Now, it's a given that there has been a tremendous amount of buzz around social networking in the recent past. Among all other social media sites and components, social networking is not only the fastest-growing but is being touted by analysts as the "future of the portal" (via a Bear Stearns report). My thoughts veered to this topic around a recent debate/discussion among bloggers (Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble and others) on the value of marketing on social networking sites like Facebook.
Jason Calacanis' Social Networking Bankruptcy Theory
A week ago, Jason Calacanis in the middle of a blog sabbatical, wrote:
Facebook is a multilevel marketing platform where you agree to pay attention to people's gestures in the hopes that those people will pay-attention to your gestures in the future. It's a gesture bank.
Are we creating a social system to communicate with each other at a distance because the reality of creating and maintaining that social networking face-to-face is, well, scary?
How NOT to network socially?
IMO, Imagine if in real life you'd a chance to make friends and all you did was keep making "friends" and at the end of it, try to market stuff to them. It's kind of like the Pyramid Scheme were your rationale behind making friends was to sell stuff to them.
I know Jason means otherwise. But then the question to ask then is, who among your social network's connections are truly your "friends?" I have around 180 "friends" on Facebook and more than 400 professional colleagues, networkers, etc., on LinkedIn. (I work for LinkedIn as its Community Evangelist.)
I haven't seen even a single sponsored video, haven't clicked on the ad for the movie Superbad that was on my mini-feed on Facebook. Why? For starters, it's kinda like inviting your friends over for a party and then starting it off by running a trailer for Superbad.
And, if I wanted to be marketed to, I'd then go watch TV, not be on a social network. However, if a friend of mine (from my social network) writes a glowing review of Superbad, I may go watch.
Interestingly, I've seen a bunch of my friends announce on the mini-feed that they were going to watch the Bourne Ultimatum this past weekend. Now, that makes my ever-convinced mind that I should watch the film soon. If you belong to my circle of friends, you'll also see a glowing review of the film later tonight from me about the movie (hopefully)? The rationale behind it is that I've an honest opinion that I'm sharing and you may be inclined to take my word for it.
How to network socially? And, the theory of Word of Mouth Marketing.
Well, what I'm trying to say is that never before did we have tools that organically helped spread word-of-mouth as well as social networking sites allow us to do today.
Word-of-mouth promotion is highly valued by advertisers. It is believed that this form of communication has valuable source credibility. Research points to individuals being more inclined to believe WOMM than more formal forms of promotion methods; the receiver of word-of-mouth referrals tends to believe that the communicator is speaking honestly and is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (i.e. they are not receiving an incentive for their referrals) Source: Wikipedia.
There is no more organic way to do this than using a social network. What social networking and professional networking sites do, is replace sales/marketing/advertising with word-of-mouth and replace snake oil salesmen/pyramid scheme peddlers with true customer and product evangelists.
And, maybe that's what Jason's referring to as the gesture bank. I wonder what Andy Sernovitz of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) thinks of that? Or, what Ben and Jackie at the Church of the Customer think. Their most recent book was titled – Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message.
What should marketers do when that message is now dispersed on a social network? Think about it.
More on this later, but for now I'd love to hear your thoughts as marketers on this topic.