The collaborative, increasingly democratic communications logic of the social media channels is not always a natural fit for many company websites. More significantly, the products or services of the company may not be the kind of thing that human beings in these virtual social environments will ever want to talk about.
But that doesn't mean that social media channels cannot be used. It does mean, however, that we have to be a bit creative.
In cases such as these, the creation of a microsite – or series of microsites – focused on a particular generic subject may well be the answer.
In the consumer marketing sphere, these could be microsites surrounding, say, ethical issues that the company wants to be brand-identified with. In the UK, for example, The Body Shop is almost as well known for its campaigning as it is for its beauty products or makeup.
But the same logic of brand association can be applied to B2B companies. In a vertical marketing context, it may simply be a matter of highlighting the key generic issue that is gripping the industry at the moment and then creating an issue campaign based around it. The elements of this campaign are most likely to include social media channels which incorporate a blog-enabled microsite devoted to that particular debate.
Such sites need to be well branded. And because we are in the business of becoming thought leaders and content creators, a certain amount of core content must be regularly created.
But microsites can also automatically display content sucked from Google Reader to provide a general news resource to the readership. In order to add greatest value, these feeds can be curated to ensure that only the best – and potentially non-competitive - information gets through.
Moreover, contributions can (and arguably should) be sought from elsewhere in the social network, especially from the most influential members. And registered users can be given added value deliverables, such as a regular newsletter or even a branded smartphone app to deliver the content directly to their mobile device.
An issues-based microsite campaign such as this can deliver the full brand and thought leadership benefits of social media channels to both B2B and consumer brands.
An approach such as this provides a focus (a branded one at that) for debate about subjects of mutual interest. If companies provide enough good information, get contributions from enough industry figures and facilitate sufficient community-wide collaborative idea sharing, then they now have the tools to establish a powerful brand synergy between their organisation and the industry topic in question.
What matters here is not that this level of brand synergy is possible. What is new is that social media now makes it possible without the long, protracted and exceptionally expensive advertising campaigns that were necessary in the past. No wonder so many of the world's advertisers are furiously rethinking their businesses.
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