Here Come The Herds?

by Jay Deragon on 11/21/2008

More and more major brands are finding unique ways to leverage social media for business purposes. With each success story comes an awakening by others who migrate quickly to the tools but some don’t take the time to understand the process.

The irony is the difference between those that do understand and those that don’t becomes transparent very quickly as consumers report their experiences at the click of a mouse.

A Reuters article states: Recognizing the limits of traditional advertising, established technology companies are diving headlong into the sometimes chaotic landscape of social media to promote their products.

Companies ranging from PC maker Dell Inc to storage equipment maker NetApp Inc are increasingly turning to outside blogs, viral videos and websites such as FaceBook, Twitter, FriendFeed and Digg — and their tens of millions of users — to reach consumers.

These social networking sites harness the age-old power of the word-of-mouth recommendation and can be potent marketing tools. If nothing else, they demand a higher level of consumer engagement than conventional ads.

“This is 180 degrees from that sort of advertising,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer. “Having a conversation with them (consumers) is a very new skill.”

For tech companies with big marketing budgets, the shift to social media is an implicit acknowledgment that television and print are not necessarily the most effective ways to reach buyers, particularly younger ones

In addition, with a recession looming, corporate budgets are being slashed. UBS has forecast global ad spending will fall 3.9 percent in 2009. In such an environment, social media could prove to be a cost-effective way to sell to consumers.

But the strategy is not without some risk. While every company wants to generate buzz, online backlash can be brutal.

Consumer healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson learned that the hard way with a recent Web video ad for its Motrin painkiller. While apparently trying to be irreverent about the pain of wearing a baby in a sling, the ad offended many mothers who savaged it on Twitter, the wildly popular “micro-blogging” site where users communicate with short “tweets” of 140 characters or less. J&J was forced to apologize on Monday.

Brian Keeler, a vice president at media consultancy VShift, said the key to social media is credibility and enlisting consumers in the act of marketing itself. But if you upset your audience, it can mean trouble.

“With the online media, things can go viral and spin out of control really fast,” he said.

Here Come the Herds?

Social Media is gaining credibility and momentum with more and more brands turning to the medium especially given the pressure on budgets cuts caused by the economic downturn.

Advertising Age reports: Over the next six months, not only will ad spending be down, but the feeling among advertisers and their agencies toward media such as broadcast TV, national newspapers and magazines is growing more pessimistic. The dreary outlook is courtesy of the new Advertiser Optimism Report by Advertiser Perceptions.

But while the outlook is somewhat bleak for the aforementioned ad media, others like online and mobile are likely to attract more of marketers’ money.

What is going to be interesting in 2009 will be watching “how” the herds of brands use social media and the market of conversations react to the attempts by brands to engage. The consumer’s expectations are high and their critical conversations spread quickly. Be careful and be wise.

What say you?

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