Seemingly, everywhere you look these days, people are talking about social media online technologies and websites that people use to share content, opinions, insights and experiences. It’s Facebook this or MySpace that, and those are only two of the myriad of such sites that comprise the social media landscape. The question that must be asked, though, is whether these various types of participatory environments can be used for marketing purposes? The answer, if not a resounding “yes,” is certainly a definite “maybe.”
Only a couple of years ago, the same question was being asked about the forerunner of the social media movement blogs. Today, companies, large and small, are using them not only for public relations and thought leadership purposes, but in direct marketing as well. Take, for example, jewelry retailer Ice.com. Its Sparklelikethestars.com blog contains links to products offered in its ecommerce site.
In what ways are online retailers using social media? Quite a number have created applications, or apps, (also known as widgets) for Facebook. Popular online shoe retailer Zappos.com has one that allows members to share their favorite products and brands. Blue Nile has a “wish list” app, which Facebook members can use to post gift ideas and share them with friends.
Not only are companies producing Facebook applications themselves, so are consumers. Lee Paul Martin, a university student in Louisiana, created one for the t-shirt retailer Threadless, a company with a large college-age fan base. Martin’s app allows customers to earn points by promoting the company’s products among their Facebook friends points that can then be used to make purchases at the Threadless website. Call it “affiliate marketing meets the Facebook generation!”
Applications are just one way companies are using the popular social network to market products. Facebook Groups is another, as well as is the newly released Social Ads platform.
However, using social media for marketing extends well beyond just Facebook. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses with MySpace pages. Others have created videos and posted them to YouTube or placed pictures at the photo-sharing site Flickr.
I am not suggesting that all the “I’s” have been dotted or the “T’s” crossed insofar as using social media in marketing. Quite the opposite is true at this point. But, as was the case with blogs, a precedent could soon be established and case studies will abound.
Over the next few months it will be my duty to explain in detail how social media can serve marketing purposes, especially as it relates to small business ecommerce. One of the best ways to do so is by sharing examples of companies already using the medium. If that’s you, please feel free to drop me a line.