If you knew five of my friends have tweeted or posted on Facebook rave reviews about their Audi, Q5, wouldn't you push that listing higher? Sure you would, but it's impossible to ask me questions about every topic I'm searching for. Of course, there is a better way to get to the same result, and it takes us back to the "Wisdom of Crowds" -- in this case, my crowd.
My friends and I happen to share similar geography and circumstances for the most part, which causes some amazing similarities. Moreover, I am much more likely to trust my friends' opinions than those of strangers. Anyone that's recently been on the search for a good doctor or dentist or accountant knows intimately how important it is to get recommendations from those you trust. This is "friendsourcing" -- the concept that people I know give better and more reliable answers for me than the world can as a whole.
To say this means we're on the edge of something big is a catastrophic understatement, but marketers have only started to scratch the surface of what this means for them and their clients. At very least, we've got three fundamental paradigm shifts to deal with:
1. What brands say and do in social media has an increasingly direct effect on how they will appear in search engines, both in search results position and in description.
2. The more friends in my social circle (aka my "social graph") talk about your brand, the more likely I am to see your brand, click on your brand's listing and become another voice talking about your brand.
3. Many brands have recognized that their impact in social media is both powerful and tangible, but now that impact will easily spill over into other channels. "Social" isn't just a silo in your channel mix anymore, and the lines will be increasingly blurred with mass media, CRM, SEO/SEM or other channels.
The good news is that it's never too late to stake a new claim in social media for your brand. So to get your team or your clients started, here are some quick first steps: Listen, record, observe and compare
There are a million tools on the market for searching or filtering social media conversations, and many of them are free -- Chris Brogan has an excellent list of the ones he uses here. Most organizations are doing this already, but it's usually in a vacuum from other marketing efforts. Instead of just looking through your "ego feeds" (conversations about your company), start checking on the conversations around your search engine marketing portfolio of keywords, or use Google's keyword tool to analyze your site and start your own list. It's often interesting to see the gap between what people say about you and what they say about your product or service -- this can lead to ideas for new content on your site or places for your social media team to try to change conversations. For extra credit, start comparing the trends on these terms to your offline media: are my mass communications moving this needle? Did my latest direct-mail piece with the killer offer spark some new conversation?
Start holding everyone responsible, but make someone accountable. Your organization's social "footprint" can't be managed as a hobby. Large or small, it's time to take this seriously, because the impact will be felt from cyberspace to the cash register. Almost all marketing units are affected by (and will probably have an opinion on) social media, so it's often good to start with some kind of a "task force" comprised of representatives from each. However, the business needs to make a decision of exactly which person will own its social presence. This person doesn't need to be the one running it day-to-day, but they need to be able to speak to it fluently and have the power to make a difference.
Create a social media "lodestone" within each of your marketing efforts. Even with a cross-functional team or steering committee, it's hard to keep the social media conversation from gravitating to just a couple of marketing functions. To be truly effective, each discipline needs to know how they intersect with social media, and needs to define that in a way that attracts and excites new projects. PR, for example, can own reaching out to specific voices and generating influential conversations. CRM, however, has the opportunity to focus on longer dialogues with individual customers.