Image: Jason A. Howie

The Social Media Ecosystem

Social marketing has become one of the most important, yet often misunderstood, concepts in advertising over the past five years. The promises of social marketing are great, and various companies and small businesses have demonstrated the possible benefits of paid and unpaid marketing through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, and more. In some ways, social marketing has become a holy grail for major corporations and small local businesses alike. The ability to reach existing and potential customers in new, dynamic ways without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars has created a more level playing field for all businesses.

At the same time, social marketing remains a rather mysterious concept to entrepreneurs just entering the social marketing world. Even seasoned veterans continue to struggle to understand what makes some social campaigns successful where others fail. This doesn’t even begin to address the multitude of issues still surrounding the idea of social marketing and return on investment (ROI).

While there are a number of factors that determine success or failure, one constant factor that doesn’t have to be mysterious is the big picture. Too often, social marketers and small business entrepreneurs focus on the specific tools of social marketing without understanding the communication and strategy that is involved with the big picture. A small business owner may fret over creating a Facebook page and Twitter account without any thought to how these accounts will interact with each other or with the business’s primary web site. While social strategy is never a guarantee for success, in many ways it is a prerequisites for it. Entrepreneurs who lack an understanding of the communication and strategy that exist behind social marketing run the risk of never achieving their full marketing potential.

The following infographic is based off of social media research from Boston College’s John Gallaugher & Sam Ransbotham. Their “3M Framework” lays out the type of communication social media enables between businesses and customers. It’s important to realize that this framework highlights the greater social media ecosystem. Individual websites such as Facebook or Twitter are components of this larger ecosystem. The infographic provides a basic visual representation of this ecosystem, explains three types of basic communication, and provides some helpful tips and information on six of the most popular social media sites:

Using The 3M Framework

Understanding how communication functions between a business, customers, and the outside world is just the first step. The core of any social strategy is planning out how each individual social website will promote one or more of these types of communication:

  • Megaphone Communication: directly communicating with customers and potential customers is best achieved through accounts directly controlled by the business. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and more, all make it easy to setup an account to directly publish and communicate with followers. When using multiple accounts in a marketing campaign, it’s important to keep your communication consistent yet tailored to each account. For example, the message should remain consistent across multiple accounts while the wording should adapt and change to the constraints of each account. Messages will obviously be shorter on Twitter, more visual on Pinterest or Instagram, more dynamic on Youtube, etc.
  • Magnet Communication: using social media to encourage interaction with current and potential customers is most often achieved through engaging content and campaigns. This kind of communication is meant to “magnetically” draw people into a business’s social presence. Quite often, this type of communication can establish entire social communities around certain sites such as Facebook or Pinterest. The most important things to keep in mind are consistency and engagement. Communication from a business must be frequent without being overdone. It also must encourage customers or potential customers to engage and participate. For example, some of the most successful campaigns center around a call to action or participation.
  • Monitor Communication: customer-customer, and customer-outside world communication is where social media can shine. Up until just a few years ago, the channels of this type of communication were limited, especially in regards to a business’s ability to monitor such communication. In social media, anything customers or potential customers can do to “share”, “like”, “tweet”, or “pin” something related to a business constitutes this digital “word of mouth” communication. Once again, consistent and engaging content and interaction with customers is an important component to encouraging social sharing. A call or contest to “spread the word” can encourage participants to naturally expand the business’s social presence, while websites such as Google Analytics and ShareThis can help you monitor this sharing.

The Big Picture

Ultimately, the most important aspect of social media strategy is having a clear picture of the entire whole. Like any complex system, a business’s social media presence is more than the sum of its parts. Understanding the capabilities and specifics of each part isn’t enough. You have to understand the purpose of each social website within the context of the whole. What kind of virtual community are you building on Facebook? How will you visually communicate your core message through Instagram? How are you encouraging customer participation through Foursquare? How do all these individual efforts contribute to the greater whole? The ability to confidently answer questions like these will keep you focused on the big picture, and keep your all the parts of your social ecosystem working in tandem.

Read more:

The First Step to Success in Social Marketing

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