Several months ago seemingly overnight Google launched its new social network Google+ into the surprised and delighted hands of the hungry tech and early adopter crowd. Tech blogs and media pundits were ablaze for days and weeks touting their praises and critiques, while subsequently pouring gasoline onto the fire of hype that had accumulated. Some of us jumped in head first and immediately began experimenting, while others stood by at a safe distance and waited for the dust to clear before forming an opinion, let alone a marketing and communications strategy around the social network. Soon the next logical set of questions arose.
When are the business pages coming?
What will they look like?
When can we sign up?
How can we earn income, fans, and brand exposure from this?
Ah yes, the REAL questions. When can we use this social networking for marketing purposes? When can we exploit this social network for our own gain?
Right now there is a legion of online social networks and communities publicly available to anyone who is willing to invest a minute or two to sign up and provide an email address. This list via Wikipedia reveals some of the more popular and obscure networks (ever tried Muxlim, Blogster, or Wakoopa?)
Facebook and Twitter, along with LinkedIn and YouTube to a lesser extent, have become the accepted norms and have made their way into a regular part of many of our marketing strategy conversations.
What’s next? Where are the new opportunities?
The problem is that they’re often hidden. None of us, even the perceived media intellectuals, have a crystal ball that can tell which social networks are going to pop and which ones are going to fizzle next. It can be frustrating; especially considering that early adopters and those who can leverage the benefits of a social network early can be exposed to previously untapped opportunities.
In the face of this conundrum, I’d like to propose opportunity hunting over exploitation.
Let’s unpack this:
Exploitation is creating a branded Foursquare account and adding strangers randomly with no goal others than that of building up friend count.
Exploitation is taking a business onto Quora (which still currently violates the user policy of the site) and answering questions in hopes of being perceived as helpful.
Opportunity hunting is more about testing the waters of a social network. Cast out and if the fish don’t bite try a different approach or wait patiently for them to show up. No harm, no foul. Tumblr is a great place to be hunting right now. As a social network it’s had impressive growth and likely isn’t going to disappear anytime in the foreseeable future. Not every business will have success on Tumblr, but business to consumer brands with a younger audience might have a shot at success. Dailybooth, a photo based social network, is another place that might be worth exploring. Again it depends on the brand and the audience.
The message here is to walk into the unknown not only with caution, but with the right motives. A social network is a place where people take precedence and brands should only join in if and when they’re welcomed and nonintrusive. The goal here is to build trust and positive brand equity through marketing, as opposed to shady tactics. After all, reputation matters, right?