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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?

Socail Networks

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.

One: Tagged 

Tagged LogoPros: 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.

Two: Badoo 

Badoo LogoPros: 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.

Three: hi5 

hi5 logo

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.

Four: Conduit 

Conduit network toolbar logoPros: 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.

Five: Ning 

Ning network logo

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!)

Woof Woof Woof!

Just believe me when I say that you really, really don’t want to do this....

Matt Owen

Published 2 July, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Ian Hendry

Nice piece Matt, but as the whole web turns "Social" it's going to be hard to keep on top of more and more sites that seem to show social networking attributes.

My advice short term is not to only focus on the sites where your customers are, but where they are prepared to ENGAGE with you.  It's no good shoving yourself and your brand down your customers throats on Facebook if your relationship with them is in a work context as a B2B brand and they are on Facebook to share with family and friends.  You'll just cheese them off. 

Longer term, however, sites like Facebook will prove critical in giving us an identity we can use across the Social Web -- you'll sign in via Facebook but then engage with your market possibly anywhere on the web, in context.  What will become important is the destination websites, whether your customers are there (they could be anywhere, such as industry focused sites) and whether you can access all of these locations using an existing identity (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn), so you don't have to maintain a different set of signin credentials for each.

The landscape is changing rapidly.  In much the same way that MySpace means nothing these days, so could any of the others you have highlighted.

Ian Hendry
CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

about 6 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

Yes this is a good discussion/article Matt (and hello Ian).

Personally though, I found the site comparisons pretty uninteresting (nay “worthless”!). But I guess that’s really the point I’d like to make. It’s really a question of where sellers can find buyers, and vice versa.

If you manufacture/sell denim jeans, say, and it is your ambition to find every single “prospect”, that’s going to be a hell of a lot of malls and market stalls and travelling kayaks & dog-sleds you’re going to be setting up. And of course some of those trading posts are not going to be, or stay, viable. If you only sell high-priced “fashion” jeans though, and only in London, Paris & New York, the “audience” job is a little easier, but maybe the competition (for fools who can be parted from their money) is a little stiffer.

Buyers of jeans may like to feel that they have covered all 119,000,000 of Google’s options, from Gregor’s Siberian Specials to Bruce’s Outback Best, but for most it’ll still amount to the choice between Wrangler & Levi at the “local” WalMart – even if they check that out online and order them that way, to be delivered.

In a B2B setting, I then had a mate who was quoting an IT re-seller (VAR – what happened to them!?) based in North West England, who thought he (probably) wanted to be No 1 generically on Google for “Cloud Computing” – globally. It took a while, examining the “competitor’s” 100,000 inbound links and consequent £80K price tag to decide that maybe they weren’t all that keen to be discussing Gregor’s or Bruce’s cloud computing requirements, and that a rather more select bunch of local businesses in the Manchester area, with CRM or similar requirements, might have been more the kind of thing they were after.

So I’d agree with you that it can boil down to “content” (what’s in the store), but feel that the “branch” issue also needs exploring (where is the store). And it’s only rarely going to be a question of “numbers” (hits, visits, connections etc..) where “quality” is going to be vastly preferably to “quantity”. (Ask most sales people whether they prefer the old 10,000 cold-calls route or 100 hot prospects).

If you can, and do, supply/sell locally, regionally, nationally or globally then the equivalent task is still on your plate, and the ROI from building “a branch” on the Steppes should be fairly evident. The alternative is to just fly a quick plane over the area, dropping some leaflets and trailing a banner saying “nearest store in Moscow”. And indeed, as Ian is saying, what matters then is how good your plane, leaflets and banner are – translating into how much of a “common currency” you can achieve with your virtual profile.

So it’s not much good having a killer CV (company or personal) and excellent route maps all concentrated in 4Chan – unless rabid dogs and rednecks are your thing, by the look of it! And, for most, getting a comparative handful of the currently “most popular” ones right is the answer. Then, even if you are participating in the “new flat” Earth (is that Flat 2.0?) – and your business is conducted between Bangalore, Bangor and Beijing, you will still all be “talking the same language” – and you can therefore “find” each other without too much trouble. A “local” database/list might help, for example, even if that was assembled offline – then just “look them up” and start connecting, wherever they are.

And finally, as “search” is increasingly trying to find the “quality” too (like how active is the store, and the people in it, not how big is the building), it’ll pay to actually be online, with real people, really discussing whatever it is.

about 6 years ago

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Web Designer, London

I think we are still in the early days of social media especially as far as smaller businesses are concerned. A majority of the businesses have jumped on to the wagon without clearly identifying goals. As you have rightly pointed out, without a targeted and focused campaign you are unlikely to see the benefits. Some sites like Facebook and Twitter will work for all businesses and I think it is important for all businesses to have some presence. Other sites you choose should depend on the demographics you wish to target.

about 6 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

I'm not so sure it's a "size" thing WD? You could be pretty big, selling airlines or oil rigs or something, and still not find any takers on Facebook.

Isn't it more of a B2C v B2B thing? So talk to "consumers" about consumer items like fashion, movies, food etc., and find more appropriate settings for B2B, where business issues and prospects come into play, like here, LinkedIn, that kind of thing. Twitter, for me, is only really a reminder and route map, because it can't host any meaning content itself.

about 6 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

"...meaningful content..." that was - where's the "edit" button!?

about 6 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Hey Neil, some good points there. Personally I don't see it as a size issue either, but many companies are indeed leaping on Social Media and treating it as a magic bullet, signing up to every site going with no real audience research in advance. I think my main point is that SM outreach is about finding your core audience in advance, and deciding how you want to engage with them. In general SM is a byword for customer engagement and service, but if you really only want to utilise the marketing side - for example, to promote a corporate blog - then there are ways and places to do this as well. I agree that B2B sevices need to be careful when finding a voice, LinkedIn is an excellent place to do so, and although I maintain that it's usually worth reserving a company space on a variety of networks incase you need them later, organisations need to be aware and think more carefully about who they are engageing and why - any number are currently signing up for Foursquare and Gowalla in anticipation of the geo-boom, but surprisingly few are asking if they really need to be there, and setting ROI goals when doing so.

about 6 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

Ah well now Matt – “audience research” – there’s a can of worms if ever I saw one!

I’ve been in “niche” media all my life, starting with (litho) printers as an audience and covering gardeners, house buyers, accountants and, for the last 25 years, the UK sales profession. And I could tell you some stories, particularly to do with sales, and incredibly recent, that would simply make you faint with disbelief that anybody – let alone specialised marketers in a professional company - could frankly be so stupid and ill-informed.

But databases, lists, comparisons, profiles, possibilities…leading to…business plans, sales forecasts, strategies, tactics and so on, yes, these are the core components we should all have at the heart of what we do. How many companies/people are there, who might have this problem that we solve (and how many are there not!)?

In terms of “hubs” from which we can all then network, it strikes me that the obvious one glaring most people in the face is their “shop”. It’s called a website folks, and no, it’s not just a brochure.

As buyers, once we’ve found some product or service we like the look of, (which we think will solve our problem or meet our need), we’re all more than happy to be invited into the shop or office to discuss the details. And if that means “chatting” a bit more (like this) on the bottom of someone’s blog, or in their forum, that’s fine, leading to any emails or telephone calls or in-the-flesh visits, if those are going to be required too.

Then, as you say, marketers and sellers can quite happily reserve future possibilities, explore avenues, etc. etc., without wasting too much time and effort on those which might prove ineffective in future – because “change” anyway is also massive factor.

about 6 years ago

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Andy Smith

Hi 

Other than adding widgets and buttons to assist facebook, Digg and other social media users to add links back to a particular product they are interested in to generate conversation and hopefully custom, I don't really see the point in creating a profile for your business on facebook. People are unlikely to join a commercial facebook group.

Andy

about 6 years ago

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