Social media has exploded in popularity over the last few years. MySpace, Facebook, Digg, Twitter, StumbleUpon — each have a huge user base, and there are hundreds of other sites just like them. With that many people collected together, anyone in advertising or marketing knows that social media is the bright new frontier for promoting their company and products. I've been approached by several marketing firms saying they hold the key to successful marketing in this space, but I've turned them all away. Why? Because I already know the secret!
What is this secret? It is a simple concept, but is one that many companies can't face. Provide an innovative, quality product that meets people's needs, and exceed your customer expectations. That's all there is to it — the beauty of social networking is that it does it does all the work for you. Sure, there are ways to optimize for social media (being a highly transparent company that truly enjoys interacting with customers helps!), but in general, if you have a product or service worth talking about, people will talk about it. Anyone who tells you anything else is trying to game the system. It might work for a short while (for example, you could try to buy your way to Digg homepage), but those short term gains will come with a cost of your long term credibility.
Why is this difficult for many companies to understand? Many companies are not product or service centered. They've gotten very good, in the old media, at hyping their company. In the process, the pressure to focus on their core products and services faded, and they are left in a position where the hype is their biggest asset. That may have worked in the past, but companies out there will soon realize that the rules have changed, and your customers are going to get the truth out — so make that truth a good one!
I think this is especially important to realize with the economy today. If you are a buyer, and your income is unsure, you have to make every dollar count. You're not as likely to take a risk. Whereas you might have been more easily swayed by flashy pictures or exciting promises in the past, these days you are more likely to trust the word of your friends who have actually used the product. Very little carries as much weight as the testimonials of your friends and family, and that works in both directions — positive or negative.
To Puget Systems, this is an exciting thought. We have never been good at old media marketing. Sure, we ran some ads here and there, but for the most part, they have been money wasted. We passionately hate hype, and that mindset just doesn't lend itself to getting noticed in magazines, web banners, etc. However, you will notice that we have extremely solid customer testimonials. Instead of spending our time, effort, and money on marketing, we've been focusing on our products and services, and it shows in the testimonials of our customers. With social networking playing such an increasing role in marketing, we're seeing our decisions come back and reward us. We're seeing more and more people finding us through word of mouth and testimonials throughout the web.
We're also excited about what this means for our industry. It means that we have to compete with hype less and less each day, which is great! It also means that of the companies that survive, we have tougher competition with real life, solid products. We welcome that shift in competition, and we're excited about the overall improvement that gives to the customer, no matter where they buy!