The Facebook Effect:
Marketing Will Never Be the Same

Samantha Porter


The Past

Not too terribly long ago, marketing was a nearly unilateral discipline: corporate executives targeted customers through television, print, and direct-mail ads, and then sought to influence them almost as an all-knowing parent seeks to steer a child.However, the Internet and the rise of Web 2.0 have effectively dismantled this brand of top down marketing in favor of a customer driven marketplace that hinges on customers talking to one another.

Today’s consumers are much more interactive than they have been in generations past. They rank, “like,” and “friend” their favorite products online while writing scathing blog posts about those that they feel have failed them. As a result, most companies (or at least those bent on staying open) have created entire social marketing divisions with the goal of reaching out to consumers online as well as through more traditional means. Simply creating a social networking presence is rarely enough, however. Companies that do not understand today’s Internet dynamics can end up doing more harm than good, as the landscape is often more complicated than it seems at first.

The Shift

Social media’s transformation from a purely personal networking platform to one where customers are wooed and products promoted was slow, but profound. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace began as tools that could bring people together. Friends shared photos, thoughts, and anecdotes from daily life. The tone was personal, casual, and in many ways designed to mimic daily life. Rather than meeting up after school or at the coffee shop, people gathered online, keeping each other updated through a series of short messages and updates.Before long, organizations began building profiles and pages. Ad campaigns coursed through social networks, and manufacturers started encouraging discussion and dialogue online. Promotions, discounts, and exclusive offers were provided to people who signed up for updates, “liked” certain products, or retweeted positive corporate messages.

Today’s consumer is much more demanding when it comes to information; something corporations have had to adjust to. “Previously, we could market to our customer any way we wanted—we held the proverbial cards,” Forbes magazine said in an article about the contours of new social media marketing strategies. “Now, as consumers have ‘choice,’ social has changed that. Consumers want specific content and information at all stages of their buying journey.”

The Metamorphosis

The result is a marketing strategy that has to be adaptable in order to succeed. Engaging in social networking is about a lot more than simply opening a profile and hiring an intern to manage comments and facilitate discussion. Senior-level executives need to understand the fluidity of the medium, and react to changes in consumer likes and demands almost before the consumers realize they have changed their views. This takes finesse—and a lot of learned savvy.

“Social marketing lacks a formulaic model that one can put on a PowerPoint slide and show to the Board of Directors. Instead, like a relationship, it is fluid, not formulaic, with a tone of equality between consumer and creator,” Nilofer Merchant, a corporate director and lecturer at Stanford University, wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post. Getting good results often takes a lot of work, not to mention a shifting of focus.

Companies who have invested the time and expertise to get social networking right have typically reaped great rewards. According to British small business magazine Director, 69 percent of small businesses who used social networks for marketing in 2011 felt it helped them compete with larger businesses in their sector. An additional 53 percent of businesses using social networks to interact with consumers were pursuing a “growth strategy,” which was helping them plan for a more lucrative future than those who were focused primarily on offline or passive marketing.

Leveraging the power of social media for marketing is one of the biggest industry trends. Jumping on board is not necessarily difficult, but nevertheless must be done carefully. Companies who approach the online marketing world cautiously and rationally are usually the best poised for success.

Samantha Porter is a freelance writer and researcher who just recently graduated and, much to the disappointment of her parents, is not considering graduate school at this time. In her newfound free time, Porter has been working with a marketing education website that provides certification information and tips for prospective students and she welcomes you to check out more of her writing.