Forbes: A Year In Review: 2009 Social Marketing Trends

Here’s my latest column in Forbes, which I’ve also posted below.  I’m leaning on naming this CMO focused column “The Connected Customer”, which appears to be a theme, what would you name it?


A Year In Review: 2009 Social Marketing Trends

The connected customer leaves brands in the dust.

As we close out the year, it’s important to look back at what happened in social marketing in order to plan for the future. There were four key trends in 2009 that CMOs should reflect on, starting at the macro level then shifting down to micro real-time updates. They are:

The Recession Spurred Consumers to Adopt Social Technologies. Humans are social creatures and, as a result, they tend to band together in hard times. During financial crises, this same behavior is evident: People connect to one other, share, learn, and communicate. What’s more, with unemployment at record highs, those with internet access have more time–and need–to connect with others. It’s evident through Facebook’s 350 million global users. For brands, it’s interesting to note a study by Razorfish, which indicates that 52% of consumers have blogged about a brand’s product or experience. Don’t expect this to change as the recession lifts, as it is the preferred method of communication for young people.

Some Brands Followed Suit With Social Marketing. Marketing budgets are pinched during tough times. Recent data from eMarketer indicates that companies are slashing print budgets by 37% and TV by 21% as a response to the recession. Yet marketers know that tough times also spur innovation, as they experiment with mediums such as social marketing. Social marketing promises lower costs and bigger returns. In fact, word-of-mouth campaigns encourage consumers to do the marketing on behalf of the brand themselves. Yet despite the opportunity, research conducted by the Altimeter Group (where I’m a partner) and Wetpaint found that while brands like Starbucks, Dell, eBay, and Google interact with their customers, most brands do not. Still, we’re seeing a noticeable increase in social marketing budgets, as brands find ways to innovative marketing.

Social Networks Share Data, Spreading Social Influence. A key trend across the technology vendor space in 2009 is that social networks are connecting with other systems. Much like how Apple’s iPhone developer program enables third parties to build and create new applications, many social networks are doing the same. Take for example, LinkedIn, a business network that recently began allowing third party sites to connect with the LinkedIn platform to share data. Similarly, Facebook Connect allows users to log into third party sites using their Facebook ID. There have been over 80,000 connections since this time last year. So what does this data availability mean? It means that consumers’ social experience will spread from site to site, and that wherever they go online or off, they can access their friends’ opinions, experiences, and recommendations in real time.

Consumers Move Faster By Sharing Real-Time Data. In August, 2009, blogger Heather Armstrong, who boasts over a million followers on Twitter was miffed about a shabby customer experience and tweeted about it. Although the company, Whirlpool, responded within hours, the damage had been done–Armstrong’s real-time feedback about her company experience spread quickly through her network and beyond. This spread of customer experiences in real time is a trend, in fact, status updates are a feature found not just in Twitter but in many social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Recently, Twitter signed a deal to allow Microsoft’s Bing and Google access its real-time data, displaying real-time tweets which appear along side traditional search results. So what is the impact of this increase in real-time data? It means that consumers can instantly give feedback about their product experiences and tell their friends. For brands, it means they have to move faster to keep up with consumers who are sharing.

Takeaway: This year, consumers are more connected, and moving faster than brands. It’s essential for senior marketers to use the past to plan for the future, and these four trends indicate that people are connecting and sharing with each other–at an increased pace. Brands need to develop a strategy and a plan to respond–not simply react–to the latest technology. In our next piece, we will discuss the key trends to watch in 2010 to help with strategy planning.


Thanks to Christine Tran on the Altimeter Research team for her assistance if finding data references.