I remember watching the web go mainstream back in the mid 90’s.  Web servers and the Internet had existed for a few years, but URLs began appearing on billboards and product packaging literally overnight as a critical mass was reached.

Today we’re approaching another critical mass.  Blogs and social networking sites have been around for years, and many consider them mainstream.  Over the past few years some leading businesses have adopted blogs as a tool to communicate with customers.  People from all walks of life converse on Twitter, and businesses are starting to take note.  Major corporations, small businesses and individuals alike have recognized and are leveraging the power of social media to market their products, services and selves.

To gain insight into this phenomenon I did what any journalist would do in 2009: I posted to a site used by media and PR professionals indicating that I wanted to speak to an expert on social media marketing. I had about a hundred responses within two hours.

One of those experts is Jeremy Epstein, a Washington-based guru with one of the best elevator speeches I have ever heard, “I help clients build and ignite their customer communities to create outrageously effective word-of-mouth marketing programs.” Jeremy changed the way I thought about social marketing with a great analogy. Social media, he explained, is like going to a dinner party where you don’t know people. You sit down, shut up and listen. Then add relevant comments. If people are interested, they’ll ask. Epstein’s approach to “community driven marketing” involves creating and identifying raving fans, building relationships with them, and then having them market you to others. (There’s much more on Jeremy’s blog, ignitingtherevolution.com)

Brian Reich, Principal at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based EchoDitto Inc. and author of Media Rules! graciously took the time to explain the underlying principles. He explained that participation in social media is based upon of our natural desire to learn more and be connected to others. The technology simply removes barriers like geography and allows people to seek out those with shared interests. With media like Twitter, one can drop in and out of conversations as they desire, and “marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to be in conversation with their audience.” However, he pointed out that audiences have very high expectations that many marketers are failing to understand. His advice is to understand one’s audience and their expectations – to talk to them and listen.

Dallas Lawrence, VP of Digital Media at Levick Stategic Communications and author of bulletproofblog.com contributed a different perspective. His firm is a leader in crisis communications and he explained that digital media provides the power of immediacy and the ability to engage in conversations going on about your brand. And while he advocates direct engagement with bloggers, Dallas cautions that communication must be accountable and transparent. He pointed out that social media provides the most effective early warning system of issues involving a brand, and that an issue raised on one blog can quickly propagate throughout the blogsphere, YouTube, Twitter, social bookmarketing sites like Digg, and quickly find its way onto CNN in about 12 hours. In an interesting twist, bloggers now often drive traditional media and hold it accountable. Dallas advises his clients to know which bloggers are influential in their industries, listen to what they say and proactively reach out to them during a crisis.

Shelly Milam, Social Media Program Lead at Page One PR in San Francisco began by talking about the importance of metrics. Lots of people are doing social marketing, she explained, but that they’re not measuring its impact. For example, she could tell me that the use of social media had increased web site traffic 3500% for a major product launch. Shelly’s firm originally focused on open source clients and helping them to build communities. Today they also have clients like Cisco and Wine.com, who want to know the return on investment of their marketing activities. At the risk of oversimplifying, Shelly’s approach is to help clients define their message, determine how to measure it, and choose the best channel. (According to Shelly the top three are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.) Her advice to those new to social marketing is to start small, pick one tool based upon the audience you want to reach, identify the key influencers and engage them in conversation.

My sincere thanks to the pros that took the time to speak with me, as well as the hundred or so others that responded to my query. I would have liked to speak to each and every one of you. And perhaps, through the power of social media, I may be able to do exactly that.

2 Responses to 2009: Social Media goes Mainstream

  1. Jeremy
    Apr 12, 2009

    Great article and, of course, thank you so much for the shout-out!

  2. Eric Jacksch
    Apr 12, 2009

    My pleasure. For those readers on twitter, follow @jer979

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