Marketing in the Social Networking Age

Social Networks Are for More Than Being Social

Networked individualism. What does that mean for businesses in search of keeping and attracting customers? As more and more people become social networkers, the rules have changed for marketing to them. While you’re still marketing to individuals, they’re different types of individuals now. They’re plugged in. They’re listening to what their group-mates say or write. They’re bonding with others.

On Jan. 15, Pew Internet Director Lee Rainie gave a keynote address at the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship annual conference. It was delivered to entrepreneur educators and titled, “The Rise of Networked Individuals and their role in the life of entrepreneurs.”

In his talk, he described “how American society has moved away from a social system anchored by small, tight-knit groups such as families, villages and artisan employers to a new social operating system built around looser, less-structured social networks.” He discussed “how the rapid adoption of the internet and mobile phones has pushed this social revolution forward.” He described “the Pew Internet Project’s latest research about Americans’ use of technology and how it has given entrepreneurs new ways to act as economic agents in a new media ecosystem.”

In the old social system, you had to be located somewhere or born into a certain group. In the new one, all you have to do is click on a button or two. (short aside: I’m part of some groups. Last week, I thought I was responding to attend an event and instead instantly became the leader of a group called Smart Singles that has about 2,000 people in it. 2000 people! I quickly searched for the “Out” button—not that easy to find—and resigned, writing that I apparently need to search out the Dumb Singles group.)

Rainie pointed out the growth of social network users among not-so-young people. From 2005 to 2010, usage by adults ages 30-49 grew from 12% to 61%; adults ages 50-64 grew from 7% to 47%; and adults ages 65+ grew from 5% to 25%.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs, he asked. He said “they exist in a new creative ecology.” This means that they are playing by new rules; time and place no longer matter. People are now “more reliant on feedback and purpose”; they’re “more attuned to group outreach and group knowledge” and “better arrayed to capture new information inputs”; and they’re “more self-directed and less dependent on top-down instructions.”

Social networks, Rainie said in a very logical follow-up, play a more important role today for marketing and sales endeavors. They are now “sentries” where “word of mouth matters more” (find those evangelists as we like to say here); they are “information evaluators” vouching for or discrediting a “business’s credibility and authenticity” (for instance, I declined seeing a play yesterday based on comments on my online “Footlights” group); and they are “forums for action—everybody’s a broadcaster/publisher.”

Rainie said that overall, good social networks matter because they make us healthier, wealthier, happier and more civically engaged people who build better communities. Makes sense. We are choosing our groups now; we’re not “stuck” in them.

His last slide deals with the implications:
– Constant connectivity changes social patterns and info flows; need for real-time info/analytics;
– Niches proliferate;
– Media power balances shift and boundaries blur;
– Influence shifts to social networks.

Conclusions? One that serves SIPA well is to join—be it associations, networks, interest groups, etc. Then be active; post information and opinions, ask questions, answer other people’s questions and attend events. Groupon succeeds partly because a restaurant can get its information before huge numbers of people on a certain day. You can do that as well—albeit on a smaller scale—on your networks.

It’s a brave new world. Might as well jump in.


Here’s one way…
SIPA/Mequoda Webinar: Blogging for Everyone
Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, 12:30 p.m. EST
Register by January 24th
to get the $147 SIPA early-bird rate!
Blogs have graced the Internet for over a decade and
still hold power for online publishers and content marketers
alike. They were the source of social interaction long
before social networks and have evolved to become
the basis for successful social media campaigns.

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