The Dominion Post, June 2010

When 36 Dutch women in orange mini-skirts caused a commotion at last week’s Netherlands-Denmark World Cup Soccer match, it was a classic old-school ambush marketing stunt. It was Dutch brewery Bavaria trying to steal some limelight off much bigger US company Anheuser-Busch, the official tournament beer sponsor.

Although World Cup organisers weren’t amused and some of the woman ended up languishing in a South African jail, Bavaria would have been delighted at the global media coverage of the stunt. It was a classic guerrilla tactic traditionally used by smaller companies to get attention only big company advertising budgets can typically secure.

With the growth of social media these stunts are becoming less necessary. For little money small companies can reach enormous worldwide audiences instantly.

Social media covers a broad range of websites that are community-based, enabling people to share all manner of information using video, images and text. They include well known channels with millions of members like Facebook, Flickr and LinkedIn, to niche online communities like Kohtakte (for Russian speakers) and Wakoopa (Software/gaming enthusiasts).

It is important not to get carried away with the social media hype. As blogger The Ad Contrarian writes, you have to be careful of “the insane hysteria the marketing industry has created around social media marketing.” He offers evidence from a recent study by US-based Nation’s Restaurant News, which showed companies’ social media strategies didn’t align with customer expectations.

61% of restaurant operators said their restaurants were on Facebook, but only 8% of consumers said they ever follow restaurants on Facebook. 53% of restaurants say they are using Twitter to market themselves, but only 3% of consumers say they follow any restaurants on Twitter.

People, particularly those with a vested interest in promoting it, tend to get over-enthusiastic about new mediums like social media. The past is littered with confident predictions that radio would be buried by television, cinema by video, TV by the internet and so on. All of these mediums have carried on, changed significantly in some case, but continued.

New mediums really just add a new layer, a new way of reaching your audience. The basics remain the same – you need to know who you are talking to, and have something relevant and compelling to say to them no matter what the medium – but there are some specific skills you need to develop for each new trend.

The trouble with social media is that it is so easy, the cost of entry so much less than traditional media models like advertising. It is cheap to put up a website, free to create a Facebook page or Twitter account.

Low barriers to entry mean the sheer number and noise on the social media landscape is incredible. Every man and almost literally his dog seems to have a Facebook page.

No marketing tactic, especially something as low cost and far reaching as social media, is likely to be effective without a few basics in place. That includes having a good idea of who your target audience is and what drives their buying behaviour; and developing a relevant and compelling story about your product. Unless you have this in place your efforts to Tweet or Facebook will be just adding the noise and delivering little value.

If you have these basics in place, then the key in using social media effectively comes down to three words: share your expertise. Being willing to give away some of your knowledge to prospective customers is what makes social media channels come alive, rather than boring people with what you had for dinner or watched on TV that night.

All kinds of companies are taking advantage of social media to drive their marketing. An example David Meerman Scott (no relation) offers up, in his excellent social media primer “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”, is US company the Concrete Network. It provides a service that links builders and homeowners with concreting contractors.

By offering all manner of useful information on their website: articles, tips, videos, photo galleries, pouring calculators and so on about everything from patios to driveways to pool decks; they have attracted a great following. Using tools like Facebook and Twitter to promote their site, they have achieved a typical rate of 1 million visitors per month, which delivers plenty of customers to their contractor customers.

If social media can be used to sell something as commoditised and low tech as concrete, imagine what it can do for more complex products like technology.

Using social media to share useful ideas, articles, case studies, surveys, images, videos, interviews etc about your area of industry expertise has a number of benefits. It enhances the credibility of your brand, raises your brand awareness with influencers like the news media and best of all, give you a valid excuse to engage with existing and new prospects.

Social media offers significant potential for certain types of Kiwi companies, particularly those willing to share some knowledge. And they won’t have to stoop to scantily-clad women at the soccer to get some attention.

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