Twitter, facebook etc…. does anyone care?

There’s been a big buzz for a while now about social media being “the next big thing”, and you’d have had to be hiding in a cave for the last couple of years to be unaware of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, the rise and rise of blogging, newsgroups and forums, wikis and so on and so forth.

While there’s no doubt that individuals get a lot of value out of these media on a personal level, what do they mean on a corporate level?

Well, it’s argued that social media will impact on the way companies go about their marketing, creating both a new marketing channel, and a powerful arena for feedback. This idea of a new ‘virtual marketplace’ where the old structures of communication and interaction can be bypassed is not new – it goes back as far as 1999 when a series of theses (the Cluetrain Manifesto) put forward the idea that the internet would unavoidably alter the way that business is done, because of the freedom of communication. But does wide open communication via the internet really have the power that we keep hearing about?

Well, maybe it does. Take a quick look, for a moment, at ARGs. So called Alternate Reality Games are interactive ‘games’ which use the real world as a springboard, and the internet as a communication medium. Clues and entrypoints are seeded in music videos, flyers, websites etc, and ‘players’ who follow the clues are led into to a story, which – with a degree of suspended disbelief – purports to be reality. Such is the power of these games that tens of thousands of people get involved, communicating and collaborating worldwide in real time.

Imagine, then, the marketing reach. ARGs have been used to promote television programmes (Lost), computer games (Halo2), albums (Year Zero) and films (The Dark Knight), amongst other things. By truly immersing themselves in the medium, inviting collaboration, and creating something of genuine interest, the marketers behind these games have reached a large market, crucially: on its own terms.

So the answer is yes, there are marketing benefits to be had in the social media arena, provided you go about it the right way. But so far, the biggest successes have been experienced by ‘media’ type brands engaging in B2C marketing, which is logically best suited to social media. As for the scope of social media marketing in a corporate B2B setting, the jury is still out. Whilst there is no excuse for companies to simply maintain a corporate website and ignore social media in terms of brand management and perception; so far there seems to be very little data to confirm that social media can get quantifiable results in B2B marketing.

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