The Great Social Experiment – Roundtable Question 3: The Right Tools for the Job?

REPOST from original series started on blog.thinkfree.com back in September of 2007

Back in September I began a series experimenting with social networks to view their effectiveness in helping organizations expand their reach, and be included in conversations about their industry wherever those conversations occur.
Now it is time to look at the results. The other day I introduced the panel (Aaron Brazell, Chris Brogan, Doug Haslam, Cathryn Hrudicka and Brian Solis) and the questions on the table.

Today the third question: Is social networking the right tool for the tests I created? Are my expectations of social networking in line with what it can do? What is social networking best geared to address?



Doug Haslam
First, I would like to make sure we are defining terms, even though we are already into the third question. “Social networking�? does not need to mean “online social networking,�? and your experiment dealt with the online world. So to answer the broad question, any form of social networking is germane. To answer about online social networking specifically; according to your stated goals, yes. If you are “talking about things that interest us in the Web 2.0 space,�? then online social networks will likely find a receptive audience. Plus, if you are building a “better social media marketing toolkit,�? then there is no better audience for giving you quality feedback than one that is already there.

My question for you, and it addresses the last part of your question: who are your customers? It strikes me that there is significant opportunity for ThinkFree outside of the social networking early adopters (not early? How about “already” adopters then). If you are relying solely on the input of the people on the social networks already, then you are missing some potentially valuable feedback from a much wider audience. In this case, traditional marketing communications methods: direct mail, email, even telemarketing; may be necessary. I suggest that knowing that they are not typically interactive media, but still may be the only way to reach some parts of your audience.

To summarize, to get to your audience, go where they are; don’t make them come to you. The best part about your experiment is that you certainly must have found where your best audience resides, at least within the realm of the online social networks.



Cathryn Hrudicka

From my own experience with my business, and from doing campaigns on behalf of my clients (or advising them), I would emphasize that you or your organization needs to plan a strategic, integrated branding, marketing, public relations, advertising and social media campaign—everything needs to work together. Just signing up for a bunch of different social networks and hoping something will stick or gain traction is not enough. It is also essential to keep track of your results, as much as you can, in each of these areas over a period of at least six months to a year. In particular, Social Media and social networking are so new that we are still figuring out how to get accurate demographics to track results.

Instead of thinking only in terms of isolated “tests,�? which is more of a direct marketing tool, it is important to think more holistically and long-term. Social networking is best geared toward having a real, two-way conversation with other participants. It may even take you a little while to figure out how specific individuals will be able to help you or add value, and you also need to be able to understand what you or your organization can contribute to them—it works both ways. Sometimes valuable feedback can come from unexpected sources, and connections can be made by serendipity as well as strategically.

You need to be open to different possibilities you may not have considered before. The concept or paradigm of social media and networking is based on mutual contribution, conversation, community and collaboration. That is a relatively new way for companies to think, in comparison with older styles of public relations, marketing and advertising, which were based on one-way communication and competition. Social networking fosters alliances and collaboration. It requires creative thinking, flexibility, adaptability, and ongoing innovation.



Brian Solis
In order for businesses to understand the value and focus of a valuable social media campaign, it requires a dedicated strategy, goals, metrics, and a tactical plan.

It all starts with answering two simple questions, “why do we want to participate?�? and “what do we hope to get out of it?�?

The process of answering these questions will define how and where to participate and how to measure success.

The next step is to listen and answer the following questions.

Where are your competitors?

Where do key words take you?

Are there conversations taking place about your company, products, and if so, where?

You’ll find that there are hubs across Social Media that will require your participation. In ThinkFree’s case, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, ThinkFree Docs, and most importantly, the company blog, would be the areas of immediate concentration. Plaxo, Twitter, and others, might require attention and effort at a later time.

ThinkFree’s business would benefit from the promotion of the great content residing in ThinkFree Docs, the capabilities of ThinkFree Office and also the ability to source and promote content from and to the community across other networks.

But it requires time, investment, cultivation, sincerity, and, it is not an overnight process.

Each network represents a collective of various groups of people who orbit an axis of common interests and each group as well as each network maintains its own ecosystem. Basically, what this means is that each community serves a different purpose, not just in who you reach, but how and why. The discussions and the very nature of the conversations are different from network to network.

The point that I can not emphasis enough is that you get out of Social Media what you put into it.

You have to observe before you can participate. Doing so will answer all of your questions and even dictate how to engage.



Aaron Brazell
Social networking is an incredible tool, and useful in many cases. In my opinion, the challenge of finding a business partner or an employee is a perfect job for social networking. Other forms of social media also lend themselves to this. For instance, blogs can be a tremendously effective way to passively evaluate candidates.

Press releases are a different matter. Traditional press releases don’t play well in the social media sphere, but some companies like Ford and Dell have discovered amazing success with the social media press release that crosses into the YouTube and Facebook realms. Social networking can actually be a doomsday prophet for a traditional PR effort.



Chris Brogan
Social networking isn’t something as easy, absolute, and measurable. It’s all about trust networks, not just online pathways. So though social networks were probably a great tool for what you set out to do, it really depends more on HOW you leverage them.

******
Jonathan
In answer to Doug’s question, we know that a substantial amount of ThinkFree subscribers are probably not avid users of online social networking tools. Obviously some are, and this exercise has, as Doug suggested, given us a better understanding of which networks. I think where we can draw the most leverage from our marketing campaigns – to comments that everyone made – is in finding innovative ways to integrate all facets. To be honest I have been running this test in a bit of a sandbox, off to the side. I think I could have done a lot more to use direct email, social networking, traditional press releases in combinations that make sense and improved the results. Again, I probably did not lay the groundwork enough ahead of time – proving that as a member of any given community I can be expected to participate rather than just sit back and try to push my agenda on everyone. And as the experts said last time – know your tools, which ones are best for which jobs.

Next on Wednesday – how aggressively should you try to get connected?

Social Networking round-table articles:

  1. Did I devote enough time to the exercise? More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities? Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?
  2. How should we be judging the outcomes from social networking activities? Are there tools you recommend?
  3. Is social networking the right tool for the tests I created? Are my expectations of social networking in line with what it can do? What is social networking best geared to address?
  4. How much of getting social networking to work is the contacts you bring with you? How aggressive should one be in reaching out to new contacts? Should I, for instance, try to befriend Chris Anderson even after I have composed a note meant to appeal to what he is interested in?
  5. How can I build better mechanisms into the framework to increase feedback?

Previous blog articles in this series:

Can you digg it? I knew that you could – The Great Social Experiment

The Great Social Experiment – #1 Getting Started

The Great Social Experiment #2 – Will You Be My Friend

The Great Social Experiment – #3 owwww, i’m u’r biggest fan

The Great Social Experiment – How has it gone?

Oh and don’t forget to use the social networking tools below to share and enjoy – part of the experiment right?

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