Social media threads require weaving

Last week a pair of thoughtful posts and some announcements from Facebook were a reminder that the social web is more complex than you might think. Burned by Groupon, Zynga, and Facebook, investors have soured on consumer social media companies lately, perhaps thinking that all the good opportunities have been figured out, and the growth days are over. Far from it.

The ways that consumers use social media and the way developers and marketers harness its audiences and underlying technologies is still evolving. Smart companies must recognize social media provides threads they can weave into more traditional marketing, media, and commerce programs. It’s too simple to think of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as slightly updated versions of the mass-market websites – and their accompanying business models – that we have understood for the past 10 years or more. Facebook, for instance, is not just Yahoo 2.0.

Social doesn’t just mean “social sites”

Yes, Facebook seems to have wisely adopted some tried-and-true digital marketing techniques. It is adding to the value of its advertising inventory – and raising prices – by enabling it to be more easily used in re-targeting campaigns. But the reason it’s a relative latecomer to this practice, and why Facebook is still missing easy opportunities by offering conventional branding formats for big advertisers, is because the company is still trying to prove the effectiveness of new and truly different social marketing techniques.

A post by Jaap Favier lays out an ROI model for social media marketing that uses customers in bars as a metaphor. Read the post; it’s not the only way to evaluate social media, but it points out some of its key benefits relative to traditional media. Meanwhile, Alexis Madrigal points out in The Atlantic that if you run your analytics properly, you’ll see that a great deal of social content promotion comes from sources most people don’t associate with “social media,” including email and instant messaging from older online brands.

Thinking of social networks as social media sites gets a company only part way there. Facebook’s latest plan surrounding Open Graph actions for user- and developer-initiated sharing apply to apps that run on its site, even if “Collections” doesn’t look like much of a threat to Pinterest yet. But, possibly more important, these platform tweaks can be used by apps that run elsewhere on the web and on mobile devices.

Multi-channel weaving

I recently had conversations with two unrelated companies that offer services that help companies weave these various social threads together across channels:

  • Shopigniter recently updated its promotions management system for retailers. The company offers a bundle of cloud services that resemble a lightweight content management system for merchandisers with analytics and shopping cart accommodation. It enables a higher degree of interaction than conventional posts within the Facebook stream – although Facebook’s own analytics may not capture those actions, so EdgeRank promotion might need some help. Shopigniter works across Twitter and Pinterest, too, and looks competitively priced relative to six figure custom campaigns done with digital agencies.
  • SocialTwist is a company with app server roots that builds a cross-channel offer-promotions vehicle for big packaged goods and financial services customers like Sara Lee and CapitalOne. SocialTwist primarily focuses on coupons for both customer acquisition and retention. It integrates and tracks across the usual social media suspects as well as IM and email, which still drives over half of interactions. It has a similar pricing model to that of Shopigniter.

The ecosystems supporting social media marketing continue to produce new companies, and big players with their eyes on social CRM make acquisitions. The social platforms themselves continue to evolve at a rapid pace. All this swirling around social marketing and content discovery adds complexity, but it also means opportunity. Expect to see further expansion in the space before any serious consolidation.