SXSW II: Social Marketing

The buzz this year at South By Southwest, and one of the big buzz words in the industry right now, is social marketing. Getting people to talk about your brand. Using people as a medium. Relying on a social network rather than a television network to create buzz.

One reason good social marketing is so coveted by marketers is that it can be cheap. Think about all those people running around talking about how great their iPhone is. Apple's not paying them for that. And partly because Apple's not paying these people, you get the second great thing about word-of-mouth: It's trustworthy. People are more likely to value a message that comes from a friend than one that comes from an ad, a paid celebrity or the news.

There's nothing inherently new about social marketing. It's really just another name for good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. What has changed is that technology has hyper-charged these word-of-mouth social networks. Because of all the social networking sites, I have 400 readily-available social connections. If I find a message worthy of it, I can easily disperse it to all of my "friends."

Companies were originally excited about how the Internet could change change the way they could speak to their customers. But what it's really done, more importantly, is change the way customers speak to each other.

The question companies have, of course, is how do we use these incredible social networks? How do we get people talking about our brands? The answer is to support these communities. Make ourselves useful to them. Become a generous member. Stop talking about ourselves and start making social gestures.

Here's a crude drawing of the mass media way:

That's us, up there in our ivory tower, shouting our message to the masses we hope are out there. And our message is usually about us.

Now here's the social gesture model:

When we start thinking about ourselves as members of a community rather than marketers to a community, we look at the landscape in a completely new way. A few observations about this shift:

1) Come down out of the ivory tower. Talk to the people, not at them. Have conversations. You have all the tools to do so. It's not as easy as mass media, but with a little legwork, there's a much greater upside.

2) Stop talking about yourself. You're a member of a community, and nobody likes selfishness.

3) Stop trying to make a buck and start trying to build communities. Stop selling to people and start helping them make good purchases. Sales are the byproduct of good relationships.

4) Really, don't be selfish. Don't pretend to back a community. It has to be genuine, because if it's not, people will turn on you. All those social connections can also work against you.

Is social marketing appropriate for every product? Probably not. But every brand should stand for something around which a social network can be built (if one doesn't already exist).

This way of thinking is about doing rather than just saying. I'll post more about that soon.