Sunday, June 28, 2009

Marketing in the Feed

The new dream of the marketing professional is to reach their customers within feed. The feed is that stream of status updates, shared photos and videos that people see when they log into Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed or any of the other 50 social networks. That feed is special because people place a higher value or trust in information that comes from their friends. There are several easy tactics that marketing professionals can use to allow fans and supporters to share their cause with their friends.

At a basic level, that feed is generated when a person reads a New York Times article that interests them and they think that others will like it too. They then share that information into a social network using links on the page that quickly email or post that information on another Web site. For example, I love to read the NY Times Most Emailed stories because they are often the best of the paper. Something of unique value is created when you track what people are willing to send to their friends.

Younger generations seem to be getting much or all of their current events through the feed. They learn of Michael Jackson's death or the launch of a new phone through information shared from their friends or a list of people they follow. They may never open the New York Times paper (or go to the Web site), but may read several stories a day when people they follow give their take on the story.

How can marketeers engage with their publics and customers in the feed?

1. Make all content shareable.

Each page, video, photo, press release, whitepaper or piece of content should have a universal sharing menu that allows people to push that information with their friends. There are several free tools that do all the hard work for you. I don't have any reliable stats, but people see roughly 10 percent more page views by simply adding a sharing menu to plain content. Stuff that is hot (like videos) will see much sharper increases in views as fans pass it along.

2. Generate lots of media so your customers can share it.

If you interview a customer, think about how you can turn that single interview into multiple pieces of content. Instead of just interviewing them and taking notes, record it on video, audio and take photos. You can quickly turn that traditional printed customer case study into a one minute video testimonial, audio podcast and photo slide show. This aproach has a multiplying effect on your marketing efforts and will generate a high volume of earned placements from your customers.

For example, I worked for an agriculture technology company that outfitted much of its sales teams with low-cost video camcorders (most used their own home handhelds). Every time they went to a customer's farm, they shot video of the customers using the product. The videos were grainy and shaky, but prospective customers loved them. The amateur video was more credible to them and gave them the "test drive" they needed before buying. Once the amateur clips are uploaded to YouTube, everyone can easily share them and find them on their own. When the videos were embedded into the company's website, those videos received more clicks than anything else on the website and turned into real money for the sales team.

3. Monitor the feed and engage quickly. Hire a community manager.

If you are inviting your customers to share content, you have to listen to them and quickly respond. As the community manager for a software company, I set a goal to successfully close nearly all online conversations within 24 hours. This drove the community engagment team to quickly find and resolve any concerns that arose. Customers and prospective customers always knew that we'd be there to help them and often directed us to conversations that needed our insight. Good community managers are a combination of customer support and public relations people. They must feel free to comment on behalf of the company instantly and know the service well enough to resolve the problem.

4. Identify people with a large following. Engage them early.

Community managers quickly learn who has a large voice or strong following. Since the era of the pitchman, people have sought out those with influence. In feed marketing era, the influence map has shifted dramatically. A single person can have 900,000 followers on Twitter. That influence radius dwarfs the daily readership of all but the largest print journalists.

I recently worked on a campaign with a startup company where a news article about their newly launched service was ReTweeted by a handful of people who had a very large Twitter and Friendfeed following. Within 30 minutes, that story was pushed out to over 600,000 followers. The client saw a sharp spike in Web site traffic from the Tweets that far exceeded the referral traffic it received from the many traditional media stories. In addition to customers, that Tweet appeared in the feed of much of their target stakeholders providing them with critical third-party validation during their launch.

Marketing in the feed is governed by the same brand building strategies. The rules of earning someone's trust and engaging with stakeholders remain constant. The realtime pace and transparency inherent in the feed do require some changes in tactics to help your customers share your good news and respond to their enthusiasm.

Friendly disclosure: I work at a PR agency that represents several social media companies. One of those companies makes tools that allow you to share content online.

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