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How-To: Use Customized Socnets to Meet Brand Goals without Overspending

Although the potential benefits of social media marketing are huge, many marketers are afraid to take the leap. But to remain relevant in the digital world and survive the economic downturn, businesses would be prudent to leverage social media networks to enhance marketing campaigns and connect with consumers in a cost-effective manner.

Now users eagerly embrace, if not expect, the ability to contribute to and even drive the conversation around a brand and its products. While this often happens in major social networks like Facebook and MySpace, custom online communities represent an interesting proposition for a brand to control and monetize its own community while avoiding brand dilution.

For those who successfully adapt to the social media movement, the opportunities – in terms of both financial and brand equity – can be enormous.

Pursue custom online communities, not just major socnets.

The strategy of engaging consumer social networks to promote a brand is not a problem in itself. For some businesses, this blanket approach can be effective for reaching the mass-aggregate. Brands, however, do not own the experience and cannot properly manage the risk of appearing next to competing, contradictory or inappropriate content. They forgo the value of fostering their own community and the benefit of direct feedback from members.

A custom online community gives consumers a destination to engage directly with a brand while giving marketers the ability to moderate the conversation around the brand. Deeper consumer engagement can be driven through professionally-created and user-generated content, ratings, comments, polls, forums, interactive contests and other social networking tools that foster community and feedback.

Because you own the community, you can communicate with users directly, manage the risks associated with broader social networks, and monetize content in a way appropriate to your business strategy, without the rules and regulations of another entity.

The most promising social media strategy combines the reach of Facebook and other mass-aggregate communities with a well-planned custom online community that contains compelling content and relevant engagement features. Social networks are a great tool to reach the critical mass and draw traffic back to your site, and should be used in conjunction with your online community marketing strategy.

Examples of successful social media strategies.

Goodby Silverstein & Partners developed a cross-platform campaign to launch a new import sport coupe in front of millions at the Super Bowl. While the primary ad unit, a 30-second Super Bowl spot captured viewers’ attention across the nation and drove significant traffic to a custom online community where people could engage with the brand through an online contest. There, enthusiasts could remix racetrack footage of the new car in the hopes of creating the next official commercial for the coupe.

After entering, contestants could share remixed videos with friends by embedding them in social networks, creating a viral distribution effect that directed traffic from the social networks back to the site where new users could remix a video, enter the contest and continue the cycle.

In another example, WhittmanHart Interactive was recently tasked with launching a video remix community to promote the back-to-school shopping season for a leading US department store. The project had a very short timeframe and the client wanted great value at a discrete price, and solving the technology challenge with the agency alone was not cost effective.

The agency collaborated with a SaaS provider to receive guidance on best practices and issues surrounding UGC moderation, media distribution, monetization, copyright, and legal issues. WhittmanHart led the creative and user experience discussions with the client based on input from the SaaS provider. By hammering out these issues and considering content, creative, technology and ROI from the beginning, it was able to deliver a successful social media site that exceeded customer expectation and stayed well within budget.

These marketers found a way to successfully integrate cross-platform strategies to extend the life and reach of the overall campaign by combining custom online communities with the viral nature of social networks. When considering such a strategy for your own business, consider the following best practices to make your investment go further:

  • Consider the benefits of SaaS companies to mitigate the risk and cost of building social media technology internally.

    With a wavering economy, many orgs seek ways to effectively save while still making progress on business goals. Consider partnering with a proven vendor that offers a hosted social media platform. An SaaS based pay-as-you-go model creates flexible marketing campaigns that can scale based on demand and budget, reduces operating costs and lessons IT burdens.

    This route will prove more efficient and cost-effective than trying to build your own social media environment from scratch. SaaS-based solutions can launch Web campaigns in a matter of days with fewer logistical roadblocks and legal headaches. They also allow businesses to do more creative and innovative things in less time than traditional methods. Businesses are suddenly more nimble and have a greater power over being proactive vs. reactive.

  • Ensure monitoring and moderation tools, as well as a moderation strategy, are in place to protect your brand, audience and advertisers from inappropriate or copyrighted content.

    Inspiring open and honest online community interaction is the goal, but it doesn’t have to paralyze companies if conversations get out of control. An effective social media site should not be a free-for-all. It is easy to be caught unprepared by the speed with which a rumor, obscene parody or malicious “brand-jacking” can spread across the Internet.

    Given this, effective moderation and management is critical to protecting the brand. Social media should enhance brands, not defeat them. Implement a set of moderation and reporting tools that allows you to screen and manage user-generated content before publishing to the website. Content control ensures a brand safe environment for the company, users and advertisers.

  • Leverage a technology company's experience with technical expertise, sound legal advice, and industry best practices.

    Having these elements in place will enable you to focus on the business and creative aspect of the project.

    Few marketers are truly equipped to implement and manage a social media marketing campaign without help. Even those marketers that understand the social media sphere inside and out often lack the time, experience, money, resources, or technology to launch, scale, and maintain a social media campaign entirely on their own.

    To enable you to focus on the business and creative aspect of the project, consider leveraging the expertise of a technology partner specializing in social media.

Cynthia Francis is CEO of Reality Digital, a leading white-label social media solution provider. For a copy of Reality Digital's white paper on social media for retail and brands, visit Reality Digital's website.


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