"It just faded," said Fox, whose Toronto-based Social Media Group now has eight employees and counts Ford Motor Co. and SAP among its clients. "The content dried up, and there was no one tasked with ongoing engagement."
Welcome to the new world of marketing, in which tried-and-true concepts such as "campaign" no longer apply. In an online environment in which customers expect to have a relationship with brands and in which search engines insure that content never dies, a successful campaign may run for months or even years. It's a nice problem to have, but it means changing the way you think.
"It takes time, effort and involvement to create community. Its value is in its long-term impact on sales," said BL Ochman, a social media strategist whose clients include the American Dairy Association, Budget Car Rental and IBM Corp. Ochman's campaign timelines typically run a year or more, and she stresses to clients that it may take months for a critical mass of traffic to build.
For example, a recent project for Stacks and Stacks, a maker of home and office storage supplies, involved coordinating the activities of 25 volunteer bloggers and even linking to competitors' Web sites. The payoff was establishing the site as a valued source of advice. Launched in August, it now gets 1,500 daily unique visitors, and traffic is growing.
Social media marketing is still a green field with few rules and best practices. A well-conceived plan may be blown out of the water by a media leak, as was MTD International's carefully constructed viral marketing campaign for a new line of lawn mowers this spring. Or it may catch fire and completely reorder the company's priorities.
That means marketers need to think differently about cost, duration and metrics for their social media campaigns. Historically, they did a lot of work upfront and planned for a splashy rollout with the goal of quickly embedding the company's brand in customers' minds.
Social media reverses this process. It may take months for an interactive campaign to build awareness, but if visitors are engaged, a program may run for a very long time with only modest maintenance. Customers come to regard the brand as a trusted adviser and contribute much of the content voluntarily. That's one reason why the economics of social media campaigns are so compelling.