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Marketing Through Social Networking

It is a well known principle in marketing that if you want to market your product or service to people, then you have to reach them where they live, work and play.  In the modern computer age, the internet is increasingly becoming that place.  The average person spends 13 hours a week on the internet.  The average teenager spends a staggering 31 hours each week surfing the web.  The vast majority of this time, for both adults and teens, is spent on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

So how can you make social networking work for your business?  There are two ways.  The first way is to buy advertising space, which can be rather expensive and isn’t always effective.  The second way, viral marketing, requires a little more work but a lot less investment.

Obviously, buying space is the quickest and easiest way to market through social networking sites.  Most of the social networks offer advertising on a pay-per-click basis, just like Google and other sites, in addition to flat rate advertising.  The advantage there is that you only have to pay for advertising that actually draws users too your site.  The downside being that just because a user visits your site, it doesn’t mean that they are going to become a customer.

If you have a really strong site that offers a really great product or service, then you may have luck with pay-per-click marketing through social networks.  Pay-per-click marketing has received a boost lately on some social networks like Facebook that now allow users to select their marketing preference.  This means that your adds reach only the users who are most likely to want your product or service… providing they took the time to set their marketing preferences (for the record, most users don’t).

If you’ve ever used pay-per-click advertising, then you already know that it is a pretty big gamble.  In many, if not most, cases it is a losing bet.  The truth is, click-through advertising doesn’t work in a social networking model because users aren’t their looking to consume, they are there to socialize and interact with other users.  Most businesses – there is research out of Harvard Business School that backs up this assertion – benefit more from viral marketing than from paid advertising.

Viral marketing is free (other than time), reaches more users, and influences users to be more interested in what your business offers.  Sounds pretty great doesn’t it?  There is one huge catch, though:  you have to understand your intended customers.  Shocking right?

All joking aside, there really are some intricacies that have to be understood about consumer habits and demographics.  Not all groups are influenced the same way by viral marketing.  Furthermore, within some online communities a lot of a viral marketing campaign’s success lies in just who it is that is endorsing the business.

The fact that people are influenced by the purchases of their peers isn’t new news by any means.  However, social networking has taken “keeping up with the Joneses” out of the old neighborhood and expanded it to a global level.  Viral marketing through social network sites is just one of the ways that social media has changed the landscape of marketing.

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