Saturday, September 27, 2008

Marketing strategy in social networks

In a 2-minute yBC video clip, Anastasia Goodstein, a Gen-Y book author and the founder of Ypulse, shared how corporate campaigns might have missed their mark on marketing the social networks. I am impressed by her observation that opaque marketing is not the right way to explore business opportunities in online social networks.

By Goodstein, quite a few present retail firms try to hire online young ambassadors to spread their positive buzz over varied social networks such as Facebook. Instead of regular salary, the retailers give the young ambassadors free stuffs as gift. The retailers, however, advise their young agents not to disclose the gifts they received. The retailers ask their young ambassadors pretending to be objective volunteers who happen to like the services or product instead of being "paid" salespersons. The policy seems smart, while indeed, however, it is a miss of the mark on what social networks are.

Here are some thoughts that Goodstein did not explicitly say in her short speech while I want to extend the speech a little bit.

Social networking is to connect people with various "expertise". A social network is where one helps everyone else and everyone else helps her. To help each other, in social networks people look for a member's strengths but not the amateur comments. This is why the strategy executed by the retailers is wrong.

In short, objective volunteers are not necessarily experts (and most regularly they are not), even if their names are on the list of one's friends. This is where the whole problem is sitting. A person wants to seek professional suggestions in contrast to unprofessional buzz through her social network. Therefore, if the young ambassadors are known competing to be the official service/product representative and receiving free stuffs from the service/product providers are the proof of their expertise, their recommendation and comments would immediately become more valuable than the others among the friends.

Note that there is a subtle issue of trust inside social networks. In a social network, by default there is already existence of certain degree of trustworthy between declared friends. Hence being "professional" or not is a more crucial issue than the issue of trust since the latter one already has been reached. If I have two varied recommendation of services from two friends, I will certainly pick the service recommended by the friend who I believe is more expertise on the related domain. I trust both of my friends; but when trustworthy is not longer an issue, I choose the expert's suggestion.

Now the error the mentioned retailers made has been clear. These retailers are addressing the issue of trust instead of expertise. In real life we have learned that many salespersons are not trustworthy. Hence the retailers want their young ambassadors to be looked like trustworthy. What they missed is that the issue of trustworthy has already been automatically solved by default in the social network. The young ambassadors, no matter whom they are, are already quite trustworthy among their friends (or otherwise they should not have been friends at the first place). What the retailers really need to invest following is to train the young ambassadors so that they looks like professional in front of their friends. That is the miss of the mark!

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