Marketing through online communities

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The explosion of web communities has caught the eye of even the most traditional businessmen. The possible benefits of corporate participation in communities have executives chomping at the bit to enter these markets. However, there are inherent risks that can wreak havoc on public relations and brand image if the wrong strategy is pursued.
If the proper research is done and the right strategy is implemented, there are tangible benefits from these marketing campaigns, for example:
* Communities can be used to engage your customer base in a natural setting
* The ease of interaction in communities allows for discussions prohibited by the barriers of traditional research
* Communities can strengthen the bond between company and consumer, creating loyalty through personal investment
* Communities tighten the feedback loop
* Communities can be used to reinforce, or manipulate brand image
* Communities can be used as a “test group” to gauge new products or advertising campaigns
An example of a successful social media marketing campaign on a social network is [Wendy’s on MySpace](

Wendy’s fast food restaurant MySpace mascot “Smart Square” has found a home on MySpace. With 73,008 friends, they are clearly taking the correct approach to marketing to the MySpace demographic. Examining their profile gives insight into how they have successfully won over the MySpace crowd.
###The Language
“It takes flare to be a square to be hard core enough to dare to be made the way you like, to be JUICY to be FRESH to be BEEFY to be the best. EAT ME!” This sentence has perfectly targeted to the younger demographic. They successfully straddle the line between marketing the Wendy’s corporation and staying “cool” to the MySpace crowd. The language used also helps them stay non-corporate, asking if you are “hard core” enough to be made the way you like.
###The Mascot
Another point of interest is their mascot. On the surface, it may just seem like they picked a square because its looks funny. But they are the main fast food restaurant who serves square shaped burgers. This reinforces brand image and their main avenue of differentiation from other fast food companies.
###The MySpace Group
Their page features a forum section where their friends can discuss Wendy’s products and commercials. This has the potential to back fire, with posts like “Wendy’s Sux.” On the surface, this may seem detrimental, but it gives Wendy’s the opportunity for to do research on their target market.
Overall, Wendy’s use of MySpace is a great example of how large corporations can run effective marketing campaigns within social networks. The Wendy’s corporation clearly did a great deal of research before setting up their profile. It is important to have a clear plan and set objectives before attempting to cross over into marketing on any social medium.

Download: Social Media Strategy
Where the rubber meets the road: A look at SEJ's own social media strategy.