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Making The Most Of Social Networks

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[ Social Media]

Search Engine Marketing is now the standard online, a beeline to a measurable ROI. But as marketers try to wrap their heads around social networking, and invent ways to utilize it to their advantage, it’s becoming clear that the branding opportunities are quite appealing, nearly boundless, limited not by money, but by imagination.

In this new century, creativity is the only boundary. What was once controlled by the haves, as the critical theorist would have mournfully explained, is no longer exclusive – though we have to assume or pretend that Net Neutrality will, eventually, be upheld.

Social networking, where the free marketplace of ideas has thus far thrived, is the latest equalizer (at once democratic and Bolshevik), placing local events on global stages and, more importantly, out of reach from those who would shallow the deep waters by making their pockets fuller.

In this instance, I’m talking about the record labels, which have historically chosen music for the masses and have borne the responsibility for inflictions such as The Spice Girls and O-Town.

In San Francisco, where independent music has enjoyed an eager local audience, that stage is expanding to online venues, existing not only in now smoke-free bars and clubs but also in virtual clubs. What MySpace began, and perhaps abandoned to an extent once News Corp. got hold of it, lives on in Second Life.

Corey Denis, an indie music promoter, says the next trend is the integration of offline events with online events.

On November 30, at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, musicians the greater world has never heard of, headlined by the band Halou, will perform for fans, bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters, who can present their own real-time versions through their own media, remixes welcome. But also, the event has a stage in Second Life, where fans can view a simultaneous live webcast.

Denis calls Reload, “an exploration of the new model for live music and digital content.” We call it a great idea providing insight into the limitless possibilities this new virtual world presents us. Denis teamed up with Halou, with the help of Slackstreet Entertainment, EricRice.com, and HipCast, to bring the show to Second Life.

To illustrate how real-sounding this event is, I asked Corey how to access the virtual show. She gave me directions:

“You would find the show in the Slackstreet area, near the Regina Spektor Listening Station.”

Is that before or after I get to White Castle?

Lee Odden, president and founder of TopRank Online Marketing, isn’t sure if this is the beginning of a greater marketing trend, as more practical, and at this point, established, methods of online promotion should keep the focus.

“Marketers and advertisers will go wherever the eyeballs, or in this case, the ears are,” he said. “I am not so sure it’s a mass-market trend, but certainly one for the audience that enjoys Second Life.

“I bet there are a certain number of agencies and their CPG (consumer packaged goods) clients wondering whether it’s time to ‘jump to the next curb’ and start selling virtual soup and diapers when they should really focus on their search marketing.”

Point taken, but eventually we might imagine an online world much like the television and radio world, where branding presence is essential. SEM leads to more direct sales, in which the seller is most interested, but we also learn from brands like Coca-Cola with, perhaps, one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Coca-Cola has not ceased in the last 90 years or so, to put its product out there in every viewable place. The indirect value of that is measureless.

But the problem, for the smaller outfits, has always been: there’s not enough money for that type of exposure. SEM and SEO will, for the foreseeable future, be essential for being found, and essential for measuring ROI.

But as the new media evolves, search will only be half of the equation. The other half, now more attainable, is the focus on branding – visibility in previously invisible places – and awareness of products and services. Branding online is a directive to search, pulling your brand to the front of it, rather than the back of it.

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