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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Social Marketing

I made a comment on a Sphinn story about the Digg Shout feature that has been recently updated. The change to Digg has made a splash but I really see it as a symptom of the broader conflict of Web 2.0 (I'll just decide early on to go with the standard jargon rather than try to define my own).

After a response comment, I decided that I need to explore this idea more fully so that I know what my own thoughts on it are.

One of the buzzwords of Web 2.0 is 'user experience.' It's practically a mantra for Google, I wonder if they get together in the cafeteria for a morning chant. But more to the point, these new community-based kinds of sites are developed for their users. Many of them have an ad-supported model but that is segregated. As a user you can tell where the ad content is (typically some kind of banner) and let your natural ad-blindness kick in.

It's not advertising, it's marketing that often conflicts with these new social media. I believe the use of Digg shouts is an example of that. Digg shouts are intended, from a user-experience POV, to allow people to share their Dugg stories across their network of friends or to point a specific friend to something cool. When the feature got hijacked by people trying to 'market' their Dugg stories to increase their count, friction arose. (Though, to be fair there are opinions on both sides about how to use Shouts)

This is not new.

When companies started creating profiles on MySpace and sending friends requests, people were turned off. When companies created blogs promoting their products and tried to pass them off as organic rather than sponsored, people were turned off. When Microsoft hired someone to monitor their Wikipedia page, they felt a big backlash. Any scenario in which a person or company tries to use the natural user experience for marketing is walking a very fine line. The perils of failure are a loss of interest in your brand (at best) or an active rejection (at worst).

Fortunately, more of the marketers working in the Social Media space are advocating becoming a part of the community first before trying to use it as a new marketing channel. This is a sensible approach. Social media can be a powerful way to market to people. I've seen some excellent examples of this, including one recently on facebook.

I still believe that marketing through the normal user experience will create friction with some users regardless of how it is done. However, smart marketers that get involved will know how to minimize that and make the social medium work effectively for them.