Over the past couple of years, companies and brands have been increasingly engaging with New Media, which can be broadly defined as blogs, feeds, wikis, micro-blogging (twitter), social networks (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) and social bookmarks.
As the economy goes sour and budgets decrease, however, does it make sense to continue to invest Marketing dollars into these word-of-mouth, engagement programs?
Here are some of my initial thoughts.
As with everything else, it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, comparing these types of programs with alternatives such as direct marketing, trade shows, magazine advertisements and so on.
On the benefits side, some of the core value propositions of New Media Marketing are pretty strong:
Increased Brand Awareness
Research has shown that consumers most often buy brands that they are already familiar with; generating brand awareness and familiarity is thus as important as pure direct conversion rates.
Engaging with Customers and others in the Ecosystem
The first simple step to irrelevance for any brand is when a company stops listening to those who are most affected by its products. By engaging with customers, users, suppliers and others, a business can get direct, rapid feedback and potentially head off problems before they turn into major crises.
Getting Product Ideas
Discussions about your product and its use in social media are a fertile environment to get new product ideas, especially involving novel settings or uses of your existing products or discovering gaps that can be filled.
In the same way, social media can be mined to harvest meaningful, highly-qualified leads, significantly reducing the cost of customer acquisition.
Find, Encourage, Enable and Reward Advocates
Who are the users who really like your products and are most vocal about it? How can you provide encouragement and rewards and remove barriers? By engaging directly with users, you can find the answers to these questions.
Participate in the Conversation
If your product is at all popular, you can be certain that customers and users are already talking about it somewhere, somehow - whether you know it or not. If you can participate directly in this conversation, you can at least react to what they are saying, even if you cannot and should not directly steer the conversation.
Monitor => Engage => Influence => Monitor
This is the virtuous cycle New Media enables. By its very nature, social media is interactive; it is a dialogue, rather than the outward-bound one-way Marketing messages of the past.
By its very nature, social media marketing is low-cost compared with traditional approaches. What it takes to be effective in this field is time (which, of course, also translates to cost) and authenticity.
The Marketing Mix
So is it worth investing in this type of user engagement? Obviously, the decision depends on your particular products and your environment, but increasingly in the future, the answer to that question is going to be another question:
Can you afford not to be a part of the conversation, especially if your competitors already are?