What is the right role for a social network to play in the marketing mix? There’s two primary variants of social networks that marketers need to track; the first is the external social network, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, where anyone with an opinion can (and does) shout at the top of their lungs. The second is the quasi- internal or co-opted social network, which can include corporate support networks or sites that are the domain of user groups. This second category tends to be populated by newbies looking for help, and grizzled veterans who are very knowledgeable about the technology in question. While the second option may be closer to having a corporate imprimatur, both alternatives are options that need to be treated with caution. I’m not saying this is something to avoid or be scared of, but these applications have shifted the voice of influence away from the marketer and towards the end user. The problem for the marketer is that the end user will have a much more tactical and narrowly focused perspective on the product, while most marketers tend to have a strategic arc on anything under development or commercialization.
The worst thing a marketer can do is to avoid or ignore social networks. The bottom line is they’re out there, they’re heavily used, and you won’t have any control over them. This will require a fundamental shift in how marketers think; the illusion of control is well on the path towards extinction, however, a quick adaptation in terms of understanding the group dynamic can let you survive and potentially influence the tone and focus of the conversations. Not getting actively involved is not an option; if you don’t, your competitors will, and you can rest assured they will not have your best interest at heart.
Arguing with upset users in a public setting will only get you slammed, and in fact, they are likely to dog-pile you. Acknowledge that there is a problem (even if you think there isn’t), and try to understand what is really going on. If this is handled properly, you can 1) turn a foe into an advocate, 2) get some really useful feedback on ways to improve your product or service, and 3) turn a potentially negative situation to your advantage on a broader scale. The great thing about social networks is that if your ideas or comments are well thought through and responsive to end-user needs, you’re in an excellent position to wield huge influence in a non-obtrusive way.
The short version of all this is, if you’re standing on the beach and see a fifty foot wave headed in your direction, do you 1) freeze in place, 2) run like hell for higher ground, or 3) grab your surfboard and run straight at the wave? In my opinion, surf’s up. Let’s grab our boards and take advantage of what could turn out to be a really awesome ride.