Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Social Networking pitfall

It didn't take long for marketers to jump on the social networking phenomenon. MySpace, in particular, was inundated with glib marketing pages once it emerged from the depths of obscurity. This includes Fox's page for Chris Daughtry, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aquafina. These marketers were following an age-old principle of marketing - put your face in front of where the people are. But this type of marketing technique doesn't translate to social networking sites. Why? Because like much of the emerging Web 2.0 technologies, it requires honesty and interaction. Fox can't put up a page for an American Idol contestant because that's disingenious and insulting to the social networking community. No, the American Idol contestant has to put the page up themselves, and be willing to interact with fans.

Furthermore, any company that attempts to put up a brand, such as the Aquafina example, on a social networking site is completely missing the point. In order for this type of marketing to be effective, it has to be personal. Pepperidge Farms has recently attempted to connect on a personal level with its www.artofthecookie.com website that chronicles the travels of Sally Horchow. The idea is that Ms. Horchow is connecting with people in person and online, giving advice (she's a "lifestyle expert") and cookie recipes. Sure, the personal touch is nice, but who is Sally Horchow? Why would we add another site to visit for a cookie recipe?

Social networking marketing works best in two ways. If a brand can identify a willing spokesperson, or create one via a media blitz, and have that person interact on behalf of the brand without pushing the product, then they have the structure for a successful, interactive and potentially fruitful social marketing campaign. A second strategy is to create an associative app or website that social networking visitors can download and use. This can be as simple as a branded countdown to the Super Bowl or an addictive online game. Social networking is about interaction and for many, it's becoming a staple of everyday life. It's essential that marketers understand that it's best to mesh with the everyday habits and work within the exisiting framework than to build your own or just slap your brand in front of an existing audience. The failed and overtly aggressive efforts of marketers has helped lead a significant audience away from MySpace to other social networks. And social networkers will continue to move away from technologies that marketers sully with spam.

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