To answer the question, "should companies market themselves on social networks?" I need to make a couple of assumptions based on my last entry. The answer is Yes as long as they do two things. First, commit to it and second be prepared to have open and honest communication with their fans, customers, and critics alike. So, how does a company commit to marketing on social networks? They need to employ dedicated staff to this kind of media. Most companies make the mistake of making social media, viral, blogging, podcasting and other new media the part time jobs of a few or single person on the marketing team that is already committed to their regular marketing or sales duties. To me, this is the number one mistake companies make when deciding to market "the new way". They make the same mistake in not dedicating resources or budget dollars to developing and maintaining their website, ecommerce experience and CRM programs. They cling to staff and programs that embrace traditional marketing like print, TV, standard PR, trade and events but know they need to get into what is happening in new media. I do believe that most but not all companies still need to have a mix of both old and new media depending on the type of company they are. Certainly big studios or corporations like Disney, Warner, GM, etc. need both but what about the countless companies that don't have huge marketing budgets? I would love to see smaller or medium sized companies make some bold moves and decide to abandon the expensive and fading effectiveness of traditional media and do nothing but the new stuff. This would mean a huge cultural shift of faith that takes real and forward thinking leadership that most companies just don't have the DNA to make happen. I guess this brings me back to the point about committing. I hate it when a company's idea of a new media or social media marketing plan is as thoughtless as building a myspace and facebook page, getting a few thousand friends and having the latest intern blog a little while the marketing director ghost writes the CEO's blog in their spare time. Sad isn't it? The problem is you probably work for a company that does things this way. Now, about open and honest communication. Remember the old days when on the rare occasion that a customer actually gained access to an executive at a company when they had a problem or even a compliment? What would happen? That communication was instantly delegated to someone like an assistant or if you were lucky a supervisor or manager level person to be "dealt with". And even worse is what happened internally after that. More often than not someone got chewed out for letting that customer ever reach that level. Because we all know that corporate executives don't really have the time to talk directly to their customers with all of the really important stuff they have to do. Their are those rare executives that seem accessible but it certainly isn't the norm right? So where am I going with this? Simple, when you decide to market your company and it's products on social networks you are saying to everyone in that network "I want to be your friend", a part of your group and what you think is important to me and that is the reason I should be allowed to be a part of your club. The problem is that most companies approach joining, creating and interacting with social groups the same way a recess teacher watches over school children. They really just want everyone in the group to know they are there and observe the things the group says and does. They aren't on the same level as the subjects they observe or at least don't think of themselves that way. To me this is at the heart of the challenge to any company wishing to connect in a social arena. You need to be a person, personality and a voice that interacts with the group on behalf of your brand. This is the only way to get accepted and actually get some viral momentum and honest feedback on the work you are doing. If I feel like I am actually chatting, commenting or receiving correspondence with a person from the company that is dedicated to my group or interests then I am a heck of a lot more interested in caring whether I choose to be involved in the communication. The second I feel like the responses, posts, advertising, feedback and the like have been vetted internally through six different departments to make sure they are saying what the committee has determined is the right thing then you lose me. And it is obvious when this has happened. People aren't that stupid and they are on a social network so they can get away from the recess teacher but this time they have a choice to kick her out of the group or ignore her (could be a him too). I think companies need to be just another cool kid on the playground that happens to tell you about the new cool thing they just got or are doing so you hear it from a peer.