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Social Media Marketing: The Conversation Happens With or Without You

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No longer can companies afford to ignore social media or play the "we did not know" card. Liana Evans explains why your company can't afford to miss the conversations going on about your products.
This chapter is from the book

A funny thing happened when the Internet went mainstream. Ordinary people could talk to more people than just their neighbors, co-workers, and social club friends about what they were passionate about. Believe it or not, this started happening long before the term social media was even a forethought in anyone's mind.

Conversations about brands, products, and services started happening online with the advent of message boards, forums, and web-based chat rooms. From 1992 on, comic book collectors could talk all about which series they loved, advertise any extras for sale, speculate on what might happen in the next issue of their favorite comic, and announce whether they were planning to attend local or national comic cons (conferences dedicated to comic collectors) through message boards and forums dedicated to the topic.

These conversations weren't just on a national level, either. People from around the world could now speak about their passion for comics to fellow enthusiasts in countries thousands of miles away. Have a rare comic you'd like to trade? Wondering what really happened to Gambit in the last issue of the XMen comics? Wondering if Stan Lee would make an appearance at the latest comic con? These are just a small sampling of the types of conversations that still go on in these forums.

Even When You Aren't Listening, People AreTalking About You

All this was going on without DC or Marvel really understanding the hidden treasure trove that had sprung up without spending even a dime of their own marketing money. As the years progressed and online marketing moved toward banners and flashy graphic ads, ads for comics or movies based on comics or conventions began to appear in these forums. Eventually, forum members became banner blind; most just ignored the ads they had seen hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

Unfortunately, these comic book companies really missed out on an opportunity to connect with a very passionate audience early on. Instead of using banner ads and flashy graphics announcing a new issue, or a special event at a comic conference, they could have had a representative in the forums talking with the community members about upcoming issues, conferences, or maybe even gripes about current plot lines. This would have garnered a lot more engagement and interest than a banner advertisement ever could have.

The conversations in these forums went on without "official" input from any major comic book publishers. And this still happens today. Many companies miss prime opportunities to engage with customers or their audience on social media platforms because they believe that because they aren't involved, nothing is being said. They don't realize this point:

  • The conversation goes on with or without you!

The people in these social media communities who are actively engaged in conversations about you, your brands, or your products and services do not adhere to your carefully crafted marketing messages, or your public relations timelines for releasing news, or when your CEO thinks you should be on the front page of the papers for your latest release. They talk about you whenever they want, however they want, and to whomever they want. It doesn't matter if it's a journalist from the New York Times or a fellow scrapbooker—community members will share their experiences. And they don't share just the good or the bad experiences, either—they share any experience. To community members, the simple act of sharing with one another drives these conversations.

Forums and message boards are some of the oldest and most powerful places on the Web where these conversations happen, but they are far from the only places where people are discussing your company. Conversations can also seem one-sided until you look deeper into comments, ratings, and reviews of the user-generated content on these social media sites.

Blog posts, for example, can seem like they are written by someone just spouting off their thoughts, opinions, or experience with your brand or products. But take a closer look. Do you see comments or trackbacks? Who else is mentioning this blog post about your company or its products or services? If a blog has comments and trackbacks, a conversation certainly is going on, and you might want to become active in it if you aren't already.

With videos, perhaps you find one of your TV commercials on YouTube, but you haven't released it on your website. This could be a huge signal that your offline media is affecting the online world. Finding that people have pulled your commercials and put them online tells you that the audience either really likes them or finds them incredibly annoying. The only way to tell is by the descriptions, title, and comments.

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