The Influence of Social Networks

originally posted on Concept Hub

What have you learned from the parent you stood next to at your child’s soccer game?

What product have you bought because you heard a group of people talking about it at your local gym or club?

What information did you pass on to your friends at work based on what you knew from your friends at your weekly card game?

These are all social networks. Each of us belongs to many various social networks and the information we learn from one we pass on to our friends and peers in another thus affecting our behavior and the behavior of countless others.

In the seventies Faberge Organic Shampoo tried to leverage such social networks with their “tell two friends” campaign.

The concept was:

If you tell two friends
about Faberge Organics shampoo
with wheat germ oil and honey,
they’ll tell two friends,
and so on..and so on…and so on…
–Faberge

The campaign captured the idea of viral marketing, but had many limitations. There was no way for the representatives of the brand to join a relevant conversation, there was no way to track if their brand was being discussed and which social networks were discussing it. Sure they could possibly get an idea of the demographics of women (and the male fans of Heather Locklear) who would discuss the shampoo and make the purchase, but where were they discussing it? In which one of their many circles?

Fast forward a couple of decades and the Internet becomes the new advertising medium with a promise of behavior analytics that television could never offer. A campaign can track clicks, conversions, drop offs and more. It can even influence behavior through calls to actions, buy now, sign up now, and yep… even tell two friends – now!

But even the Internet and email marketing had limitations. We still were not sure which “two friends” were from which social networks, what was the context of the conversation, and once again brands were not enabled to actually participate in the conversation.

What Makes Social Media Different?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Online Marketing Summit where Joe Marchese, President of Archetype Media and Rebecca Weeks, Director of Business Development for Real Girl Media were the lunch keynote speakers.

I really enjoyed their definition of Social Media:

Social Media is not User Generated Content. It is the digital representation or enhancement of real world social interaction.

It is all media which facilitates participation and dialog in order to connect people.

Some of the stats that we have pulled from the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2006) suggest that:

33% online Americans who say the Internet has improved the way they pursue hobbies and interests

Entertainment is the third most popular blog subject (about 7%)

30% said the Internet provided information that allowed them to compare options

28% said the Internet helped connect them to expert or professional services

More than 1/3 of American adult Internet users consult Wikipedia as primary source

Nearly 17M Americans say the Internet had played a crucial or important role in them helping another person with a major illness or medical condition

37% of bloggers cite “my life and experiences” as a primary topic of their blog

People have always looked to sources they trust for information, support, and ideas.

These sources can range from online news sources, to blogs, and their peers.

Especially their peers!!

Through open social network communities people are able to connect with their peers as well as discover others of like minds and interests.

Networks of people create communities of trust.

Each of these communities have different cultures and rules as to how they communicate.

Each social networking site is it’s own community

People are part of multiple communities!!!

Brands are now able to see which networks discuss their brand, their competitor’s brand or the overall industry. They can uncover needs and desires of relevant communities and they can immediately address questions and concerns that come up in online conversations.

As guidelines to enter such communities, Joe and Rebecca offered the following recommendations:

Understand the message of the community that you are moving into. Find the overlap.

Don’t try to create a new message, borrow the message of the medium.

It’s not what social media can do for your brand but what your brand can do for social media.

Some organizations have expressed to me a discomfort about joining online communities and participating in conversations. They felt they might be intruding or would not know what to say. My suggestion is to not see yourself as a brand or a representative trying to sell something, but as a person who is truly interested and has value to offer to the community. Think back to the last time you were at that soccer game, gym, or card game and you found yourself discussing how your company could solve one of your friend’s particular situation. Was that uncomfortable? I bet it felt natural because you were truly part of the community and offered a solution that was of value. Social Networking online is the same as Social Networking offline, it just has a much broader reach and is much more transparent.