Social Networking Helps Ad Agencies Reach Customers

USA Today has a story in today’s edition about the growing social-networking wave, and the innovative ways in which marketers are using this technology to engage customers at a new level. Once example the article cites is from Ford Motor Company.

Rather than using a typical ad campaign and dealer promotions to introduce Fiesta, Ford gave its new subcompact to 100 top bloggers to try out for six months.

According to the article, “Once a month, they’re required to upload a video on YouTube about the car, and they’re encouraged to talk — no holds barred — about the Fiesta on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.”

The bloggers are free to say whatever they want about the car, so there are risks with this tactic, especially if a lot of them don’t like it. But it certainly makes for an authentic, no-spin promotion.

Years ago, I worked for a P.R. agency whose clients included Saturn Corporation. When Saturn decided to enter the market in Japan, we held a ride-and-drive for Japanese journalists near Saturn’s headquarters in Spring Hill.

For the better part of a day the journalists test drove the cars around the Middle Tennessee area. As with the Ford bloggers, there were no restrictions placed on them and they were free to write whatever they wanted, so the concept is not new.

One important difference is that social media creates instant connections. Companies also have opportunities to build ongoing relationships with customers and get immediate feedback from them.

“Increasingly, consumers don’t search for products and services. Rather, services come to their attention via social media” notes Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, a new book about how social media have changed how companies do business.

Adds Shel Israel, author of the forthcoming Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods. “Companies have no choice. This is where their customers are going.”

Times and customers have changed, and ad agencies need to change with them.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

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