that you need. Everyone has to be on board if you want that multi-department collaboration. You need to find all the right people in your organization and make sure that they have what they need to be effective. You may not have anyone in your organization who’s skilled at social media, and it’s hard to find experts. You probably want to hire someone full-time to work in house.
You need to spend some time in the community, learning about it, before you go full on with your marketing strategy. If you’re engaging with a submission site, don’t submit your own content for a while. Submit content from others and vote and comment on stories for a while to get a feel for how things work.
[Live blogging aside: this is exactly what I used to tell people years ago when online forums were the heart of the social networking universe. At my, er, Buffy forum, we had new people pop up and jump in who had no idea that we had a tight-knit community with our own jargon and traditions and relationships, and I would tell new people to just hang out and get to know people for a while. What jargon you ask? Never mind.)
You need testing and oversight and you need to be able to measure results.
Consider how you will sustain your efforts over the long term. What happens if the evangelist you’ve hired leaves the company? Should employees have their own profiles and identities or should you use a generic user profile that can be transferred to someone else? It probably depends on the community.
How do you deal with negative responses and reactions? If employees are overzealous and overreact, then it may hurt you.
So how can you find what works for you? You need to match the content to the audience.
TV Guide, for instance, has a full-time brand ambassador who reaches out to bloggers who talk about shows (and calls them “partner” sites), live blogs, and participates in communities. They are able to get fans to spread the word for them.
Sarah is now talking about how marketers can influence the influential. You need unique content, widgets, contests, promotions, or other engaging ways to hook in with this group online.
What are the best ways to jump start a viral campaign?
Sarah’s first case study is about a show on HGTV called “Living with Ed.” They wanted to attract a new set of viewers using blogs and online communities. Originally, a Google search for “living with ed” brought up results for living with erectile dysfunction. Ah, Google acronym expansion, how we love you. They engaged with bloggers, forum moderators, and others online — first understanding who the people were and who might be interested — and talked to them about the show. Hundreds of bloggers ended up talking about the show and linking to the web page. This both caused the official site to rise in the rankings and the new blog posts to rank above the Viagra listings.
They are always transparent about who they are and why they are reaching out. They kept up this outreach campaign and engaged different audiences based on show events.
NBC was looking to generate awareness about the show “Heroes.” It had been off the air for several weeks and they wanted people to remember to tune in when it came on again. They worked with PR, marketing, and others to come up with promotions, games, and other interesting material then engaged the right people. Be careful when you reach out — make sure people are interested in what you have to say. Go to the Bad Pitch blog to see what not to do. Understand your audience.
Indecision 2008 on Comedy Central wanted to create awareness of their collected content and web site. They wanted inbound links and increased site traffic. The site was new and the political marketplace was already cluttered. They were able to leverage the loyal audiences of Stephen Colbert (the greatest living american) and Jon Stewart and targeted niche sites. For instance, they engaged comic book bloggers and ask about the political aspirations of comic book heroes.
They measured effectiveness and found that links from blogs drove the most traffic.
You can do all of this wrong. For instance, don’t hire interns who don’t know your brand to do your blogging and community engagement. Use someone who is experienced and understands your brand.
Make sure you create something useful for bloggers and engage the right ones. Write them customized messages — one marketing message doesn’t fit all. Keep a database and keep track of who you’ve sent things to and how they’ve responded.
And now it’s time for questions.
How do you hire good people? That’s a tough one. Get someone experienced, who understands the space, and have good plans and oversight. The first 90 days should just be sketching out the space and learning about the topic.
How do you figure out who the influential people are for our niche? Research and read a lot. Where does your audience go and what are they interested in? Use Technorati (for measuring inbound links), page view and subscriber counts, and other metrics to see who has influence. Loud doesn’t always mean important.
How do you scale this effort? You need a single ambassador for each brand. Because you need to coordinate with multiple departments, you can leverage those resources.
How do you get page view data for blogs? Try working with ad networks, who provide impression information for advertisers.
How do you convince your traditional PR department that they may not know the best way to contact bloggers? You may have to work closely with them and implement cross training. And you need to work on buy in. We may start to see more companies with a director of social media to oversee marketing, PR, and online efforts.
New career opportunities for everyone!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.