August 10, 2007
Social Networking and Social Marketing

As many of you know, we have been doing a significant amount of research here at the consortium recently in regard to social networking. While some of this has ben for a white paper shared internally in the consortium, our musing on social networks has appeared multiple times here on the blog in the past several months (see here, for instance).

Tied into those comments on social networking, though, are questions regarding social marketing, especially as we think about how brands co-exist in these online spaces. There are always a variety of opinions on what this means for users, what the correct balance between marketing and a lack of commercialism is, and...on the business side...what constitutes a worthwhile investment and what does not.

We've seen these issues crop up in relation to Second Life, as we've written about a few times as of late (see this post, for instance). In relation to that, our partners over at GSD&M's Idea City have written some commandments for social marketing that are worth glancing through.

The key here, and in a lot of our recent work, is that it is vital to understand the nature of online social networks, both through explicit social networking sites and fan/affinity/common interest communities. Further, the degree to which we value experimentation in these spaces should be reconceptualized, especially when we think about playing with these technologies as building toward the future but not as the replacement for current marketing, either.

The problem here are two camps of extremes, one of which dismisses these technologies altogether and the other which promotes it to the point that the overhype damages the value.

The social marketing commandments, building on the idea of the importance of transparency, suggesting for brand managers, advertisers, and the like to expect surprises, spend time with and understand the community one is marketing to, and make it the priority of a committed expert on staff rather than as another duty piled on someone looking in many directions at once.

I thought it was nice to see what someone on the advertising side considers the primary underlying principles behind these issues. I agree that social marketing can't just be considered a good idea to do without putting any consideration into it, but it's not very helpful to think it isn't a viable form of marketing because we haven't developed a generalized metric to measure its success across the board.

But, through all of this, I'm reminded of one thing: there's really very little that's new, and it is increasingly ironic that some people dismiss the idea of social and viral marketing altogether when word-of-mouth is one of the oldest types of marketing out there, just as its ironic that people consider product placement something new...



there's really very little that's new, and it is increasingly ironic that some people dismiss the idea of social and viral marketing altogether when word-of-mouth is one of the oldest types of marketing out there

Absolutely. If anything, Social Marketing is more like a concentrated form of traditional marketing; getting down to the most powerful essence that is one person making a personal recommendation to another.

And in order to really have success in a Social Networking environment, as you allude to, what's important is to understand on a deep level the nuances that distinguish the various communities within each platform.


Mike, appreciate your comments this morning. I agree that social marketing becomes the ultimate extension of the whole idea of target demographics, but the problem that it becomes less about impressions and easy quantification, which throws the whole system off. The problem with word-of-mouth is it puts people back into the equation as rounded and independent beings, rather than commodities or statistics.

In that case, the problem with creating metrics (which I am not opposed to at all; the idea of a complete lack of accountability cannot work at all) is that metrics stripped of those nuances miss the point, so there has to be more balance between generalizing a viable economic alternative without oversimplifying it.


The issue of metrics is a really interesting one right now. The marketing side of it mirrors closely the web-development side. For years website popularity was measured in page-views, but with the proliferation of Ajax and other Web 2.0 innovations that don't require page refreshing, page views are no longer a meaningful measure. I think the key to both the marketing and web-development problems lie in looking at interaction - as demonstrated by comments, links, referrals, etc.