Dallas Lawrence is Chair of the Social and Digital Media Practice at Levick Strategic Communications, the nation’s top crisis communications firm. He blogs on emerging digital media trends and best practices for social media engagement on Bulletproof Blog. Connect with him on Twitter @dallaslawrence.
With 450 million users globally (and millions more being added each week) Facebook is dominating the web in unparalleled ways. Yet, even as the social network has steadily grown over its short but remarkable history, many brands have remained on the sidelines of the social media revolution.
Facebook was the most visited site on the web for the week ending on March 13, 2010, surpassing even Google in week-long stats for the first time in history, according to Hitwise. The shift in user habits and audience targeting is palpable and it provides marketers, brand managers, issue advocates, and political campaigns today with an age old choice: Adapt and change or face irrelevance and extinction.
A Social Media Parable
In many ways, the fundamental decision facing those looking to compete in the next decade of social media dominance is reminiscent of Dr. Spencer Johnson’s bestselling business tale Who Moved My Cheese? It’s the story of two mice named Sniff and Scurry and two “littlepeople” named Hem and Haw who find themselves facing this same predicament.
As the fable unfolds, the book’s four main characters arrive in their maze one day to find that their once abundant cheese supply has disappeared. Sniff and Scurry knew this day was coming. They recognized that their cheese supply was dwindling and set out to find a new source.
Hem and Haw, on the other hand, hadn’t noticed that their cheese was running out. Rather than adapt, they retreated into the all-too-human reactions of fear, denial, and disbelief as they hopelessly waited for the change to prove passing.
For those who have not read this late-90s change agent bible, I won’t spoil the ending. The moral of the story however is clear: Change happens. To survive it, you must anticipate it; and to be successful, you must embrace it.
Realizing the Critical Value of Facebook
In the modern day maze that is the digital and social media realm, these lessons were again on display as the online community debated the value of the new Facebook user statistics this past week.
Viewed simply, the cheese moved again this month –- and just as intelligent companies adapted their marketing and communications models for the advent of Google over the last decade, Facebook’s dominance has forced another “change or become extinct” moment. To thrive in a rapidly changing marketplace, you must understand that the shift now underway is just as powerful as the one that transformed Google into the modern Yellow Pages and turned a Silicon Valley start-up into a $200 billion everyday necessity.
Unfortunately, most of today’s C-Suite decision makers lack the foresight of Dr. Johnson’s furry friends Sniff and Scurry. Far too many people still see Facebook as a vast, uncontrollable outpost for college slackers –- one better equipped for picture sharing and random life updates than brand reputation management, crisis response, and brand bulletproofing.
But the numbers don’t lie. Almost half-a-billion users each spend an average of nearly 6 hours per month on the site –- inhabiting networks that are largely free of corporate messaging, spam, and expensive advertising. This ought to make at least a few corporate titans rethink that next $1 million Super Bowl ad buy (even if Google did buy its first in 2010).
3 Ways Your Brand can Get Started on Facebook
Facebook users are openly sharing their life’s passions, personal interests, and their affinity –- or lack thereof –- for corporate brands, political candidates, and the key public policy stances. In effect, they are openly sharing every bit of marketing data a 21st century company covets.
For those still wary of change but now ready to dip their toe into the waters and begin to understand and benefit from the power of social, there are three free and relatively painless steps to begin the journey through the social media maze:
- First, evaluate your current advertising efforts and identify how they can best be tailored to Facebook. Consider allocating 10% of your current Google AdWords or online advertising budget to a 90-day trial run on Facebook. Be sure to develop clear benchmarks for success, and remember, unlike Google AdWords, Facebook ads rely on both keywords and a variety of demographic information –- information you no doubt have already identified as key indicators of your target audience(s). You can now put this information to use to further micro-target your advertising buy, narrow the net you are throwing in the online marketplace, and increase the return on your investment.
- Second, conduct a survey of your or fans to see who is already on Facebook and thus, who may be your brand’s most social media-savvy fans. You may find that your fan base is brimming with talent just waiting to be unleashed. For now, these future brand ambassadors may be ideal candidates to develop your Facebook presence and initial advertising program.
- Finally — and this may seem obvious — become a face on Facebook yourself. Become familiar with the site, its features and the value hundreds of millions of people find in the world’s most populous online community. It may ultimately not be for you personally, but as with almost every new platform, the best way to understand its value is to give it a try yourself.
- For those still looking for meaning in the numbers released earlier this month, the message is clear: Not only has the cheese moved again, the entire creamery has up and relocated. It won’t be coming back. And no manner of hemming and hawing is going to change that fact.