Working the Social Network

Of course you’re on Facebook. You play Farmville or Mafia Wars, and share your children’s school pictures with long-lost family members and possibly even send dirty emails to your high school sweetheart, who’s now unhappily married and living in the Midwest with a spouse and five rug rats. And you’re probably one of the many keeping up with the antics of @MrsKutcher on Twitter. Perhaps you are even connected to your boss and a few former co-workers on LinkedIn. But if you are not using these sites, or others like them, to brand your company, product or service, you’re missing out.

“Social media and networking websites are here to stay,” said Kevin Johnson, public relations and marketing manager for adult novelty manufacturer Pipedream Products. Johnson increased the company’s activity on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace in 2010, and he has seen a direct increase in traffic back to Pipedream Products’ site.

“Like it or not, people are on these sites,” he said. “There have been times when I’ve emailed someone in the industry at their work email and then shot off a Facebook message, and time and again I get a faster response on Facebook than I do from their work email. But I don’t recommend conducting business through the website. Not only is it difficult to go back through your Facebook inbox to retrieve an old email to find previous correspondence; being in the adult business, there is always a chance that Facebook could deactivate your account, leaving you with no access to your previous messages and information.”

Anne Hodder, president of Hodder Media, pointed out that sites like Facebook and Twitter provide a direct line to fans, customers, clients and more.

“Not only can you promote and spread a message—or new product offering—to hundreds of thousands of consumers, but you also can keep your distributors, retailers and colleagues abreast of what you’ve got going on,” she said. “I’m not talking sharing trade secrets. You can offer tips and tricks to increase sales, incentives to try a little harder … or even just fun jokes of the day to keep your followers interested, entertained and happy to be connected to you.

“You can’t get this kind of instant gratification and result from a flat ad in a magazine, email newsletter blasts (hello, spam filters) or website text. Sure, those elements are essential as part of a bundled marketing plan, but the odds of someone taking the time to click and read the full email or ‘About Us’ section of your site are slim. And the gal looking for a new vibrator or lube with five minutes to pick it out and press ‘Confirm’ is most definitely not going to put on her reading glasses beforehand. She needs to know your brand, and why yours is the one to choose, before she whips out her credit card.”

At the very least, social networking sites can help a business—any business—expand contacts and keep people informed about new products, special events or personal appearances. At the very best, it can help grow a brand in a way that no grassroots effort could in previous generations.

Before Facebook Came Martini Lunches

Make no mistake—social networking existed long before sites like Facebook and Twitter came into being. Social networking essentially means using existing contacts to branch out and make more contacts, whether for social or business purposes. Technology has only advanced the art form, making it more accessible to people of all ages and businesses of all types, regardless of an individual’s real-life social skills because the interaction takes place online and not face-to-face. These days, social media outlets give businesses another tool for marketing—one that excludes no one. With a little effort, social media marketing is something anyone can master.

“For adult companies, using social media tools is even more important because they have a lot they want to say, do and share. And what better way to spread the message clearly and quickly than using these new platforms?” said Keith Caggiano, a partner with The Screaming O, a company that manufactures cock rings and other items, and one that has relied heavily on social media marketing to promote not only the products but the company’s brand as well.

“Before Facebook, Twitter and the blog blow-out, companies had to rely on purchasing an ad to try to hit all of its marks and tell its story. But how do you tell a three- or sometimes four-dimensional story about your company in a stagnant image, one-page press release, cramped trade show booth, or in the ‘About Us’ section of a website?

“No one wants to pick up the phone to hear it, either,” he continued. “These social media platforms keep everyone connected and let companies tell interesting stories, give fun tips, and help define who they are for the world to see and appreciate.

“For The Screaming O it’s been very effective because of our broad consumer reach,” Caggiano explained. “We host, sponsor and leave marks on real events around the world, always have something entertaining to say, and we have no shortage of video, photo galleries, Scream Team commentary and sex toy tips to post throughout our network. We’ve only just scratched the surface! Social media is a tremendous opportunity for us to share the variety of things The Screaming O does as a lifestyle brand and not just focus on the product.”

Keep It Simple, Social Marketers

But it’s not just manufacturers that can benefit from a presence on social networking sites. Taking a cue from the success of MySpace and Facebook, even adult dating sites have tried to model themselves after social media sites.

“Social networking sites seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately,” said Allan Henning, CEO of DatingGold, one of the biggest dating affiliate programs in the adult online industry. “Online dating sites saw the importance of online socialization long before sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter became the cyber juggernauts that they are today.

“When we decided that is was about time for us to start work on a brand-new interface for, we certainly took a hard look at the social networking sites that are currently popular,” he continued. “Based on our interpretation of what internet users tend to gravitate toward, there are two words that stick out: simple and functional. It is very important for dating sites to offer customers more interaction. The goal is to keep them on the site as long as possible.”

Henning noted that offering more interaction and valuing function over form is what led to the mass migration of MySpace users to Facebook. The shift served as a learning example for Henning and others in the adult industry.

“MySpace, and even search engines like Yahoo, became too ‘cluttered,’ and internet users began to lean toward sites that had a more organized and simplistic look to them,” he said. “Twitter is quite possibly the most simplistic social networking site devised, in terms of functionality and form, yet it is one of the most popular.”

Twitter does indeed seem to lead the pack these days, but others are not slouching when it comes to visitors. In addition to Twitter, the sites LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube are recording more than 5 million visitors each day. Learning to either emulate or utilize such sites can aid any social media marketing campaign, offering a low-cost method of driving traffic and attention to your site, product, etc. Think of it as a computerized word-of-mouth campaign.

Avoid the Weakest Link ... or Tweet

But realize that just because you post something does not mean the followers will come. There’s a fine line between running a successful social media campaign and just throwing up any announcement and hoping it will stick.

“There are companies who post, tweet, blog, etc. so much that it becomes spam-like,” Caggiano said. “Even if spam isn’t their intention, these frequent and often irrelevant posts feel manufactured and readers and followers pick up on that immediately. We at The Screaming O are fortunate to have so many stories to tell and photos to show for them, but there’s always the risk that Twitter and Facebook will become overpopulated by the businesses that essentially run spam pages, cramming link after link down our throats. You can’t just throw a ton of links and text against the wall and hope it sticks. That’ll just work against you.

“We make sure we post interesting photos and upcoming event listings, as well as funny blurbs that are genuine comments from staff and our Scream Team network. No fake tweets or hourly link posts just to stay in front of people’s eyes. For example, as a Facebook fan myself, I want to see updates in my newsfeed that make me laugh or think—and click,” he continued.

Johnson noted that spending too much time on your social networking outlets can be a danger too.

“The biggest drawback of interacting in a social networking environment I have found to be is time suckage,” he said. “It is important to interact with others as a real person instead of just constantly putting out what will come across as sales or ‘spamming.’ So it is easy to get sucked into the back and forth with people and next thing you know it’s quitting time and you have to work late because you didn’t get all your regular work done. While it’s important to have a presence on these sites and interact with people, if you have important stuff to do, let your Facebook rest for a bit. It might actually do you more good than you expect. See, over posting can piss people off and they will start hiding you. Once they do, that means they don’t see any of the content that you share, even the stuff they might want to see. With the short attention span of today’s Twitter generation, chances are once they’ve hidden you, you are gone from their minds and they probably won’t take the time to come search out your page.”

Many have started using a social media dashboard, such as HootSuite, to save time because it is a one-stop application that manages multiple social networks, Johnson said.

“Be sure to pick a social media dashboard that allows you to pick and choose which site you want to farm your content out to,” he cautioned. “There are some things you might want to post on Twitter that you don’t necessarily want published to your Facebook page, or vice versa. In my experience, I’ve found it’s more acceptable to post updates more frequently on Twitter than it is on Facebook.”

Communication Breakthrough

But even before you make the leap into a grand social media marketing campaign, there are some basics to consider first, including whether anyone in your organization is actually savvy about the sites you want to use.

“They seem easy—if every 12-year-old gum-chewer is capable of handling them simultaneously while doing math homework, why can’t you?—but there are tips and tricks and rules,” Hodder noted.

“For instance, find out what will and won’t get you de-activated and kicked off of Facebook,” she continued.

“Even cleavage and certain innuendos can get you booted; it’s kind of a crapshoot. Learn what ‘trending’ and hash marks mean on Twitter. Find out how to follow people and get them to follow you back.”

Hodder also suggested creating an identity or personality to humanize the posts and let followers and fans know there is a real person behind the curtain.

“Using social media for business is not a simple side project. It often can be close to a full-time job if you’re really ingrained, connecting with national bloggers, keeping up and in touch with ‘big fish’ internet personalities, and creating relevant, captivating and short—less than 140 characters—posts every hour or two,” she said. “On the surface it seems like a simple tool that anyone can use. And that’s the kicker. It is. Knowing that, you need to stand out and differentiate yourself from those using it solely as a tool to drive sales or stir drama. Sure, that might help increase revenue—and that’s the goal—but the core purpose is mass communication. Because at the end of the day, people choose to do business with those they trust, especially when it comes to adult products. So don’t give the public reason to click away. They might not come back.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of AVN magazine.