With the emergence of online communities, the flow of data is now going both ways. Consumers are volunteering (and continually updating) a tremendous amount of personal information on a broad variety of topics. And while most consumers are displaying that information within the walls of an online social network, make no mistake; those walls are very transparent.
At a recent industry event, a Twitter executive noted that as many as 65 million tweets are sent each day. And then there's the phenomenon known as Facebook, which is now number one in terms of time spent on a site, according to the Web site Inside Facebook. In March 2010 alone, Americans spent over 7 million hours there. Adweek has even suggested that logging into Facebook has become as much a daily habit as brushing their teeth for as many as 50 percent of users. Facebook is more than habit — it's habit-forming. And an iPhone allows for easy access during any momentary void in the day.
Just yesterday, my own set of Facebook friends posted about relatives having surgery, shared photos of their kids, described various mundane activities, made new friendships and sent out lots of birthday wishes. And that's just a tiny taste of the information being shared back and forth on a daily basis. Who would have ever predicted how eager the general consumer population would be to post such personal information?
From a marketer's perspective, the amount of data available for use in marketing applications is overwhelming. It is so overwhelming, in fact, that the real challenge becomes determining what is actually useful - which pieces of information drive decisioning, response, conversion, loyalty, etc. A suggestion? Start with basic social media data.
Amazingly, not everyone uses Facebook. Understanding the spectrum of social networking membership and activity for a marketing target, either prospect or customer, can direct outbound touches and broaden branding reach. Whether the goal is to message or to listen, it is critical to know where the desired targets are gathering.
Another suggestion is to look for similarities between consumers and the networks they frequent. For starters, there are some very obvious affinities. Twitter users tend to also have a Facebook membership. The Washington Post and New York Times subscribers tend to also appear in LinkedIn. MySpace members often utilize PhotoBucket. Other similarities are less obvious, but still meaningful. For instance, Hi5ers associate with Tagged and Flixter. Understanding these synergies adds depth and awareness to the consumer relationship, and can drive more efficient media buying decisions.
To gain even deeper and more meaningful insights, marry the social networking affiliation with demographics to reveal commonalities and key attributes. As an example, a file of highly social consumers could reveal that well-connected Facebookers often share an interest in traveling, skiing, movies and politics, along with a love of contests. Or that LinkedIn members are active and have an interest in travel, golf, politics and movies, but also emphasize career, investing and children. Racing and Nascar enthusiasts are more apt to be found on MySpace, and those members also enjoy movies and contests while staying focused on kids and careers.
The more information known about social setworkers, the better the opportunity is for more effective integration of this new, wildly popular channel into a marketing strategy. Marketers can follow up on a comment on their fan page with an email, or tie it to a TV ad for overall branding impact. Through social media channels, marketers can figure out how to customize relationships with individual consumers. Do they receive branded applications, games or product samples? Are they asked to fill out a survey, or linked to a music video? Greater insights answer these questions and drive effective communication.
Expanding insight on the socially active consumer segment allows more personalized messaging in the highly engaging one-to-one medium of social networking. As with all other marketing channels, it is data that allows greater consumer insight and promotes better messaging throughout the social medium.
Clearly, consumers are enamored with online social connections. They post, tweet, retweet, chat and view, and they "like" it all. Many are cautious, and limit access when a network like Facebook provides the tools to do so. For others, however, sharing information is a new way of life, and those consumers are having fun making connections and expanding their reach in the social web.
As a consumer, I love it, too. Before joining Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxco and Twitter, I always ducked out of sight when someone started snapping photos. Now whenever the camera appears, I step into the picture, smile big and raise my glass in hopes that the resulting shot will be impressive enough to become my next profile pic.
About the Author
Allison Marr (Allison.Marr@acxiom.com) is senior manager for consumer insight products at Acxiom, where she manages key InfoBase enhancement and list-product lines that are focused on introducing the latest social media and e-products offerings. Marr has been with Acxiom since 1994.
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