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Social Media Marketing is Not for Luddites


Who is the top social median within this market segment, and how can this person influence others? This question will be asked more frequently during 2009, as social media marketing moves further into the mainstream.

User-generated content (UGC) -- also known as consumer-generated media (CGM) -- is part of the online experience of millions of U.S. Internet users. From entertainment to communications to e-commerce, consumers are taking charge of the creation, distribution and consumption of digital content. And, apparently, it's growing like wildfire.

Tipping Point, Groundswell, Whatever...
Up from 83 million in 2008, eMarketer estimates the number of UGC creators will grow to 115 million in 2013. Even more important, rising from 116 million in 2008, in 2013 the number of U.S. Internet users consuming some form of UGC will reach 155 million.

For the prosumer stakeholders of the social media marketplace, UGC creates opportunities that were inconceivable 10 years ago, when self-expression consisted of letters to the editor, town hall meetings and call-in shows.

Today, whenever people get fired up about anything, they take to the Web -- to create, read, listen to or view what other people have to say.

"Unfortunately, if things stay as they are, this frenzy of content generation and attention is not likely to produce commensurate rewards for traditional marketers or site publishers," says Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst.

The prevailing wisdom used to be that user-generated content would attract advertising volume commensurate with its audience. But, times have changed, and so have the expectations.

"The pinnacle of giddy optimism was Google's November 2006 purchase of YouTube for a jaw-dropping $1.65 billion," Verna says.

Several factors have dampened expectations:

- The inherent unpredictability of UGC and the risks it represents for legacy marketers.

- The absence of advertising standards for UGC and the difficulty in measuring ad effectiveness.

- The expansion of major UGC sites, led by YouTube, into licensed professional media and the resulting flow of dollars toward this newer type of content, which is considered "safer" by legacy advertisers.

- The global recession, which has led many analysts and research firms, including eMarketer, to reduce online ad spending forecasts, even in areas that directly affect estimates of UGC ad spending, such as online video and social networking.

"As these realities set in, content owners, marketers, site publishers, entrepreneurs and everyday opportunists are realizing that there is no easy road to riches in user-generated content," Verna concludes. "Even finding lucrative niches will require patience, risk-taking, creativity and a long-term commitment."

Swan Song for Mass Media Luddism
Of course, at the same time revenue models elude UGC sites, they are still pulling attention away from traditional big media, such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio -- and putting increased financial pressure on them at a time when they can least afford it.

That said, in my opinion, this is all good news. Yes, social media marketing requires thoughtful participation, meaningful commentary, an ongoing investment and the persistence to stay engaged in online communities of interest for the long-term.

Granted, if you're a traditional lazy marketing or PR practitioner, then this clearly isn't your gig. Sing your final death-hymn, and move on, please.

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