Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Social Networking is here to stay (guest post)

This is a guest post from a colleague, Sandra de Gelder. She attended a conference on Corporate Social Networking recently. These are her insights.

Online social networking is here to stay! Online collaboration, collective intelligence, user generated content and crowdsourcing are all growing in popularity. Social media play time is over, it is time to look ahead. Time to investigate how your target audience is changing. How the internet is changing and how you can change the way you connect with your customers.

Insight #1 – The Power of Online Communities

Power continues to shift to communities over brands – ultimately resulting in communities becoming institutions. Online communities allow people to create something together and to select what to buy/read/do based on peer recommendations and actions. E-commerce will merge with social networks. You have to think how to allow the community to help define what is best for them.

Insight #2 – Digital Natives

Social media are most popular with people between 16 and 35. People born after 1980 are referred to as “digital natives”, they grew up with the internet. Digital natives share a set of characteristics that set them apart from “digital immigrants”, especially the way they interact with technology, information and each other – globally. They select, evaluate and process information in different ways: they are non-hierarchical (they listen to their peers, not their seniors, e.g. they will choose to read a blog over the NYT article on a particular subject); they take short-cuts for information quality assessments; they have a short attention span. These are the customers of the future and if you are too slow to cater for them you risk being overlooked.

Insight #3 – Marketing 

Social networking is a way to connect with customers, and allows you to move away from traditional (push) marketing. You need to “fish where the fish are” and connect to where your customers are. You should only build your own community if the existing social networks are insufficient. If you do make sure the needs of the community come first – brand second. If you put your brand first you will fail. Instead of marketing managers you need to hire “social media strategists” and “community managers” and you need a strategy based on an objective – not on the available technologies!

Insight #4 – Customer Relationships Management

Traditional brand marketing will fade away forcing a shift to rely on social networks. Social networks will centralise all activity on the open web – cutting into traditional email. People are going to rank and rate our products and you will not be able to stop it. You must prepare for all products to be reviewed socially and encourage social recommendations. Then aggregate social recommendations on your web sites to encourage trust. People will expose (personal) information to a company as they start to trust them. Once you have earned your customers trust, you can run influencer and word-of-mouth programmes to help ‘fans’ become advocates.

Insight #5: The Future (not so far away, Forrester predicts 2011-2013)

Fully personalised web experience, sites will be serving content based on social relevance. Registration pages will go away. Communities will define products. Companies will build products based on collective opinions and desires.
Social networks will become the next-generation CRM and VRM systems (SalesForce has already partnered with Twitter).

Among the speakers at the Conference were:
Jeremiah Owyang, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research and Urs Gasser, Excecutive Director Berkman Center, Harvard University (leading think tank in academia focused on the internet and its impact on culture)

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