Marketers have been quick to jump on to new technologies. It seems any channel of communication to potential customers is a potential media. In other words, if there is an audience there is a market, and social networking websites are no different. Sites like Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace have always had a level of advertising on them, but marketers have been using a different tact to engage potential customers, and this has raised some serious questions about the etiquette of social marketing.

Social networking sites exploded on the scene just a few years ago quickly building a following of keen Y-Gen users who didn’t mind putting their lives ‘out there’ for anyone to see; in a way it was like the Web 2.0 generation of the “personal home page”. The idea behind social networking site is fairly self explanatory, and this new form of networking could be done anywhere and at any time all within the comfort of our homes. It didn’t take long before marketers said to themselves “We say that people don’t buy brands, they join them, and we know that people have a personal relationship to brands they are loyal to in the real world (brand equity), so why can’t fans of our brand do this in cyberspace?” . Social networking marketing was born.

We’ve talked about the big corporations ( Apple, Nike, Coke) having their own profile pages on Facebook in the past, but there is a growing trend for companies to integrate social networking sites as part of their campaigns i.e. rather than sending people to the Brand XYZ website, customers can become fans of a campaign specific Product XYZ page where they can receive additional promotional material. This has created a potential right-hook for marketers. On the one hand, people love to join a brand that they are loyal to, but what happens when the campaign finishes and the Product XYZ’s profile is left to fall dormant where there is not longer any interaction between brand and consumer? This would be the equivalent of befriending a boy/girl over the summer who has a swimming pool, but ignoring them for the rest of the year. If we plan only on having a short-term relationships with the customers, like a summer fling, that should be made clear and transparent.

As marketers, if we are going to use models of social behaviour as a basis for developing relationships with customers we must also appreciate that there are many behaviours, as with real friendships, that can break a relationship. As managers of the brand, we should be endeavour to be customer centric at all times. At the end of the day, the relationship customers have with our brand should be as fulfilling for them as it is for the brand.