Andrea Mitchell
Andrea Mitchell

Social media: The unpaid salesforce

Looking back and reflecting on what exactly has kept me from contributing to the wonders that is Thought Leader over the past year, it becomes glaringly obvious that it is the equivalent of Thought Leader exactly, that has kept my contribution on my “to do” list for such a lengthy time.

Call it what you will, but social media is definitely the culprit.

As a digital marketing agency, the onslaught of the overwhelming growth of social media environments has our heads spinning. Just a quick glimpse into the growth of social media platforms is enough to resonate that head spin around the continent.

So what exactly IS social media?

Wade through the definition on Wikipedia if you really want a detailed explanation. Very simply, it’s an online meeting place for consumers and influencers, with these consumers and influencers creating the conversation.

A quick look at just a few of the more popular social gathering places …

MySpace: 76 million users and $1 billion in revenue at the end of 2008.

YouTube: Just under 100 million users racking up 5.3 billion video views per month and accounting for a quarter of all US Google search queries. Any surprise Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube? Every minute, 10 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube.

Facebook: Boasts over 57 000 applications 200 000 active developers. Applications are used over 34 million times a day, reaching over 200 million active users.

Twitter: Grew by over 1000% between March ’08 and March ’09, being actively used by over 14 million individuals.

Added to these overwhelming numbers is every conservative corporate organisation’s nightmare — the increased time spent in these environments, which is reported to be some 124 million hours for Q1 2009 vs 87 million hours in Q1 2008.

As is evident, these peer, business acquaintance, friend and family meeting places truly are what we all seem to want and finally putting the voice into the vocal chords of us, the consumers. Delving into this space for a marketer, however, can be a proverbial nightmare.

The true winning marketer is the one that can influence the most people with its technologies. The key is to keep it simple and enticing.

Make it simple for a user to spread your brand virally, for example, embedding a YouTube clip is simply a cut and paste for it to become live in other media channels such as a blog or on Facebook.

If you don’t entice them by making them WANT to interact with your brand, you run the risk of being treated like a mop salesman knocking on someone’s front door.

Obama’s campaign sure got it right through social media. As Obama adviser Scott Goodstein said: “Some people only go to MySpace. It’s where they’re on all day. Some only go to LinkedIn. Our goal is to make sure that each supporter online, regardless of where they are, has a connection with Obama.” Obama had profiles on more than 15 social networks, including Facebook and MySpace. The count for this success: 3 million online donors, 5 million “friends” across 15 social network platforms (3 million on Facebook alone), nearly 2 000 official YouTube videos watched more than 80 million times, with 135 000 subscribers and 442 000 user-generated videos on YouTube. The list goes on.

A current example of an enticing, yet simple campaign which dares to tread in a social media environment, is one that we are currently running for our client, iBurst. Nothing too complicated — simply spot the difference between dial-up and broadband by playing a fun game akin to the “spot the difference” pictures we all enjoyed in our youth, then enter to win an enticing prize: an Acer laptop and a 24-month iBurst connection. Once you’ve done so, share it with your friends via means of a “share it” widget to popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, iGoogle, Delicious, MySpace etc by simply clicking on your preferred channel.

The campaign was seeded with a conservative budget through social ads on Facebook and a few strategically placed banners to give it a kick start. In just under 2 months since the campaign launched, close on 5 000 entries have been achieved, with 15% of all entrants requesting to be contacted by iBurst. What hasn’t cost a cent, is the viral component, with 68% of the 5 000 entrants having been referred by friends by simply clicking on one of the “share it” options.

Probably the most important thing to remember in a social media environment: people, want to connect with people … to tap into this extended, unpaid sales force … simply communicate, don’t sell.

Social media and internet technologies are changing standard business practice whether you want to admit it or not. Especially in times such as these, it’s important to embrace and take advantage of new tools. If you don’t, someone else will.