What is the Future of Social Network Marketing?
I don’t normally like to make predictions, but here’s one: In ten years, social networks will become the new econometrics.
As social networking technology becomes more advanced and increased online activity makes more robust data sets available, social networks are beginning to be utilized in an amazing variety of ways. Some of this is exciting, other facets are a bit scary.
However, one thing is clear: Social networks (although not necessarily social media) will revolutionize how marketing is done. Here’s a short overview of what’s going on.
A recent Economist article provided a very good survey of how social network analysis is being deployed to target people for a variety of reasons:
Mobile Operator CRM: One example that was given is how mobile operators track calls to determine who is influential. For instance, those who tend to receive short calls but make long calls have proven to be more influential and therefore more valuable customers.
In his new book, Bursts, renowned social network theorist Albert-László Barabási presents a potentially more nefarious application. He shows how mobile technology combined with social network algorithms can be combined to not only track, but predict our movements and actions.
Financial Fraud: The Economist article also notes that social network analysis software is being deployed to uncover financial fraud. When someone wants to launch a business unrelated to their social network or regularly consorts with unsavory characters, red flags are raised.
Counterterrorism: One of the most intensive areas in which social network analysis has been deployed is in analyzing terrorist networks. In an amazing article, Valdis Krebs describes how he deciphered the network behind the 9/11 attacks.
The one place social network analysis hasn’t showed up yet is in targeting mass market consumers. As I wrote in an earlier post about Big Seed Marketing, influence is highly elusive and contextual. At the very least, it’s a computational monster.
So I’m a bit skeptical that using social targeting to market to consumers will ever stand be able to on it’s own. However, it could prove useful in specific situations or in conjunction with other methods, such as adaptive targeting through neural networks.
One of the most exciting areas that social networks are opening up is social listening. By being able to tap into conversations online, we can gauge consumer sentiment in real time. Increasingly, this is changing the way we evaluate and market to consumers.
Rishad Tobaccowala recently wrote an excellent overview of the issues surrounding social listening. He points out that marketers need not only to focus on heavy consumers, but brand advocates and detractors. In other words, you not only have to join the conversation, but understand it and do something about it.
In his article Tobaccowala also makes the excellent point that listening has very little to do with technology and everything to do with the people engaged in the conversation. He advocates intensive training to ensure that those who are supposed to be engaging consumers are not turning them away.
Probably the best example of the value of social listening is Cadbury’s Wispa, a brand that had been discontinued. By being attentive to what was going on in the Web, Cadbury learned that the chocolate bar had an immense following and decided to relaunch it. It’s an amazing story that you can read about here.
When many people think of generating buzz, they think of a one in a million shot, like Justin Beiber, who became a star on social media before the real world. However, established brands can also tap into the power of social networks to get their message out.
Coke has almost 12 million fans on Facebook; Starbucks nearly 14 million; Adidas over 4 million. This list goes on… This isn’t easily done, but brands that achieve it have an enormous pool of brand advocates who they can mobilize to create buzz.
However, as I wrote before, social networks are much bigger than social media. They are, in fact, how people have interacted with each other since the dawn of humanity. Therefore it would be a mistake to treat social networks as if they ended with Facebook and Twitter.
A great example of how to do this is O2’s Orgy of Fun campaign, which was centered around their Facebook page which quickly generated over 70,000 fans. However, it didn’t stop there, they used it to activate university students around Great Britain to compete in a contest. The prize: a huge party at their university sponsored by O2. That’s buzz!
Probably the most important aspect of social networks for marketing is the insights that it delivers. As I wrote into my guide to social network analysis for marketers, one of the often overlooked benefits of social networks what they teach us about how information flows and markets are structured.
So before you run off and rush to develop your “Twitter strategy” or your “Facebook Strategy” you should first think about learning a bit more about how social networks function independently of social media. You can start with this post about the primal forces that drive social networks.
Yet most of all, it’s important to remember that we’re just at the beginning of it all. Modern social network theory is just a decade old, social media is considerably younger and the real effort to integrate it all is just beginning.
If you’re not confused, you’re probably missing something…