Every day, it seems we read something new about Facebook, MySpace and other likeminded properties and how the social web is changing the face of the online landscape as we know it. So what is it that makes these companies so important that they are garnering so much press and interest? Well, in my opinion its not such much the properties themselves, but rather the communities they have fostered within them and this is why every marketer should be paying attention.
To support this point, just read the following quote from a recent Wall Street Journal article about Sport Illustrated (SI) and their decision to take their Fantasy Content to Facebook:
“The move is, in part, an admission by the iconic sports brand, owned by the Time Inc. division of Time Warner Inc that it needs to do more than draw users to its own Web site. It also needs to take its products to a site people already visit.”
– Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2008.
What struck me about this comment was not so much that Sports Illustrated is partnering with Facebook, but rather how it as decided that a presence on Facebook is a viable alternative to driving users to their own web site. In short, SI has realized if they truly want to engage the Facebook community, they have to do so within Facebook, not outside of it.
This, in my opinion is one of the true powers of the social web, and a key reason why all companies need to start thinking about developing a social media strategy, if they have not already done so.
In short, the social web, comprised of sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and others is a web within a web. Rather than refer to these as sites, I think that they could be more accurately described as online environments. People don’t necessarily go on the social web with the intent of finding the next great web site, rather they’re on the social web to interact and socialize with others within the context of that environment.
Therefore, if you want to reach users within the social web you need to come to them and set-up shop in their environment. Doing so demonstrates to users that you understand the nature of the social web and are willing participate within it. This is an important fact to realize and if you want to be considered relevant within the fabric of the social web, then you need to be have a presence within the social web.
Now you may be saying to yourself “But we have a website, so why would I need to create a presence within context of the social web? I mean, we’re already online.”
Well, yes your business or company does have a website and is online, but you are not operating within the realm of the social web. You are also making the broad based assumption that those who are engaged in the social web, want to leave it to see what you have to offer. However, this is big assumption and an unfortunate mistake. Again, users go to the social web to interact within that environment, so if you want to reach them you need have a presence where they are.
Additionally, there is a common misconception that the social web is only for kids, teens and young adults so it just does not make business sense to be there. Well, there was a time when people felt the same way about this thing called the World Wide Web. Remember when only cutting edge companies had websites? It’s laughable by today’s standards and if you don’t have a website today, people will seriously question your competency.
Well, the same trend is now being realized with the social web. Not every company has a presence and those that do are hailed as being innovative and thoughts leaders…just look at Sports Illustrated. The fact that they have decided to set-up shop on Facebook has gotten them ink in the Wall Street Journal. I’m willing to bet that in a matter of just a few years, that such moves will be par for the course and if you don’t have a presence on the social web, you’ll be laughed out of the room.
So where am I going with this all? Well, the fact is that marketing on the social web is something that is still relatively new. People are waking up to the fact that there is an audience to be had, but they don’t know what to do or how to effectively access it. But the fact is that social media, just like other forms of online media such as search, can act as channel and means to access a very ready and willing audience. However, to be successful you need to understand how to play with and engage this audience within the context of the social landscape.
Like what SI did, think of social media as a means to complement what you are already doing online. While your corporate web site can still be the center of your online marketing universe, it does not mean you can’t have branch or satellite offices within the confines of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and others.
As I mentioned earlier, the social web is not just another group of sites, it’s a unique, multi-faceted environment in which resides a huge audience. However to effectively market to this audience, you need to first understand the environment and be willing to join its fabric. Ultimately, by deploying a social media strategy you will greatly expand the power and reach of what you are doing online and develop a channel that is bound to pay off today and in years to come.