Recently, Nielsen and Pew confirmed what we all know: People's participation in social networks is up, way up. In 2008, 23% more of us have filled in profiles at social networks and more than 70% of us use some form of social marketing tools -- even more than who use e-mail, according to Nielsen.
The appeal of social networks is apparent. We use our different social networks to enrich different dimensions of our lives. Therefore, as you would expect, we want different things from our different social networks. The profile we create on LinkedIn profile, for instance, is different from the profile we may post in a community geared to working women.
This is the heart of the problem. As marketers, our knee-jerk reaction to every community we create is to motivate members to create rich and robust profiles of themselves so they can connect with each other in new and powerful ways.
While this approach may be desirable to us as marketers, it may not be best for consumers. We need to be mindful and respectful of the realities our customers live in and the truth is that managing all these social profiles is none too easy, the technology and tools notwithstanding (Mashable addressed those tools in "How to Manage Multiple Social Media Profiles").
We need to change our thinking and take a close look at our community-building strategies. Are we being practical about what we expect users to reveal about themselves in our communities? Is our community a hub where users will congregate regularly, where rich profiles are of value or are we creating a secondary "spoke" community meant to address narrow or temporary niche needs? In short, as marketers do we demand that users create too many profiles in all our community-building programs?
Here are a few "real world" incidences recently reported in the news that begin to demonstrate the potential problem.
- An employer updated his LinkedIn profile to say he was looking to hire new programmers. Current employees thought they were at risk and started leaving.
- An HR person turned down a candidate because he noticed that a candidate's professional profiles varied from network to network.
- A co-op board rejected an applicant because an "old" profile seemed to suggest the person had not held a steady job in six years.
All these stories indicate a strong need for marketers to begin to ask themselves new types of questions as they consider social marketing. Sure, you can chuckle at the examples above, but it indicates our desire to participate in social networks is outpacing our ability to efficiently manage these profiles. It's a consumer reality that we must accommodate in our marketing plans.
So when I wonder how are we going to "pull ourselves together," I mean it -- more literally than you can imagine.
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Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.