Sharpening the Focus

21 May 2010 by Randall Helms, 1 Comment »

Social media marketing is still very much in an exploratory phase, where marketers are, metaphorically at least, throwing a variety of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. As a topic of study it is therefore one that is simultaneously exciting and tricky, because there are so many different approaches that one can take, and so many issues that can be studied. Therefore, in order to avoid getting lost, it is necessary for me to sharpen the focus of the project, to something that can be more clearly explained in twelve to fifteen thousand words.

In my first post I mentioned that I am working from the hypothesis that “social networks provide brands with an excellent way of deepening relationships with their existing customers, but are not so good for reaching new customers”.

It’s worth taking a moment to unpack this statement and clarify exactly what I mean by it. The online world presents very different marketing challenges from traditional media, and it is my belief that the nature of consumer interaction with these different forms of media plays a key role in determining how advertising messages are engaged with.

Television, radio, and print are passive media, whilst the online world, especially the social media space, is much more active/interactive. Since the consumer is much more actively engaged in the media consumption process when they are online, it follows that less of their attention is available for consuming advertising. The ‘push’ model of traditional marketing, where marketing messages are crafted and then pushed through to the consumer through broadcast media, billboards, posters, and so on, is thus largely unworkable in a space characterised by the ability to actively control the online experience.

So, if the traditional methods don’t really work, then what does? My opinion is that online marketing is quite a different beast from traditional marketing, and needs to be treated as such.

I think that there are a number of keys to a successful online marketing approach, but it is important to first understand that success in the online space is all about facilitating a ‘pull’ marketing model. Marketers need to provide the conditions (in terms of information and opportunity) for customers to access product and brand information for themselves. Forcing people to see online marketing messages hasn’t really worked; you need to make people want to seek out the information.

This is particularly true in the social media space. Based on my readings over the last couple of months, it seems that the most successful brand extensions on to Facebook and Twitter have involved brands connecting with their core audience and offering them something in particular, like the Royal Opera House using its Facebook fan page to offer tickets to devoted fans. You need to provide a means for your customers to find you, and then provide them with compelling reasons to stick with you.

This is why I believe that the social media space is better suited to interacting with and catering to existing customers than it is to reaching out to new customers, because the pull model depends on a certain level of existing interest and knowledge, and online advertising as a whole has, thus far at least, proved somewhat poor at capturing attention and interest. Creating new customers therefore requires continuing to use traditional advertising techniques in media whilst working to refine online marketing techniques in order to reach out to new customers.

It is important to note that I am not treating this hypothesis as a hard and fast rule; there are clearly counter-examples to everything I have stated above. Since I am still in the research phase of this project it is really no more than a loose feeling based on what I have read over the last several months. I am still in the process of untangling exactly what I think about social media marketing, and over the next several months hopefully I can use this space as a sounding board for honing the arguments that will underpin the dissertation.

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  1. […] week I mentioned that I am in the process of scoping my dissertation in, narrowing the subject matter to keep from being overwhelmed by possibility; anyways, I am now […]

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