Social Media: Commercial or Viral


Reading books on the topic of social media gives a clear view that you can either build your community to serve an openly commercial interest or remain objective allowing the site to morph virally. The argument is that people on the web are suspicious about the motives of corporations. We believe in freedom of speech and accept that individuals will have biased views, but somehow we see that any messaging from a brand is trying to influence or subvert our views and we tend to tune out.

If we build our community to serve a commercial interest then it will be hard to get people to join and remain active in that community.  Blogging for monetary rewards is one attempt by brands to bridge the gap between commercial and free range communities. Sites that facilitate such assignments boast that people are making up to $20k per month, just by blogging. This is like a pyramid scheme. If you are in the top 10 members then sure you will make good money, but others can only hope to get free detergent for their efforts. When the blogger receives a monetary reward I would judge their view highly suspect and millions of web surfers agree.

If we focus on the community members and remain neutral then viral growth will be slow and will require outside funding to reach critical mass. Critical community mass enables the community owners to sell screen real estate to marketers and earn through pay per view and pay per click models. Communities like Facebook that have over 130 million monthly unique visitors can profit from this model, but I believe that there must be something better, as this is a one way street. As community members we accept this as a necessary evil and deal with it by tuning out from the barrage of messaging that is thrown at us on a daily basis. I would ask how effective is this type of marketing really?

The Media 2010 Study cites that the advertising market will move more and more towards interaction. This will enable marketers to better profile and focus their initiatives to individual consumers. Alan Moore writes about this form of engagement marketing. None of the commercial examples above are interactive or engaging and that is their ultimate flaw. How we as consumers engage with brands on a daily basis is through loyalty programs, but the gap between a loyalty program and social media is yet to be bridged. Loyalty programs have solved the issue of stickiness and how to maintain participation, but even they are not interactive. Social web communities have the potential of enabling engagement.

Furthermore, we can create mobile versions of social communities. GPS positioning is a whole new dimension of situational awareness. The more information we as consumers are willing to give to our loyalty programs the more filtered value we can receive in return. Now we are talking about REAL TIME ENGAGEMENT MARKETING.

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