It is undeniable that social media is an increasingly pervasive medium for interacting with friends and family; evidenced by the fact that Facebook and MySpace are the eighth and tenth most visited sites on the entire web. What is less clear, however, is how effective social media is as a marketing channel. Can brands successfully drive business value from these sites or will they be viewed as artificially entering into conversations in which they don’t belong? In my view it is still too early to definitively conclude whether social media should be used as a marketing platform for most companies; however, there are success stories emerging.
American Express Open Forum is an online community in which business owners can interact with one another and access a variety of helpful resources. The site is increasing in popularity, as unique visitors grew from <20K in January 2008 to ~160K in December 2008.
American Express clearly wants users to find value in Open Forum and ultimately develop an affinity for the AMEX brand. One way that Open Forum provides value is by having a blog written by Guy Kawasaki — a well known entrepreneur and author. What I found most interesting here is that Guy appears to be leveraging Twitter, the social media site that enables one to post short status messages, to drive consumers directly to Open Forum. In January 2009, Twitter drove more traffic to Open Forum than any other site except Google. Through Twitter American Express is able to reach the >60,000 people who currently follow Guy on that platform. The chart below illustrates the percentage of Open Forum’s total referral volume that comes from Twitter for each of the past five months.
As I mentioned earlier, marketing within social media is clearly still in its infancy. This example, however, illustrates the power of the networking effect of social media and how it can drive measurable business value for marketers. It certainly will be interesting to see how more marketers choose to leverage social media in the future.
On a side note, if any of you are going to be at the Net.Finance conference on April 20th in Las Vegas come by and check out the panel moderated by Compete about trends in online consumer behavior. It should be an interesting session.