Social Media—The Newest of Incarnation of Word-of-Mouth

I have been reading (as I am sure most of you have) a tremendous amount on social media and its impact on brand marketing. Recent articles in Adweek and Business Week highlight many challenges that marketers and media specialists face when trying to reach consumers where they are living—and make no mistake about it they are living online.

A recent Adweek article suggested that our industry talks a great deal about what we can do for clients in the social media space; but is unable to deliver measurable results when it comes to execution. The technology, it seems, is moving faster than our industry. Social media presents one of the greatest opportunities for us to reach consumers in a meaningful way. In traditional media—and arguably blogs too—it’s only necessary to interest a few key writers, editors or producers. With social media you have to capture the interest of key consumers and relay your message to them so that they pass it along to others. Naturally this can be challenging. A recent BusinessWeek article focused on widgets—applications that can be shared among users on various social networking sites. Successful widget programs can create significant buzz for low cost. “Resident Evil” built buzz for their movie with a zombie widget that allows consumers to “bite” their online friends – 1 million people signed up to get the application creating a tremendous groundswell for the film without an expensive television buy. This kind of success is rare—according to BusinessWeek there are 17,000 applications on Facebook – only 138 of these widgets have reached more than 1% of Facebook users, a community of 66 million.

So how can we as communicators effectively use social media to reach consumers? Well, applications such as the “Resident Evil” widget show that it’s possible—but you have to understand your consumer and what will make him/her take the time to download an application and pass it along to friends. Items that are overly branded, that don’t make people laugh or are unsurprising don’t work. It’s necessary to take risks and be a little edgy – safe and simple just won’t cut it anymore.

Social media seems like a vast uncharted territory. It’s really not. We’ve been practicing word-of-mouth programs for decades in the PR industry – social media just gives us new technology and a wider audience to reach. It’s an opportunity that brands and agencies ignore (or worse engage haphazardly) at their own peril. Social media will continue to evolve and our industry needs to evolve with it.

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