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Viral Marketing and 2.0 Tools

Web 2.0 has certainly changed the way many people interact.  It has created communities, provided a vehicle for customized interaction, and has been a platform for collaboration.  The communications aspects of Web 2.0 are breakthrough technology for marketing and delivery of new products and services.  We can overlay new methods on existing business functions, such as order placement and customer service but it does not change the way we relate to customers.  For the real value of Web 2.0 functionality to play a part in our companies we have to leverage the disruptive nature of the cultural changes that it brings.  We have to embrace this disruptive nature but be flexible enough to change our businesses to accommodate the cultural shifts.

Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, and other social networking platforms have created communities of people that share common interests or situations.  Some of these focus on social connection which allow for people to share their interests and ideas.  This interaction makes people feel like they’re a part of something and that what they have to say is important.  This “connectedness” is what is driving the movement.

Entertainers have adopted the social networking sites to communicate to and expand their fan base.  Rock bands and actors have made people feel that their fans are close to them and that they have a direct link.  Its great marketing as long as the fans believe that it is a real link to their heros.

Companies are using wikis and blogs to communicate with their customers.  Microsoft has forums that are driven by the user community and not by Microsoft employees. They even reward their top contributors with all expense payed trips to user conventions.  This makes the customer feel valued and the recognition can be a career boost.  Other companies have not been so successful because they try to control what is posted, often removing negative comments.  This is viewed by the community as a sell out.

BMW recently used YouTube to publish a “Mockumentary” (Rampenfest) as a strategy for their launch of the BMW 1 Series.  It was inexpensive to produce and created a buzz because it gently poked fun at stereotypes of Germans.  Other companies were not so successful at using the new media types.  Walmart created a fictional couple that blogged about traveling across the U.S. by staying in Walmart parking lots.  The public felt betrayed by the fiction and the company’s reputation suffered.

Web 2.0 provides great marketing vehicles but creates a level of risk too.  “You can’t hide anything anymore,” says coauthor of “The Naked Corporation” Don Tapscott.  Companies have to understand that if their corporate culture is one of control, the disruption created by this new media will backfire. All you have to do is type in a company name and the word “sucks” to understand how easily reputations can be tarnished.  The real disruption caused by Web 2.0 is the need for corporate cultures to adopt an openness and to always treat customers, suppliers, and employees properly because everything becomes public knowledge with these new tools.  “Viral marketing” can work both for and against you.

1 comment to Viral Marketing and 2.0 Tools

  • Phillip

    The bottom line with Web 2.0 (and advertising in general for that matter) is that the public expects (nay, demands) honesty.

    Corporations get into trouble when they deliberately misrepresent themselves. From lonlygirl15 to the cited WalMart campaign, people are outraged when their trust is violated. It’s all about meeting expectations. If a company sets the expectation that people are spontaneously promoting that company and then reveal that no such people exist, they betray their customer base in a fundamental and inexcusable way which is no less irksome than bait-and-switch advertising.

    I have a friend who is a marketing and PR consultant. Her motto is “Marketing is what you pay for, PR is what you pray for.” While it is tempting to manipulate the media to drive PR, the resulting backlash can outweigh even the most carefully crafted campaigns. BMW did it right – they made it clear what they were doing, and did something that would not either be impossible or prohibitively expensive in traditional advertising media. They were probably able to tap their networks of BMW enthusiasts who them went out and told their friends. THAT’S good PR.

    “Old media” has had years to develop a social contract of sorts with consumers of advertising. I suppose I should applaud companies that dare to push the envelope of new media, but I do think there are some fundamental lessons learned from other media that the modern media producers should heed. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it is possible to develop compelling advertising without resorting to dishonesty.

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