Friday, October 24, 2008

Facebook - New marketing channel or play space?

This week I went to my fourth meeting on social networking in the last two months – I’ve now seen it from the advertising, marketing and ASAE perspectives. As a marketer I'm fascinated by this new opportunity and particularly its application to trade associations and other membership organizations.

The economy is tanking, associations are bleeding members, they can’t convince young professionals of their value and their budgets are getting cut. Social networking is an entirely new media channel for marketing and connection with members, prospects, and well targeted members of the general public. Associations know this – but they don’t know what to do about it. Plus it’s still affordable to get in.

Then I've seen a bunch of twenty and young thirty-somethings running around who know very little about marketing putting up these sites with a vague plan that says it will help you reach and keep members– a handful of marketing consultants talking like consultants and charging a lot for it – and a huge opportunity to help associations and others figure out how to do it right.

By the way, there are virtually no case studies and I've heard the one ITSE from the ASAE annual meeting five times. That's not a good sign.

What the associations need is a strategy across all these social networking sites and the rest of their marketing and communications, an understanding of how to drive people to these places, a plan for what to do with them once they get there and most important figure out how it can help them grow.

Should the cart come before the horse? Well the horse should keep moving forward but the cart and it's contents (forgive the metaphor) should be organized and thorough before it leaves the station.

Think of the first corporate Websites. They were vague, empty descriptions of companies with little functionality simply because they wanted to be on the playground. Then they evolved, and evolved and evolved - and many associations are stuck with these models that don't work very well. So this time let's figure out what we want to accomplish here first and move forward with an end in sight.

I want a social networking partner who gets this and sees value in what I can bring to the table. In the meantime, AAAS is helping me set up a Facebook page for our Science Inside Alcohol grant and we'll learn as we go.

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