Marketing to the Social Set

There’s been a lot of talk about the shift to user-generated content and what effect it will have on the Web. Do sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube represent the way of the future? Or is the future of online going in a direction we haven’t even seen yet?

Truthfully, I can’t tell you if tagging will replace keywords, or if UGC is here to stay or if it’s just the latest fad. I’m also not going anywhere near the “is SEO dead” line of thinking. What I will say is that, according to comScore Media Metrix, more than 51 million unique users visited MySpace in May of 2006, and marketers would be foolish not to pay attention to and remember that number.

If you’re looking for a way to reach that young, trendy demographic, reaching out on social sites may be your answer. But in order to get them to convert, you need to understand the sites they’re visiting and the motives behind them. All social sites are not created equal, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t all cater to the same audience.

Dan Morrison wrote a great article a couple of weeks back explaining how marketers could use social media to their advantage. One of the great things he does in his article is to differentiate between communities of interest and communities of practice.

Community of Interest (i.e MySpace): In these communities the “primary value is based on the personal or social interests of its members”. Users “friend” other members who share common interest (they listen to the same type of music, go to the same high school/ college, etc) or because, let’s face it, they find one another attractive.

In order to connect with the vast number of users flocking to community of interest sites, you must learn to speak their language. On MySpace, this could include creating a user account specifically for your brand, getting your company reps active and engaging in the site’s message boards and interest groups, creating banners and logos members can stick on their pages, or starting a site blog to encourage conversation.

The folks behind X-Men: The Last Stand were able to execute an excellent marketing strategy using MySpace. The brains in the marketing department where smart enough to create a user account just for the movie, an account more than three million MySpace users “friended” and interacted with. By participating in message board discussions and allowing users to leave comments on the movie’s profile page, the film obtained a visibility greater than they ever could have hoped for.

Community of Practice (i.e. LinkedIn): These are often the less talked about social sites. They place their primary value on professional interests and are created “in the course of members performing their jobs” or as they prepare to take the next step in their career path.

Members of a community of practice are a slightly different creature than those of interest communities. They are likely a few years older in age and respond best to intelligent, optimized ads. The flashy banner ads found on MySpace won’t work as well on them. It is for this reason that most community of practice sites rely on contextual advertising and message boards to help give its members what they want, where they want it.

These communities are often more structured and professionally based. Where MySpace targets the college set, communities of practice target the young professional. As a result, comments and participation are more moderate and less fanatical, enabling users to remain productive, both at work and at home. (Or because their younger alter-ego is trolling MySpace…)

The trick to tackling this crowd is to engage them in intelligent debate with reasoning as to how your product and/ or service can help them. They are more analytical than emotional. Morrison states the professional-toned environment “can result in a safe and predictable advertising environment”. Marketers will find it considerable more stable and easier to track than trendier interest based sites.

I love the way Morrison breaks the two groups down because it makes it brain-dead clear how different they are and therefore how important it is not to use the same strategy for both.

Rather than going crazy and plastering every social site with your brand name, it’s important to take a look at each individually and determine how your company can best form a relationship with the real people behind it. Remember, though they often have screen names that would break their poor mothers’ hearts, they are real people and real consumers with real dollars.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

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