The glint of gold in social media

June 25, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The cost of traditional print and broadcast advertising is a stretch for many small businesses trying to build brand awareness, as well as entrepreneurs trying to launch a company, but there is the growing promise of marketing via social media.

The video of the Grand Rapids Lip Dub event on YouTube has reportedly been seen by more than 3 million people around the world, earning the thanks of local community and business leaders in the region who are convinced it has helped negate a claim by Newsweek in January that Grand Rapids was one of America’s dying cities.

The success of the video also inspired its creators to form Status Creative, an “international brand awareness firm that will leverage interactive online platforms to help corporations, governmental bodies, candidates, advocacy groups and nonprofits plan, promote and execute campaigns,” according to the news release in mid-June from Status Creative.

Rob Bliss, who is generally credited with being the driving force behind the Grand Rapids Lip Dub, is a partner in Status Creative, along with Jeffrey Barrett and Scott Erickson.

“Our experience — and our passions — are in using social media and other digital assets to create quick exposure and immediate engagement,” said Bliss.

Pitching the vitality of a city via YouTube and making a big splash in the process may be a unique accomplishment in the world of social media marketing, according to Brian J. DiVita, director of graduate management programs at Aquinas College and professor of management and marketing in the College of Business. He said it is not usually a community being marketed so effectively on YouTube.

When it comes to marketing to consumers, social media just keeps getting more attractive.

“The beauty of social media for the entrepreneur is it really, truly is inexpensive. And it has an opportunity to increase significant exposure, if done properly,” said DiVita, who has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications.

Unlike the amateur video that ends up on YouTube, the Lip Dub undoubtedly “had some production costs and planning costs and research costs associated with it,” said DiVita. He added, however, that the average small business owner or entrepreneur usually has a very small budget, typically not nearly enough to adequately cover research, planning and production costs for a sophisticated video. But the media portion of advertising cost — the air time on TV or radio, the display ad space in a newspaper, or monthly rental on a billboard — is also a major part of the expense in traditional advertising, and a major factor in determining media cost is how many people are going to see it.

With more than 3 million people having seen the Grand Rapids Lip Dub in the weeks since it was put on YouTube, that was a tremendous value for media that cost nothing.

“The way these things can go viral (on the Internet), if done properly, it just doesn’t cost you a whole heck of a lot of money” to make a big impact, said DiVita.

He noted that the rapid advances in mobile hardware technology has made the Internet even more accessible to more people more of the time, further adding to the potential marketing value of social media.

“There’s not much downside for the small entrepreneur. … There is a lot of opportunity out there for these folks to try something like this,” said DiVita.

However, he cautioned, “You do need some creative element and you need a little bit of patience, because chances are, you are going to be trying different things for a while before you find something that really works.”

It is hard to get noticed on YouTube, however, because of the “mind-boggling number” of video clips put on it every day. DiVita said that according to webpronews.com, as of the last week in May, an estimated 48 hours worth of video was being uploaded to YouTube every minute, which is a 100 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

But the number of people searching YouTube keeps going up, too. YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced recently that more than 3 billion videos are watched on the site every day, worldwide.

“That’s equivalent to nearly half the world’s population watching a YouTube video each day,” said DiVita.

There are hazards in use of social media, and not just for reckless congressmen.

“One of the hazards is, you could potentially damage the brand if something isn’t done properly,” said DiVita. Another hazard is potential misallocation of advertising capital “if you think one social media campaign can make up for other varied advertising strategies.”

And then there is the boomerang effect: If a consumer has a bad experience with your business — especially if it’s being marketed on social media — the disgruntled customer may share his or her unhappiness about you with the world — online. If the consumer really believes he or she got a raw deal, said DiVita, “every single person in that person’s tribe or friend group is going to know not to use you.”

Of course, YouTube is a video medium, but eye-catching still photography also can be a valuable marketing tool on Facebook and Twitter. If the small business owner or entrepreneur desires a more immediate impact from marketing on social media, DiVita said the odds of success are probably better on Facebook or Twitter than YouTube.

“Most people think of (social media) as promotion and that’s good, but you can use it for research, as well,” said DiVita. “You have to be cautious, but you can use it for market research.”

You can test a product concept or preference on a Facebook site, or put on a link to a survey, he said.

Individuals such as Rob Bliss are obviously experienced at effective use of social media. His Status Creative announcement notes that he has been using social media to plan and promote community-based events since founding Rob Bliss Events in September 2008. His projects included “the world’s largest water slide” on a downtown Grand Rapids street in 2010 and his 2009 ArtPrize entry, “100,000 Paper Airplanes and Melodies Over Monroe.”

“The thing we’re all very good at is reimagining and re-expressing a brand,” said Barrett, “whether that brand is a community, an individual, or a product.”

Status Creative will be limiting its projects to just 10 campaigns in 2011.

“That’s because we are getting flooded with possibilities and opportunities and we want to make sure we don’t overload ourselves, that we don’t get away from what we do best,” said Barrett.

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