As we have indicated, communities spring up naturally. Online, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are used to create communities. Everyone you are friends with on sites such as these are people that you already knew. The sites are simply the communication medium. What is interesting is that Facebook and other social networking sites can’t tell the difference between close friends and acquaintances. From a marketing perspective, since each tie or relationship is treated the same, social networking sites provide interesting ways to reach people. One, perhaps not so interesting way, is as a broadcast medium for advertising. A company targets consumers by placing ads on a person’s site based on what Facebook or MySpace knows about the person—just as ads are placed on a radio or television station and matched to certain audiences.
The more interesting way is by consumers sending other consumers links and other information. For example, when a marketer creates a Facebook or MySpace page for an offering such as a movie, a community can form around the movie. Then if you join the group that loves the movie, Facebook notifies all of your friends that you are promoting the movie. A community such as this might not be as enduring as the Ambrielle or HOG groups, but it serves its purpose—at least until the movie is old news and newer movies come out and get attention. When you become a “fan” of something like a movie, you are part of the buzz.
Marketers are looking at many ways to use Facebook and other social networking sites to create buzz. Facebook has a “gift-giving” application that allows people to give “gifts” to each other. The gifts are really just icons (pictures) within Facebook. Enter GiveReal, an online service that allows people to give one another real gifts online. GiveReal developed a promotion with Bombay Sapphire, a leading premium gin, and Facebook. The promotion allows Facebook users to give their friends electronic coupons (downloadable to a credit card) for mixed drinks that use Bombay Sapphire. These coupons can then be redeemed at restaurants and bars that accept credit cards. 1
One result of social networking is viral marketing, or the spread of the company’s message (like a computer virus) through the community. Some companies have enhanced the viral marketing of their offerings with interactive Web sites that might feature, say, a game built around an offering. Consumers then e-mail their friends with links to the game or Web site. Examples include the viral campaign by Nine Inch Nails for its concept album, Year Zero. An online alternate reality game was created involving characters and situations drawn from the music on the album. The album and game were so popular that HBO has even considered creating a series around the dark, futuristic tale told on the album.
Blogs are one form of online communication that helps spread viral marketing messages. Some blogs are written by corporate marketing officers who “spin” the information. But blogs can be written by anyone. Blogs can serve as a “voice” for a community. For example, the chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Horseracing Association (the NASCAR of horseracing) writes a blog for the organization that is posted on its Web site. However, anyone can leave a comment on the blog. Blogs have become much more like dialog in a town hall meeting than a one-way marketing message.
Twitter is another application that facilitates viral marketing by enabling people to “follow” someone. When an organization or a person posts something on Twitter, the post—called a “tweet”—is sent as a text message to all followers of that organization or person. Ashton Kutcher made headlines by being the first person to collect a million followers. However, the first company to generate a million dollars in revenue through Twitter is probably Dell. Dell uses Twitter to communicate special deals via its tweets—offers that are extremely limited. Followers can then contact the company to place their orders for the products. Dell estimated that in 2009, it would earn more than $3 million through Twitter. 2
Communities are not just a consumer phenomenon, nor are they a function of technology. In the B2B world, communities can be formalized into users’ groups. For example, the customers of Teradata, a data warehousing company, have formed a users group. Annually, the group holds a conference in which members talk about how they use Teradata’s products. So others users might learn from her company’s experience, Laura Carros spoke at one of the conferences about how using CRM technology and Teradata’s data warehousing function helped JCPenney create the Ambrielle community.
Social media is a catchall phrase for the online channels of communication that build communities. Social media includes social networking sites, blogs, podcasts, wikis, vlogs (video blogs), and other Internet-based applications that enable consumers to contribute content. Social media spending for marketing purposes doubled in 2008 and continued to rise in 2009 despite the poor economy. In fact, Forester, a respected research company, predicts spending to top over $50 billion in 2009! 3
Customer communities form around social networks, which marketers can use to both promote offerings and gather market information. Companies create influencer panels that provide insight into effective offerings and provide word of mouth.
- Is an influencer panel the same as a community?
- If a company doesn’t create an influencer panel, are there still influencers? If so, who are they influencing and how?
- What Internet tools, other than influencer panels, create word of mouth?