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I'm a professed 'social media' skeptic. I believe that much of the hype around social media is unjustified.

I believe anyone arguing that every corporation should be seeking out 'conversations' and becoming 'friends' with customers on social networks largely reflects a misguided and naive marketing philosophy.

That said, I don't doubt the power of 'connection' and 'community.'

Before the phrases 'Web 2.0' and 'social media' had even been coined, I had been intimately involved in the creation and development of websites with strong community components. All told, these websites had generated hundreds of thousands of thousands of registered users and millions upon millions of interactions in the form of message board posts, content uploads and user-to-user communications before Friendster had even launched.

I still employ 'connection' and 'community' to this day in several of my online ventures, although I would argue that artificial attempts at getting consumers to develop relationships around toothpaste and laundry detergent are not the best uses of these concepts.

If one considers that 'connection' and 'community' are the key components of 'social media,' there is perhaps no better recent case study highlighting how social media can be applied in a truly effective manner than the Twilight series of vampire-romance novels that teenagers have really bitten into.

If Twilight sounds familiar to you, it may be because the movie adaptation of the first Twilight novel (also called Twilight) was recently released and in less than 10 days grossed nearly $100mn. Blockbuster status, to be sure.

How did a then 32 year-old stay-at-home-mother named Stephanie Meyer, with no prior novels published, take a dream she had about a romance between a vampire and a teenage girl and turn it into every author's dream - more than 25 million books sold and a knockout Hollywood adaptation?

The Internet had a lot to do with it.

As the Los Angeles Times details, despite the fact that publisher Little, Brown paid $750,000 to win a bidding war for the Twilight manuscript, the book house initially only published 75,000 copies and created a less-than-inspired website to promote the new book.

That wasn't good enough for Meyer. So she created a personal website, StephenieMeyer.com, that was far more personal and intimate than the website Little, Brown developed. She posted blogs and was eager to engage personally with those who would comment. Not content to relegate the 'conversation' to StephenieMeyer.com, she went to other websites and interacted with individuals on their online turf.

In the process, Meyer built up a small but passionate fan base. She encouraged her fans and supported their efforts to build and contribute to the "community" that was growing around Twilight.

To be sure, it wasn't easy and success didn't come overnight. The Los Angeles Times notes that Twilight didn't 'go mainstream' until the third novel in the series was released in 2007. The rest is, as they say, history.

Before we praise Meyer's savvy use of the internet, however, we need to praise the quality of her product. Twilight's success is obviously not only the result of her promotional prowess but the result of the creation of a 'product' that appeals to its target audience.

If Twilight didn't have enough substance to spark readers' imaginations and to keep them turning the pages, no amount of strategic marketing would have taken the series as far as it has come.

In short, Meyer had a viable product and using many social media components, was able to help it get the exposure it needed to thrive in the marketplace.

Today's breed of social media proponents, of course, will extoll the virtues of Meyer's use of social media and they'll eagerly highlight how the same principals that provided promotional umph for Twilight  can be applied by corporations.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Twilight is a story, an idea, fantasy, entertainment. It is not toothpaste. It is not a commoditized consumer electronics product. It is not a soft drink.

People interact, engage and build communities around passions, causes, ideas, fantasies - not everyday products.

The same principles that Meyer employed to help gain exposure and build loyalty amongst readers can be applied by corporations but they're not likely to produce a similar result.

Of course, this isn't all that surprising.

One need only look at the popularity of virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and video games like the Legend of Zelda and the relative lack of popularity of most of the virtual world initiatives created by corporations to see that what people want to interact around is based on a lot more than the mere availability of something to interact around.

Twilight is a fantasy world in novel form and Meyer, through her personal interaction with readers and support of the formation of community around the fantasy world that original appeared in her dream, was able to inspire others to make the Twilight fantasy their own.

Fans were interacting with Meyer - the author of a book they liked - not a 'Community Manager' at a multi-billion dollar corporation that makes pet food.

Creating similar types of interaction around products like pet food and toothpaste isn't likely and trying to do so probably isn’t a worthwhile investment for a consumer goods brand, which has a different set of marketing goals, different resources and more formal ROI criteria than Meyer did when she went online to engage in her own life's passion - the books she wrote.

In my opinion, the success of Twilight demonstrates perfectly the value inherent in taking a holistic approach to marketing. When evaluating which parts of the media mix are ideally-suited to achieving the desired outcome, one needs to understand his or her product and its place in the world.

Had Stephanie Meyer promoted Twilight in the same fashion that Gillette promotes shaving products, for instance, I probably wouldn't be writing about Twilight. Conversely, it's no surprise that as companies try to foster 'community', 'engagement', and 'relationships' around everyday products, I am not writing about their successes.

Drama 2.0

Published 2 December, 2008 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

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Stuart Greenfield

Stuart Greenfield, Director at Greenfield Strategic Marketing Consultants

This is well observed and is an excellent example of why businesses must take time to understand why people will interact. The need to be 'a part' of something drives all social interaction, mutual interest is key to this. Therefore it could be relevant for a 'toothpaste' brand to creat a social networking site if that brand was a sponsor for an important sporting or charity event wqhch was of interest to peole. This helps the 'social activity' and people have been empowered at no cost using a vehicle supplied freely. The knock on effect that the company promotes and sells more toothpaste creates a postive loop. (If the toothpaste turned out to rot your teeth then the realtionship would be flawed and so would the network).

So the answer is that social networking is not a science and it is not black and white in approach. Yes there is a lot of 'naive marketing philosophy' out there. But this is due to understanding and people taking a few risks and testing things which is good esepcially if done by bigger organisations who are able to use the learning and move on to better things.

What it all comes down to is, as ever, the quality of the idea. My daughter loves Twilight and was introduced as school and via facebook (I think!). But social networking is here to stay and will grow. They way it is used will change and we will learn from our mistakes.

Hasn't marketing become so much more fun!

about 8 years ago

Alan Charlesworth

Alan Charlesworth, lecturer / researcher at University of Sunderland

I too am sceptical of this whole 'social media' malarkey [is it an age thing?].

As you allude to in your piece, however, it has its place.

The marketing mix may be considered old fashioned by the new wave of e-marketers, but the model has substance. I teach [and was taught] that marketing is like a recipe - and you pick out the ingredients that are appropriate to the brand/product/organization/etc that you are marketing.

Sometimes social media might be in that mix - it may even be the main ingredient - but for most marketing starategies it should just be left on the shelf.

about 8 years ago

Alan Charlesworth

Alan Charlesworth, lecturer / researcher at University of Sunderland

I too am sceptical of this whole 'social media' malarkey [is it an age thing?].

As you allude to in your piece, however, it has its place.

The marketing mix may be considered old fashioned by the new wave of e-marketers, but the model has substance. I teach [and was taught] that marketing is like a recipe - and you pick out the ingredients that are appropriate to the brand/product/organization/etc that you are marketing.

Sometimes social media might be in that mix - it may even be the main ingredient - but for most marketing strategies it should just be left on the shelf.

about 8 years ago

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Drama 2.0

Stuart: while I agree that that experimentation and risk are good things when done appropriately, I would argue that in the case of "social media," we shouldn't confuse experimentation and risk-taking with lack of knowledge and experience.

There are certainly people within the field of "social media" who have legitimate marketing backgrounds. But there are also a lot of snake oil salesmen and newcomers who are spewing nonsense and trying to take advantage of the hype to make money, usually from naive smaller businesses.

Want to boost sales 50%? You need to blog! I can set one up for only $5,000. Are you on Facebook and MySpace where all the consumers are? For only $10,000, I'll get you a page on both.

It's silly and it’s less-than-honest in many cases. Social media isn't the panacea that many sell it as and there are plenty of costs that are usually hidden (setting up and managing "campaigns" is time consuming and there really isn't an effective cookie-cutter approach, etc.).

I would take a lot of the social media stuff more seriously if claims had been realistic and if there were more practitioners who had actually dealt with media buyers, understood basic marketing concepts, etc.

If the field of social media marketing is to advance as a serious long-term niche in the marketing world and not an interesting but passing fad, it needs to find fewer people who think that they're "marketers" because they know how to set up a blog or create a Facebook account.

This doesn't mean that everyone has to hail from Madison Avenue. I'd venture a guess that most of the top SEO firms in business today weren't started by Madison Avenue types. But they were probably started and run by people who knew what they were doing, built up some demonstrable experience and were careful not to promise more than they could deliver.

Alan: the irony is that the marketing mix has never been more important in my opinion. With so many options to choose from, marketers need more than ever to understand who they are, what their roles in the market and consumers' lives are and what type of marketing platforms fit in with their roles.

There's a place for social media but I think it will be quite limited for *most* brands. At first, social media was often pitched as a sort of social direct sales mechanism (i.e. Facebook Beacon). But lacking ROI, we've gone back to social media as "branding."

Some cite television as proof of the value of "branding." They essentially say: "Marketers waste tons of money on television commercials and those aren't really measurable so why not spend on social media?"

There's a problem with the argument though: over time, television has *proven* to be highly-effective at not only boosting brand awareness but sales. Advertisers aren't just buying spots on TV and forgetting about ROI because it's "branding" - they're buying TV spots because they have established that there is a measurable correlation between TV ads and sales.

Of course, for individuals whose only real credentials are “Knows how to set up a MySpace profile” or “Worked at a Silicon Valley PR firm,” this is probably news.

about 8 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Drama 2 : Seems we are singing from the same hymn sheet.

However, just to prove I am open to social media when used in the right context, take a look at the excellent marketingsherpa article called 'Generate Leads with Social Media Strategy: 6 Steps to Fill Up Sales Funnel' on http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=30946&pop=no

Note that I have no affiliation with marketingsherpa - but their newsletters have some really good case studies [you might need to register, but it is worth while]

about 8 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

Alan: interesting case study. I would observe the following:

1. BreakingPoint's strategy makes sense when you consider what they offer: technology solutions. The company's target audience is logically "online" and reading blogs, etc. If it's distributing through social media valuable information that appeals to people who work in technology (as the case study seems to be indicating), the content is just as important as the means of distribution.

2. We're told that 55% of leads came from the web. Knowing how many leads there were, how many turned into sales and how detailed the analysis showing a correlation between "social media" and leads was would be useful.

3. There's no ROI analysis. Authoring a blog, staying active on Twitter and distributing weekly press releases all have costs. One of the biggest problems reported with social media is the time cost. At some point, an ROI analysis has to be done - even if you've boosted your traffic by 155%, what was the real cost of that? How does it compare to other methods that have been used or could have been used (i.e. paid search, etc.)?

4. There's still the issue of scale. 10,230 unique blog page views in Q3, 280 Twitter followers and 141 LinkedIn Group members may be great numbers for a company like BreakingPoint but what works for BreakingPoint isn't going to work for a multi-billion dollar consumer goods brand. Gaining real interest in your social media efforts is difficult when you sell toothpaste. Additionally, it's hard to scale to the level required by those types of brands. I don't think many people appreciate how much it takes to "move the needle" at a company like Coca-Cola or P&G.

I'll be subscribing to MarketingSherpa and look forward to reading more. Thanks for the tip!

almost 8 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Drama 2.0 : ROI on social media is a massive issue - and easily forgotten because the cost is in time not cash [as with advertising].

Take our 'conversation' on this article alone : I have spent around an hour reading/thinking/typing. No problem for me, I am an academic/writer, this is part of my research into my subject - but how many 'workers' can do the same?

Breakpoint mention staff involvement - but how many person-hours? And those people must know what they are doing, the whole thing goes down the pan if you allocate the job to an inexperienced intern or office junior.

I have put many businesses off the idea of running a commercial blog simply because they thought it would take around an hour a week to maintain.

almost 8 years ago

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Veneers Boca Raton

This is a very interesting article about marketing strategy, even used "Twilight" to explain  important things about marketing.

about 7 years ago

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