If 2008 taught us anything, it’s that 2009 stands to be proving ground for the social Web. With declines in viewership, subscriptions and recall of traditional channels, it will be more important than ever for marketers to cut through the noise and separate the hype from the truth about what the social Web is all about. And, if the burn rate for most start-ups is any indication, 2009 might be the make-or-break year for many of those shiny trinkets to start putting out for investors.With this in mind, and the uncertainty of the economy a reality, I see the new year as a great opportunity for everyone to catch up on all these changes and take advantage of the great things happening on the Web. Here are a few resolutions marketers can make in ‘09 to help bring about a prosperous new year.
Resolution #1 – Develop a Personal Habit of Listening and Participation
The communities of the social Web – MySpace, LinkedIn, blog communities – hold a wealth of information.The best part- it’s all available for free if you are an active listener. And, if you want to multiply your return, become an active participant. Every community has a unique feel and function. What’s acceptable activity for a brand on one may not be acceptable on another. The best and easiest way to understand what’s happening generally and specifically is to become a participant yourself. Get involved and stay involved.
Resolution #2 – Don’t Look Directly Into the Light
There’s no doubt the consumer Web has reached critical mass, and the tools are easy enough for even those new to the Web to start using immediately. Within most of the popular social networks there’s a place for responsible marketers to provide value. But, there’s more to the tools of the social Web than meets the eye. The buzzwords of today could be forgotten tomorrow. What’s happening underneath is more substantial and something to build a long-term strategy upon. Just don’t be overly optimistic about the potential for any one network to be marketing nirvana and instead look to capture the value of the medium and understand how it fits into your marketing mix.
Resolution #3 – Be a Convener, not a Depleter
With opportunity comes risk and responsibility. You have more opportunities to connect with customers and for those customers to talk about you. And, they are talking. The Web can bring together disparate groups around a common context. It’s this context that offers a chance to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way. Consumers are as savvy on the Web as they are off, maybe even more. And, they are resistant to marketing messages that aren’t relevant or too self-serving. Be irrelevant, self-serving and not offer anything of value to the discussion and your message will not only be discarded, you’ll likely be talked about as one of “those” companies. Offer relevant content and value to the discussion, and you’ll get a closer dialogue with customers that the Web promises.
Resolution #4 – Adopt a Blogger and/0r a Blog
I find it odd that there are still companies who don’t work with bloggers. Even with all the evidence of blogger influence on mainstream media and the growing numbers that some blogs are attracting, some companies still refuse to work with bloggers. I hear from bloggers all the time about these companies. I guarantee if your competitors aren’t already working with bloggers, they are thinking about it. If your company’s leadership is still resistant, start small and work in ’09 to meet, face-to-face, with at least one blogger relevant to your industry. It’s fun, it’s easy, and you can’t avoid it any longer.
Resolution #5 – Resist the Urge to Control
Social networks are fertile ground for dialogue with your customers the likes of which have never before been possible. Ceding control will let you better manage your brand in this new environment. Control of message, control of context, control of timeline and control of content all reside with the consumer. Resist the urge to put the approach, timeline and value of these conversations in traditional terms. Patience isn’t prevalent as a strategy in most marketing plans, but when it comes to the social Web, patience can pay dividends.
Resolution #6 – Forget the Internet
Customers might congregate between the bits and bytes that make up the online discussion, but online world has created offline opportunities to connect. The social communities of the Web offer a chance to introduce or support your brand, but there is a growing opportunity to extend those online conversations intooffline brand experiences. As an example, watch the way Twitter communities look for ways to connect offline in the form of Tweet-ups and look for a way to insert your company’s offline presence into the equation.It’s not about the Internet, it’s about the underlying desire to connect.
Resolution #7 – Align Digital Assets
The Web takes a lot of care and feeding. The product of the social Web is conversation, and its food is fresh, compelling and relevant content. I see companies that have taken time and resources to develop channels that connect with the social Web, but they are consistently lacking fresh content. It isn’t enough to create a Facebook page. If you have a Facebook, MySpace or Twitter feed, look at the number of fans or followers and the last update to the page. If your updates don’t reflect the interest in your page, consider developing a content calendar to get things back on track and align the content with the expectations of the customers who have congregated there.
Resolution #8 – Align Physical Assets
Just like as your content needs are greater on the Web, you need people in numbers aligned around the common goals of listening, responding, creating and updating. Traditional marketing organizations and models aren’t structured to respond to the needs of the social Web. Once you look at your products and programs in conversational terms, you begin to shift thinking and resources to better align to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges of the Web. It starts to put traditional channels of PR and advertising in their place of strength, and it helps align the needs of the organization to feed and tend to the discussions around your brand.
Resolution #9 – Make a Plan
Taking a page from marketing Sherpa Patrick Byers over at The Responsible Marketing Blog, you need a plan. The large companies I work with often have the opposite problem in that they over-plan. Smaller companies tend to have the opposite problem in that they’re busy doing instead of planning. With so much of the Web in flux, even with a solid plan of attack it’s hard to know sometimes where to put your energy.Hopefully some of these resolutions will give you some signposts. But, certainly with no deliberate plan, you’re sure to make unnecessary mistakes.
Resolution #10 – Be Social, Think Mobile
For all the hype around social networking, we’re at the beginning of a transition. That change is mobile social and geo-social – bringing people together around a shared context based on location. GPS-enabled phones, social applications like Loopt and Brightkite and phones evolving into personal, portable PCs bring greater control and mobility to consumers. Add to that the planned advances to the mobile networks in the coming years, and you’ve got a bright and powerful future for the social Web. Use 2009 as the year you determine where the current and future mobile opportunities are for your brand. Understand what the mobile implications are for your search strategy, Web site design and content. If you become an active participant and listener in the current social Web, you’ll be better prepared to take advantages that the mobile social Web will bring. It’s a mobile world, embrace it.
These are a few of the things I’ll be looking at in 2009. But, with all that will evolve in 2009, don’t forget to focus and listen. Experiment with a few social tools and monitor the results. Listen to the communities you join personally, and listen to those communities that are talking about your brand.
Share any resolutions that you think I’ve forgot, or correct me on any you think don’t match with what you’ll be doing in ’09.
(Originally published in December 08 on BeyondBanner.com)