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Note: This article is an amended excerpt from the book Now Is Gone.

Regardless of technological change, the future of social media will be dictated by the community's rapid adoption of new media forms.

Change occurs dynamically in online communities as new applications develop. Though behavior has changed, relationships must be maintained. That means marketers must be flexible moving forward.

At any one time there seem to be hot social media networks and technologies. Whether it's Facebook or Mahalo or another social network du jour, marketers will be faced with the consistent challenge of finding new ways to use media forms to engage the community.

Like water, the marketer must move with the community and learn the newest technology's impact on communications. And, like water, this type of activity follows the path of least resistance.

It's important to note that as "webolution" continues marketers should avoid getting bedazzled by hot media forms. We've seen them come and go. Excite, Prodigy, AOL, Friendster, MySpace (fading, but still relevant) and increasingly Yahoo are brands of the past.

These passing technologies demonstrate that professionally we cannot get too focused on specific technologies. Why? Because they will evolve, change, and in some cases disappear.

Thinking Liquid in a Dynamic Environment

Marketers are better served by liquid fluidity in their thought processes and approaches. That way they can adapt to sudden changes and new, hot technologies as social media continues its march forward. As this natural process continues to unfold over time and communities evolve, their information needs and consumption of media will evolve, too.1

With increasingly diverse and changing marketing environments, successful marketers will focus on social media principles rather than tactics. Basic social media principles can serve as guidance no matter the environment.

By relying on principles and using fluid approaches to meet the media form, marketers can best serve their communities of interest over time. Those who cannot or won't play by the principles of social media risk irrelevance because they will not be able to adapt to change.

The following Seven Principles of Social Media Communications are discussed throughout Now Is Gone:

  1. Relinquish message control.
  2. Honesty, ethics and transparencies are musts.
  3. Participation within the community is marketing.
  4. Communication to audiences is an outdated 20th century concept
  5. Build value for the community.
  6. Inspire your community with real, exciting information (personality, genuine outreach, etc.).
  7. Intelligently manage media forms to build a stronger, loyal community.

Collectively, those are the basic rules for successful social media marketing and PR. One thing that is clear throughout these principles is that marketing communications and PR are about building relationships with the community as a whole, and with individual members.

These seven principles enable intelligent conversational marketing within a wide variety of social media forms. If companies put them first, they will be able to adapt to their communities' needs. The results that companies are looking for are the natural byproduct of engaging with communities, on the communities' terms.

Examples of Thinking Liquid

Goodwill

Goodwill of Greater Washington loves its blog, its social-media-engaged fashion show, and the dialogue it has created with the vintage-clothing industry. Goodwill wanted to serve its readership with more than a blog, and with the show endeavored to create an online event. Months later, the local outreach effort receives more than 1000 unique visitors weekly and its shopper conversion rate is 4.5%.2 Even better, national media outlets like CNN, Good Morning America and the Washington Post have discovered Goodwill's online fashion show, turning it into a national phenomenon.

SMR and Ford

The Social Media Release (SMR) was a concept started two years ago by PR 2.0 mavens Todd Defren and Brian Solis. The form took on several iterations and has been experimented with by several marketers. But Ford Motor Company and its agency the Social Media Group (SMG) has take the SMR to a new level for various products like the Ford Focus and F150. Ford's innovations in the SMR include a new storyboard approach, which focuses less on the possible conversation value of social media press releases and more on catalyzing content creators to take parts and develop their own content. It also assumes that some readers will want to engage in certain media forms, and not all of them. Also, the revised SMR delivers "digital snippets of information."3

The resulting smorgasbord of social media creates easily digestible "snacks" allowing for consumption by reader choice.4 Rather than issuing the SMR with their media on the wires, Ford and SMG are leveraging existing social networks like Flickr and YouTube to ensure they provide easily access to content from a variety of ways. Ford's social PR effort is truly liquid.

ACDSee

A company that provides image management software, ACDSee uses a hybridized version of social and traditional web media to engage its community. ACDSee community manager Connie Bensen says that once community members are engaged, through the blog, the company uses live webinars to demo products. The company's evangelist team works with prospects with live comments enabled. In one case, 100 attended, 90 percent of whom did not own ACDSee's products, and 173 questions were asked.5

***

As these brief examples show, the discussion on corporate social media needs to be more than just about ethics and conversation methods. In many ways, these represent the rules of engagement and forms of interaction, respectively.

But most organizations need to truly engage their community in a manner that fits their stakeholders media consumption needs. Tactical social media outlets should never determine marketing strategy and outreach; the community should. Remember, Think Liquid.

Endnotes:

1Kyle Flaherty, "My Six Truths on Social Media," Engage in Pr, July 12, 2007. 

2Ylan Mui, Washington Post, "Goodwill's New Look: Cheap Can Also Be Chic," October 29, 2007.

3Maggie Fox, Social Media Group, "The Social Media Press Release," January 21, 2008. 

4Jeremiah Owyang, "Do You Respect Media Snackers? Tell me why," The Web Strategist, October 24, 2007. 

5Connie Bensen, "The Value of Real Time Interaction & Webinars," My Conversations, November 2, 2007. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Geoff Livingston
Geoff Livingston is an author and marketing strategist, and serves as vice-president of strategic partnerships at Razoo, a fundraising site for nonprofits. He is author of Marketing in the Round and the social media primer Welcome to the Fifth Estate.