The internet is a big place, and marketers need to choose the correct channels to generate awareness and love for their products. It has never been more important to do this. Traditional marketing channels are an economy of limited resources, but move online and you’re suddenly faced with an ecology of limitless possibilities.
A quick search for ‘Social Media’ will return hundreds, if not thousands of results and communities. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter may be the big names, but are they right for you and your business? If not, what are the alternatives?
You see, even if you have the major bases covered, the question of where to go next is a difficult one.
Increasingly, niche and regional communities are playing a part in global marketing strategies. If you want to market in the US or UK, then Facebook is often your best bet, but if you’re considering South American markets for example, then OrKut is a major contender.
Meanwhile, many companies are increasingly committed to creating their own self-contained communities, and the implementation of location and other branch services are rapidly expanding.
With all this choice, there can be a tendency to go for the broadest coverage possible, but without some serious research then choosing the wrong channel (or spreading yourself too thinly) can have a hugely detrimental effect on your brand.
Social Media engagement is about visibility, but it’s also important to make sure you are connecting to the right audience using the right medium.
YouTube is a prime example of this: with brand channels starting at around £25,000, there’s no excuse to be jumping in without doing serious research.
Eventually, it boils down to content. Have loads of compelling video lying about doing nothing? Get on board! But if you’re not a video-based company then you need to think seriously about how and why you’re using the service.
With this in mind I took a quick trawl of the web and found some good and some bad (and some truly bizarre) networks that prove exactly why you should do your research before committing to a channel.
Pros: With an audience number hovering around the 8 Million mark, Tagged may seem like a good place to be. Utilising a primarily image and game based system , it’s also home to a highly desirable youth demographic.
Cons: The company has been dogged by legal problems since its inception and its been haemorrhaging users for the past year.
Tagged also gained the dubious accolade “World’s most annoying website” thanks to Time Magazine in 2009, after it repeatedly used unauthorised user email information in unsolicited email marketing.
While founders Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith did attempt to clean up their tarnished image with a series of charitable actions, the legal challenges (Including some troubling cases involving unsuitable images of children) have continued unabated.
Verdict: Unless it instigates some major policy changes and clean-up actions, Tagged is best avoided.
Pros: According to its corporate site, Badoo recently topped 65 Million members, meaning the site has some serious reach, especially in Russian and Far Eastern markets where social networking is experiencing a major growth period.
Cons: Unfortunately, Badoo’s social networking and marketing opportunities are based around a particularly limited system. With no opportunity for users to network with like-minded individuals the potential for viral networking is all but non-existent.
Increases in popularity depend on Badoo’s paid for ‘Rise-Up’ feature, where profiles are featured for a limited period. In addition many search features are now charged as well. In effect, Badoo works on the same principle as a paid-for dating site, and while it may have its uses when it comes to finding someone for dinner this weekend, its business applications are limited.
Verdict: A mashup dating/rating site with a social paint job. Limited application and ROI.
Pros: One of the more commercially viable options, hi5 is focussed primarily on social gaming these days, so if you’ve had success with location services or through apps then this is definitely one to look at.
hi5’s audience skews toward teens and tweens, and the interface – a connection network with music and video options – makes it a useful place to be for media publishers. An injection of capital at the start of 2010 has also seen the company grow rapidly in the past few months and continue to acquire users.
Cons: The company has instigated some negative customer sentiment through its use of spam email marketing in the past. hi5 also has some highly customisable privacy settings and targeted friending options so you’ll need a lot of interesting, highly relevant content to succeed here.
Verdict: One for the devs, hi5 has a large, active audience but requires some nuanced marketing and effective engagement if you want it to work for you.
Pros: Not a network in the traditional sense, Conduit nonetheless provides some great opportunities for marketing unique services to your customers.
Founded in 2005, Conduit currently has over 200,000 web publishers using its app development platform. If you run a high tech concern or startup, or provide a web only service then this is a great place to expand and implement your product in a user-friendly way.
Cons: If you’re in a non-media field, Conduit requires some serious forethought and planning. Can your product or content be placed in a toolbar? Perhaps more importantly, will anyone want it there?
There’s certainly a rapid increase in app development, with diverse offerings from education, healthcare and music companies providing some great apps and services. If you can find a fit, this could be a real winner.
Verdict: If you have a unique service that suits multichannel media, then Conduit is a definite option, but be prepared to fork out some serious development time to make it work.
Pros: With so much choice, there is the possibility that smaller or highly targeted businesses can become lost in the social media crush. If you provide a product or service that regularly shows up in forum conversation and attracts dedicated followers, then you might want to consider creating your own network using Ning.
The obvious advantage with Ning is that you have total control over your content, you can register your own members and gain access to targeted information about them, and utilise your content in whatever way you see fit.
Despite some initial rumblings of dissent over the removal and repurposing of open source content on the site, Ning now comes with a straightforward but highly customisable interface with image, video and forum capabilities allowing the owner to control all output and easily track the engaged audience.
It’s also a fair bet that your members already have a vested interest in your product so Ning groups often enjoy high conversion rates.
Cons: On the downside, you aren’t likely to pick up much casual business, so this may be better employed as a back up or customer service portal in addition to a presence on other networks. Ning has also taken steps to remove search functions which limits the ability for people to find your network unless you specifically direct them, and the company is currently phasing out the free content areas of the service, so you’ll need to provide real value if you want more members.
Verdict: A great place for businesses that provide niche services and attract evangelistic fans, but not necessarily the best place for growth.
Six: 4Chan (NSFW!)
Just believe me when I say that you really, really don’t want to do this....