I hope everyone heard in 2008 that social is here and at least learned "what" it is. You played with LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter...right? Great. Did you even start your own blog? (a gold star for you). We all heard again and again that "Your customers are talking about you... you need to join the party... give up controlling the conversation".. blah blah blah. Ok so we've learned we can't control it and that you (and your throng of evangelists) can influence it. While 2008 was about marketing's control issues, 2009 will see smart marketers focus in on those evangelists - and not the ranting crazy ones but the ones with the power to influence others. Those are the people I suggest powering up with Red Bull and turning them loose. Barack is the easy case study that demonstrates what happens when passionate evangelists are given the tools to promote what they believe in. While it may not be realistic to expect an audience that passionate, many brands do have fans willing to not only spread the good word about you, but to also defend you.
Now, I have to address those afraid of pursuing a blog or network tool (Facebook page) that enables the audience to post comments for everyone to read. I always hear: "what if they say something we don't like". What I don't say, but probably should is that if you're that insecure about your product, you'd better start looking for a new job because crappy products are not going to survive this recession. What I generally say instead is that the moderator controls are there to take care of the jerks in every crowd. What I've also seen though is that very often an evangelist will step forward and say what needs to be said for you. That is gold. Make sure to identify that person and send them something nice.. literally. Regardless though, the fact that you are engaging in the conversation says volumes to both those critical and those who already love you.
Brand evangelists were always there. Their voices were limited to the physical interactions they had with other people and only when the topic came up for which they could say "have you heard about XYZ - this thing is great..." Social networks make those voices viral as one person broadcasts their influence to their own network of hundreds of friends. A percent of those people get hooked and broadcast this revelation to their network of hundreds - people love to discover and share.
This is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids and Facebook is probably the best evangelist WOM tool available. Its for this reason, that for clients with a product that has the potential to generate a level of passion and support, I'd suggest that a Facebook "fan" to your Facebook page is worth more than 10,000 email addresses. OK, I pulled 10,000 out of the air, but the reason a Facebook fan is so valuable is that they have raised their hand and said you're cool and I want to associate my brand with your brand. Its the equivalent of slapping your bumper sticker on their car for all to see. So not only does that act of "becoming a fan" get broadcasted to their entire network, but you now have brand placement on their virtual bumper. Further, as a "fan" you now have a new direct communication channel to push thoughtful messaging through. This is a new channel that is not clogged (yet) as compared to the email inbox. I did carefully choose the modifing term "thoughtful" before though because pushing your email campaign through Facebook will not work. It must be carefully used and I'd suggest a tone that acknowledges this audience as a friendly partner that is already there rather than a generic consumer.
For further reading, I just discovered Peter Kim. He is an ex Forrester researcher who focused on social technology and online marketing. He's now starting his own social technology company down in Austin. I mention this guy because his blog is filled with great insight and an interesting wiki that tracks notable social media examples broken down by channel and industry. A solid resource.
Remember Social = Word of Mouth
And if you happen to be an existing client or want to be, lets talk Social Marketing at Propeller for 2009