A Social Media Mindset

Steven M. Edwards

Temerlin Advertising Institute at Southern Methodist University

Social media has been and continues to be a game-changer for communications. Anyone reading this editorial knows the degree to which social media continue to impact human communication either positively or negatively depending on the subjects under study and the type of communication.

Social media include networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn), wikis (e.g., Wikipedia), multimedia sharing sites (e.g., YouTube and Flickr), bookmarking sites (e.g., Del.icio.us and Digg), virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life), and rating sites (e.g. Yelp) that allow people to interact with each other and share information about products and brands. Tools to keep updated include tagging, RSS, and Twitter which can be used to encourage buzz and facilitate viral campaigns. Most exciting are the location-based services (e.g., Foursquare, Gowalla, hotpot) which allow for constant tracking and giving advertisers the best opportunity for immediate sales. Social Gaming (Zynga, words with friends, Farmville, etc…) along with social couponing (e.g., Groupon, LivingSocial, deals.com) are exploding as advertisers are watching consumers influence each other and sell products at the same time.

So… Why an issue on social media marketing in the Journal of Interactive Advertising? Quite simply, because traditional definitions of advertising no longer suffice, and we must broaden our conceptualization of “advertising” to include all forms of marketing communications.

Readers of this Journal certainly understand and appreciate social media. Many probably also know the twitter handle equalman. However if not, I’ll bet you know Erik Qualman’s informative Social Media Revolution YouTube video shown at almost every social media marketing, direct marketing, or advertising conference I have attended in the past three years.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics not only writes/speaks about social media, but early on used social media as a means to promote his book and establish himself as an expert on the topic. Erik recognized and captured early on the explosive growth and adoption of social media by consumers.

Advertisers seeing new audiences that willingly disclose individual interests are now targeting advertising to consumers with a laser focus never before possible. However, simply because “interactive advertising” can be targeted in more sophisticated ways than print ads, we must recognize that power of social media as a means of persuasion is far beyond that of another vehicle in which to serve advertising.

“Advertising is the price of being boring” – Andy Sernovitz

As an academic who was fortunate to be able to bring social media marketing to a classroom all the way back in 2008, the challenge is to keep up with the constant churn. We understand the widespread adoption of FaceBook as a means to connect; less so the head-scratching constant reports of mind-numbing detail from twitter users; and are just overwhelmed by the never ending series of new mobile apps that allow us to check-in, find the cheapest gas, and get the latest on who is in what bar or restaurant.

The explosion of mobile has brought ubiquitous access to social media and pushed the adoption curve. However, just the speed at which new social media technologies and platforms come and go boggles the mind and leaves many advertisers investing too many resources in a single outlet, trying to keep up with everything, or too scared to try anything.

Given such a dilemma, I look for principles of success, theories, or a framework in which to understand the rapid changes of social media. Lucky for me as an advertising professor, I long ago encountered the wisdom of Andy Sernovitz, President Emeritus of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. He simply and eloquently laid out five organizing principles for encouraging word-of-mouth that have to this day provided the foundation for my classes on social media marketing.

Mr. Sernovitz, starts his book with the principle that: “Advertising is the price of being boring.” So why would a professor of advertising quote such a statement in the Journal of Interactive Advertising? Because we must re-conceptualize the way we think about advertising and the historical artifact of independent communications departments talking with consumers. Don Schultz has long advocated for Integrated Marketing Communications and with the rise of social media the notion of departments of advertising is outdated. Social media requires the integration of all marketing communications to provide a seamless product/service experience. It begins and ends with a quality product or service, but advertising facilitates persuasion in social media.

Social media experts including Dave Evans will tell you that success is all about “being remarkable” and that social media marketing must facilitate those remarks.

While paid advertising that shouts into the traditional purchase funnel is inefficient compared with social media marketing, advertising that builds brands and provides social media content is often necessary for amplifying social media conversations. Dave Evans (2008) calls this process, “flipping the funnel” and describes how traditional advertising activities are amplified through social media and come out the other end more powerful.

Social Media Marketing

As you can see in the figure, the role of advertising in the traditional purchase funnel is to create awareness, consideration, and purchase. This is where the brand promise is made and expectations are set for consumers. However by participating and monitoring social media, companies are able to enhance the delivery of the product or service which elicits greater word of mouth and ultimately impacts the consideration phase of other consumers. So given that social media offers expanded opportunities for communicating with consumers, we must return to the principles of success, theories, and/or framework that best positions companies to engage consumers as brand advocates using social media.

That leads me back to Sernovitz’s (2006) framework for encouraging word-of-mouth. He structures his book around 5 T’s, which include the talkers, topics, and tools available for taking part in and tracking conversations that have become increasingly common in social media.

  1. Talkers – Find people who will talk about you.
  2. Topics – Build a simple interesting message.
  3. Tools – Help the message spread.
  4. Taking Part – Answer questions, and provide “new” information.
  5. Tracking – monitor online conversations.

1.    Talkers are small groups, but not all customers. Who are some of the most important?

2.    Topics are critical to give people something to talk about. They should be simple, organic, and portable. That means topics must be repeatable, relevant to consumers and the products, and must be digital so they can be easily shared. 

3.    Tools make it easy for the message to spread.

4.    Taking Part is all about customer service: listening, responding and/or monitoring conversations.

5.    Tracking is needed to understand what is being said in social media. Use technorati, blogpulse, and other search engines to track brand mentions. Check out companies such as mutualmind which provide one-stop social media monitoring services. There are MANY more. Encourage feedback online and offline and then show that you are listening.

Want more details and great examples – get the book!

Nothing is more dynamic than social media and keeping up is certainly a challenge. Luckily if you are interested in social media marketing, there are some extremely valuable free resources available to you starting with the Direct Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association. Both hold webcasts or virtual conferences with many of the experts in social media mentioned above. If you want to keep abreast of the latest happenings in social media marketing, subscribe to Mashable for industry updates and primers on the use of specific social media vehicles. The Social Media Examiner is also a wonderful resource offering strategies for social media success.

For more depth on specific topics, academic journals are a great resource. The International Journal of Advertising recently released a special issue on social media and the Journal of Interactive Marketing has many interesting articles. I hope you will also find the current articles in this issue of the Journal of Interactive Advertising enlightening and further your interest in social media.

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Please share these articles with your friends so you look like a savvy social media guru!

Steve Edwards

Steven M. Edwards, Associate Editor Journal of Interactive Advertising