Social media has fundamentally changed the way that people discover products, services and content. It's no longer simply about the old method of product, price and placement, it's about relevance, value and virality. As the effectiveness of traditional online marketing continues to decline, how can you be sure that your message is not only absorbed, but embraced, passed along and viewed as valuable? There have already been plenty of studies conducted that show us that word of mouth is the most trusted source of information for internet users. It's probably fair to say that word of mouth is the most trusted method of discovery and influence in general. I'm much more likely to go see a movie if a good friend tells me I'll like it versus seeing an ad.
The social web has amplified and magnified word of mouth to increasingly expanding proportions. Prior to the social web, if I were to like a product or service enough to talk about it, I may have mentioned it to 5 or 10 people, and maybe 1 or 2 or them would have then told their friends. But now, being hyper-connected means that when I talk about something favorably, or negatively for that matter, I'm potentially thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people. According to the site Twinfluence, I have a total potential reach on Twitter of about 1.3 million people. And that's just lil' old me!
In addition to the many social networks that are enabling word of mouth to become so fiercely influential, there are a number of sites, networks and apps that are built specifically for social discovery of everything from books to clothes to music to everything under the sun. There are also recommendation engines that base their suggestions on algorithms formed by what you've liked in the past, what your friends like and OK, granted, someone has to hear about something non-socially at some point before it can be socially shared, in this case the chicken does tend to come before the egg, but the influence of non-social discovery continues to decline while the power of social discovery continues to grow and is a factor that must be taken into consideration.
Let's start by defining the framework of social discovery, how it works, and it's various incarnations. I would define social discovery as the active or passive discovery of content, products, media or information through social tools based on your social graph. In other words, it's what happens when you see your friends discussing something, or when you ask your friends what they think about something. Social discovery can happen actively or passively.
Passive social discovery happens when we casually observe information streams emanating from our social circles and pick up on something that strikes a chord. For example, I may see a friend of mine link to a blog post, or become a fan of a product on Facebook and as a result I have discovered something new
Active social discovery happens when information is actively requested, or "crowd-sourced." For instance: I want to know the best place to get lunch in Santa Monica, so I post a question on Twitter asking my followers and solicit a response.
In my view, social discovery represents an amazing opportunity for brands and individuals alike. It enables individuals to discover content, products, people and media that they never would have even knew to look for. And it enables brands to become a relevant part of the global conversation.
So how can brands take social discovery into account as they forge pathways within the social web? Many of the principals that apply to viral strategy and to participation in the social web hold true for maximizing social discovery opportunities as well:
There are wells of valuable data out there that can reveal what people are already saying about your brand and related affinities, and also that can give valuable insights as to what will gain traction. By using social media monitoring tools, or contracting with an outside firm to help with the process you can gather data that far exceeds market research and surveys. You can locate communities, tap into sentiment, semantics and context. The social web contains a wealth of information that blows traditional market research out of the water. It enables us to conduct quantitative and qualitative analysis of entire online communities. Hear not only what people are saying, but whom they are saying it to and why. This is all information that you can use to discover what appeals to a particular community, vertical or affinity group.
2. Know where your community, ambassadors and mavens are
This step, as all of the other steps that follow, ties closely to step #1 - listening. In fact, they tend to happen at the same time, as you listen, and delve more deeply into a community, you discover new branches of the community, new people who are active in the community and who's opinion those within the community respect.
3. Share something, contribute, be relevant!
I have yet to do the research to prove this theory, but I'm willing to place money on the fact that brands who contribute the most on the social web are the ones that are the most successful. The social web is about community. And communities thrive when people or organizations contribute something. Contributions can take many forms: entertainment, knowledge, information, monetary, and facilitation of interactions are all ways to contribute. Think about any community, online or off, it's those who contribute the most who are highly revered, respected and most often discussed. This is the element of helping brands integrate into the social web that gets me really excited. I get to help a brand figure out a way to offer something meaningful to a community of people. It's really a feel-good kind of thing that's incredibly effective. Give people what they want, simple! The trick is finding out what people want, which can be accomplished through step #1 - listening.
4. Give your content "social lube."
The social web is about conversations and it’s also about sharing. Sharing is a natural by-product of conversation. It’s the logical next step. You can encourage people to share your content by giving them access to the tools they use to do so directly from your content. They still, of course have to decide if they like it enough to pass on, but once that decision is made, it makes sense to remove as many hurdles as possible. This means adding social bookmarking links to sites like digg and del.icio.us and making sure videos and other multimedia content are easily shared by including links to embed and share them. Make it effortless!
Great post here by Max Gladwell