The run up to Facebook's IPO was abuzz with optimism about just how large and successful it would be. The first few days following the IPO have been awash with stories of doom and gloom, a failed IPO, and lawsuits. It's now time for some perspective – not from an investor's point of view, but from the point of view of social marketing.
There is no question that there is a hugely important social wave rolling across the world of business and marketing today. Every survey that is taken shows that more than any other source, people trust the advice and recommendations they get from other people – family, friends, colleagues at work, and sometimes even strangers they meet in stores – or reviews they read online.
But here is where the thinking sometimes get murky. I am often asked whether it is the internet that is the cause of today's social wave, and the answer is no. In fact, human beings are fundamentally social beings, for whom social influence determines nearly every decision we make. It's an insight that was first observed and discussed decades ago, but was largely ignored by marketers during the so-called golden age of television, during which the glitz and glamour of that era's revolutionary new medium blinded people to the importance of personal influence and the opportunities afforded by word of mouth advertising.
The opportunity was there, though almost entirely missed until Mark Zuckerberg revealed the untapped desire for people to connect in new and interesting ways, and thereby proved the power of social connections to the world. Regardless of whether the stock price is $38 per share, or $33, or whatever it ultimately proves to be worth, Facebook has accumulated the largest audience for a single media platform in history. It's an awesome achievement.
But the successes of Facebook and its social media kin are the result of a tremendous social opportunity, and not its cause or its source. People flock to Facebook because it meets a social need that was previously underserved online. But people's desire to be social manifests itself in many other places as well, creating multiple opportunities for businesses that wish to engage with today's increasingly social consumer. As Brad Fay and I discuss in our new book, The Face-to-Face Book , social media sites are but one way (and a relatively small one at that) through which consumers engage in social activity.
Most conversations continue to take place not online but in the real world, primarily (and most productively) face-to-face. References to media and marketing of all types are quite frequently a spark to those conversations and the brand advocacy that comes with it. In fact, social media drives far fewer conversations about brands than television, print media, in-store marketing, or brand websites and other owned media. That's why we say "all media are social," and the goal of all marketing should be to activate the true, social nature of consumers.
How do marketers take advantage of the "social wave?" They should start by developing products and messages that give consumers reasons to recommend their brands; they should target their current customers and consumer influencers of many kinds, to encourage them to spread the word; and only then should they decide which marketing and advertising channels will be most effective in socially activating the marketplace.
The excitement and anticipation that led up to the Facebook IPO--and the frenzy of news and investigations that has followed--is not the story that matters most to marketers. The focus should be on using every tool available to activate highly social consumers.
Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." The publication of Keller's book, The Influentials, has been called the "seminal moment in the development of word of mouth." His new book, The Face-to-Face Book, is coming out in May 2012. You can follow Ed Keller on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, or contact him directly at email@example.com.
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