Every business-to-business CEO and CMO I've met — most of whom came of age prior to the social media era — is trying to understand how to leverage social media to grow their business. They want to understand Twitter. They want reports on their Klout scores. They have marketing departments retaining outside social media consultants. They pay content marketing firms to write company blogs and produce YouTube videos. They hire 20-somethings to manage the corporate Twitter account, and they are in the process of spending untold dollars on social media monitoring systems.
Yet I've never once heard the question: Is this social network actually the one where our prospects and customers are influenced to buy?
While social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are massively popular, they're so topically diffuse that they can be poor places to target and market products to your audience. When your customers discuss the actual business problems that your company solves, they are likely spending their time within a domain-specific social network. This could be an old-fashioned (by Internet standards) discussion forum, hosted on a dedicated website or with a vendor like ProBoards. In-depth topical discussion rarely happens on Facebook and Twitter, but you can find it on dedicated social networks with domain-specific features.
My company, ChartIQ, builds software to analyze and annotate stock charts. Our users — current and future — are, of course, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but when they want to discuss stocks, and the software like ours that they use to inform their trading decisions, they're on domain-specific social networks.
The stock and forex trading marketplace is full of old-school discussion boards, but recently a new breed of truly domain-specific social networks has emerged. Looking to develop and launch our business, we set our sights on one particular network — StockTwits. It supports sharing of annotated stock charts, a key visual aid when discussing stocks — but far too esoteric to be found on Twitter.
We developed a strategy to accomplish three goals across this social network: customer development, brand awareness, and traditional marketing and customer acquisition.
Customer Development, a concept popularized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries, calls for spending time in the field with customers to understand their needs and develop product features to meet those needs, as well as to understand the market dynamics themselves. We immersed ourselves in the StockTwits community among our target users, listening, asking questions, and building relationships (some people became our beta testers and early adopters). Finding a large number of users that we could observe and engage with would have been extremely difficult without a community like StockTwits (we tried).
We approached brand awareness, a traditional marketing goal, in a new way through social networks. As a bootstrapped startup, we couldn't afford to launch a traditional branding campaign — no Super Bowl ads for us — but by contributing stock chart analysis to the StockTwits community and participating as members, we've driven thousands of eyeballs to our brand and products, while providing value to the community. As active StockTwits members, we've developed relationships with key influencers within the community who now use our product and publish stock charts across the network.
As our product matured, we again tapped domain-specific social networks for product integration and traditional marketing efforts. From our previous customer development work, we learned that allowing users to participate in StockTwits from within our app would be a differentiating feature, so we launched a deep integration between our products, building a full StockTwits client into our app. Aside from competitive differentiation, we've seen a dramatic increase in time spent per visit within the app (from 16 to 30 minutes on average). Finally, we launched a set of banner ads across the StockTwits site to attract the customers we had worked so hard to understand and develop a product for.
When we set our social media strategy we didn't ignore Twitter and Facebook, but we focused our time, content strategy, and community building in the specific networks where people congregate to discuss stocks. By concentrating our efforts and key performance metrics on these networks, we free ourselves from vanity metrics such as "Likes" and "Followers," focusing on what really matters: customer acquisition.