An important milestone in the history of the Web was reached in 2008. According to Neilson Online, users spent more time on social networking sites, like Twitter, Facebook and Blogger, than in personal e-mail programs.
Even with such a large number of people spending their time on these sites, there is still an equally large population shying away from the online medium's newest front, unsure of how to address these new outlets. How do you begin to use this new marketing tool? Is it something that can really help your company? And, most importantly, how can it be used to increase your bottom line? With more than 175 million active users worldwide together spending an estimated 3 billion minutes on social sites daily, these sites deserve serious consideration for your marketing dollars.

As the shift from the individualistic nature and spam-ridden tendencies of e-mail moves to the cleaner and controlled forum of social networking communication, companies need to harness these opportunities to move their business into the future. Having their names appear on sites like Facebook and Twitter add to the number of impressions seen by media campaigns, making marketing dollars work more efficiently. In many instances, these social outlets also replace the need of costly direct mail or complicated e-blast campaigns, since a marketer can reach an entire page's registered users in a matter of minutes–at no cost and at a fraction of the time.

Keep in mind that these users are a niche group of people who voluntarily signed up to become closer to a brand and its products. No traditional advertising outlet, from television to print publications to radio broadcasts, can offer the same access. Capturing customers when they are asking to receive information instead of being interrupted by a commercial break makes them more susceptible to any marketing message or product promotion. In many cases, people have been drawn to become members of a page at a grassroots level to learn more about product and show their brand loyalty, so it's up to the marketer take advantage of their interest and transform it into dollars.

By embracing these social networking sites, companies can gauge the pulse of consumers and better understand the trends, often before they appear at retail. The real-time features of Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger allow for instantaneous perceptions to be snatched up and interpreted by marketers for future campaigns and product development. Since these sites use basic templates, companies are placed on the same level, regardless of their size, profit margins or budgets.

While these social networking sites can be used to add hype to current promotions or send out coupons, their intended function is to connect Web users. When companies create pages on these sites, they successfully begin to bring a human element to their corporate image. Although by nature anyone can post a comment to these sites, corporate-sponsored pages give the company ultimate control over what is discussed and the tone that is used. With bulletin board-type forums and comment features, both companies and consumers have the ability to connect instantly for immediate feedback and conversation. Building these one-on-one relationships and moving away from mass media is truly the biggest appeal of social networking sites from a business perspective. Without a doubt, it is one of the biggest features that can be used to produce more sales. While companies are encouraged to interact with users, the page also allows like-minded consumers to share information with peers.

As the popularity of social networking sites continues to grow, some companies in the sporting goods industry are beginning to cautiously cross the border into this new territory�and are seeing impressive results. After realizing how much its core customer base of running enthusiasts were supporting one another through blogs, Sof Sole knew where to direct its next marketing efforts. The insole and footwear accessories company manages a comprehensive blog outreach program in its key markets, reaching out to customers for product reviews and overall feedback.

“Interacting with our [customers] through their blogs allows us to communicate on their terms, giving our corporate identity a human aspect,” says Todd Vore, president of Implus Footcare, Sof Sole's parent company. “We've now established a means to get legitimate user comments on our products, and in return, our customers feel as if they are making a difference in the development of our product. After all, if we are making performance footwear accessories, we need to be tuned in to how well they are performing.”
While bloggers in Sof Sole's outreach program are asked to only post a review about the product shipped to them, the company has witnessed entries complete with photos, YouTube videos and links to the corporate site for their readers to order a pair of their own. In appreciation of the product feedback, Sof Sole completes the process by sending the blogger an e-coupon that they are encouraged to forward along to family and friends. Comments on the blog entries have enabled Sof Sole to spider its efforts and reach a second and third layer of buyers. Since all of this outreach is done through email and mail, Sof Sole now has built a relevant database of addresses for possible future use in brand loyalty programs or mailing campaigns.

Perhaps the most rewarding use of these social sites is when the customers are motivated to create their own product pages, known on Facebook as “Fan Pages”. The Facebook Fan Page for adidas has more than 750,000 followers. Nike's has over one million. Each of these pages engages its followers by featuring special promotions exclusive to their fan base, highlighting newly released products or promoting special contests open to only Facebook followers.
Forget all preconceived notions about social networking sites. Enhance traditional marketing with these free online opportunities. Explore these sites' flexibility to make your registers ring and embrace new media. Rethink your old ways of marketing and begin to maximize your profits with a new way of brand management for a new generation of consumers.

Get Over Your Social Media Anxiety.

Now is the time to embrace social media sites to benefit your company and its overall brand.

  • Supplement your media plan. Social media sites expand marketing budgets and utilize dollars to target a much more specific consumer

  • Stay tuned in to the pulse of the industry. Get real-time perspectives on trends from both buyers and fellow companies in the industry.

  • Give your brand a human face. Social networking sites allow companies to have direct access to a core group of interested buyers and to engage them in a more casual environment for instantaneous feedback.

Ready to catch the social media fever?


Follow these simple steps to begin your online presence.

  • Identify your purpose. It�s easy to be overwhelmed by the unique features that these sites offer. Stick to simple networking when beginning and then branch into the more advanced options.

  • Check out the competition. See how others in the industry are working the different aspects of social media sites.

  • Give incentives. To begin to grow your following online, offer special promotions for joining the page, posting photos or starting a new discussion

  • Stay current. With so much user-generated content, social networking sites are updated faster than 24-hour news sites. Be sure to keep your page fresh and updated so that people will begin to place value in your page and return over and over to get information.

Carolyn Roman is an account executive with Genesis Marketing Partners, a full-service public relations and marketing firm based in Cary, NC, specializing in sports marketing and retail advertising. Look for her full article in the next issue of SGB.