by Jim May, PR Manager

After a couple weeks away from the blog, I’m back with our next installment on the use of social media. Let’s take a look at some more avenues you’ve heard about and may be considering.

How much do customers want to talk about your product?
With all the attention paid to the latest and greatest in social media trends, marketers often overlook one that’s been around for quite a while, relatively speaking. Message boards, aka discussion forums, gave birth to some of the first online communities. Now an everyday occurrence, it used to be revolutionary to consider that groups of people with a common interest could come together and interact without regard to geographic boundaries.

Message boards still hold the potential to offer companies significant value. Whether it’s to trash talk over last night’s game, compare side effects of a course of medical treatment or engage in political discourse, millions of people visit message boards everyday. If you haven’t already, spend some time looking for boards that are relevant to your products. If you’re a large company, chances are you’re already being discussed somewhere on the web. Those are conversations you’ll want to at least monitor, if not participate in.

In addition to looking for existing message boards, many companies could be well served by creating their own. If your customers would enjoy or benefit from the sharing of information among themselves, there’s a good chance you could build a message board community around your products.

How valuable is your expertise?
As of January 2009, over 133,000,000 blogs had been launched. That comes out to one blog for every 50 or so people in the world. Sure, the majority of those are personal efforts not intended for mass consumption, with individuals reaching out to small groups of family, friends or peers. Still, the blogosphere’s immense and if your company is thinking about starting a blog, you need to carefully consider who you’re trying to reach and how you’re going to stand out.

One way to quickly gauge the potential of a blog for your organization is to consider the degree to which customers value your expertise. If you are in a position to offer insight that will truly benefit them, a blog can be an excellent avenue for sharing that information. For instance, if effective use of your product relies on user expertise, you probably can offer a lot of data that customers will be grateful to have. The same holds true if you’re a company providing a knowledge-based service. You know, like a marketing agency for example.

For smaller companies that serve relatively limited groups of customers, a blog can also provide value by building and strengthening personal relationships. If you tend to think of clients, as opposed to customers, you’re likely operating in a realm where a blog can help those you do business with become better acquainted with the team they’re relying on.

Have a lot of videos lying around?
Over 100 million Americans visit YouTube every month. It’s all but guaranteed you have current and potential customers that use the site regularly. So you definitely want to have some videos posted, right? Maybe.

We’ve reached the point where 15 hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every minute and, for the immediate future anyway, that number’s only going to increase. With such a heavy saturation of content, there’s a slim chance of posting a video that becomes an internet phenomenon and helps drive awareness of your brand. More likely, any value from the medium is going to come from establishing a channel and linking to it from your website and other social media profiles.

The choice of whether to use YouTube should rely heavily upon your company’s pre-existing video assets. If you have a library of professionally produced videos that are consistent with your brand messaging, it requires minimal effort to post them and there is little downside to doing so. More problematic is the issue of whether to create videos specifically for the medium. Video production can be a very expensive affair. Ask yourself if video will allow you to achieve something that could not be accomplished in a more convenient and cost-effective manner. Unless the answer is yes, you’ll likely see little benefit to producing videos specifically for YouTube.

Ok, that completes the round-up of the various social media vehicles. Please keep in mind that this series of blogs speaks to using these resources to build loyalty and communicate with customers. To maintain this focus, aspects such as search engine optimization have been intentionally left out. Hopefully, the last couple entries have at least stimulated you to think about social media in a new way. I’ll be posting one more write-up next week, with some tips specific to implementing the various tools. Thanks for reading.

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