If nothing else, 2010 will be remembered for its bonanza of social media frenzy. Facebook exploded with a vengeance, Twitter chirped its way into mainstream American business, and blogs became personal megaphones. What's more, YouTube, Hulu and Ustream videos knocked primetime networks onto their collective backsides.
Yes, it was a very good year for new, hip and edgy but not so good for tried, true and tested.
But even this newfound blitz of marketing in the moment with its plethora of emerging technologies couldn't change one core principle that remained untouched: Content is still king.
For any business, content is what differentiates it from competitors. It's the connection that resonates with customers, followers, viewers and users. It is storytelling, brand differentiation and a company's lifeblood all rolled into one. Content is the essence of the experience.
Social media engage users and build communities giving the old adage "any friend of yours is a friend of mine" new context. Interactions are relationship-based and operate with the same third-party credibility that has long been the hallmark of public relations. It's PR to a higher power with its ability to engage audiences and pull them into a brand's conversation.
As with any great evolution, when social media finally move beyond strategy and tactics, listening and monitoring, metrics and ROI, creative content will elevate to take its rightful place in the social media marketing mix.
That's not to suggest that relevant content is exclusive to social media platforms – it's quite the opposite. Content remains the centerpiece of newspapers, magazines, broadcast programming, advertising and online platforms.
And it's not to say that social media are the answers to all marketing woes. They simply aren't. Rather, they should be strategically placed within an integrated and comprehensive marketing mix environment that includes applicable components of traditional media.
So how do you make social media work for your business? First, understand social media's fundamental principal: They are commitments. When your business sets up a Fan page or Twitter feed, users expect more than a mere presence. Content must be relevant and the style must be engaging. Give users a reason to connect with your brand and care about it enough to engage in the conversation.
Not all online buzz is noteworthy nor does it require attention. However, social media have turned everyone even remotely associated with your brand into a potential ambassador, for better or worse. Listening and responding appropriately are key to managing your company's reputation and fostering a relationship with current and potential customers. Understand where users are in the awareness/interest/desire/action continuum and align your strategies to drive users to take a particular action.
Build a Following
The prevalence of relevant links is important to cross-pollinating online content to rank higher in search results, and capture and keep audience attention. Social media are about cultivating relationships and building a loyal fan base of individuals interested in what you have to say and offer.
Analyze the Competition
Just as a business monitors conversations occurring with their own customers, social media offer ways to examine conversations involving competitors. What are the advantages and disadvantages of competitive product offerings as compared to your own? Where does your company fall within the industry as compared to your competition? What insight can be gleaned as to how customers make decisions regarding products or services?
Taking an industry-wide approach, social media provide the means to identify trends and changes as they occur. Shift happens and being among the first to spot trend changes allows a company to react quickly and maintain a competitive advantage.
Personalize the Message
Marketers have always tried to put the right message in front of the right people, but with mixed outcomes. Social media allow companies to customize their messages to reach specific target audiences through the communication channels users prefer most.
Bottom line, engaging content and monitoring social media conversations are paramount to an online strategy. They not only enable companies to combat negative setbacks, but also identify and develop opportunities, and solidify relationships. Interactions become a function of the experience the audience has with a brand. Make it a good one.
Let's hope 2011 sees the rebirth of marketing budgets, ad buys and content-rich social media efforts. It's time to move the proverbial needle forward to full throttle.