By daring to become an early adopter. Social networking in particular is one realm into which many businesses were loath to venture a few years ago, but its appeal for marketing--especially in a sour economy--is undeniable.
For example, Twitter was launched in 2006, but Nielsen research shows that between April 2008 and April 2009, Twitter achieved a growth of 37 times more minutes spent logged on the site--higher than the growth of any other social networking site. And with over 200 million active users and an estimated value of $10 billion, Facebook has gone from what the New York Times calls a "dorm room creation" to an organization that commands the attention of business professionals all over the world. So how do you get started? If you're Pizza Hut, you hire a tech-savvy intern to help you out. They created a 'Twintern' position that will focus on social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to gauge popular opinion of the brand. Not only are these tools all free, they're widely used by individuals in Pizza Hut's target market. And since college students are fearless early adopters, their intimate knowledge of how to infiltrate and use social networks with cachet can prove far more valuable than standard marketing material. Existing companies can leverage the power and popularity of social networking by integrating it into an existing framework. MTV teamed up with Twitter for the "Alexa Chung Show," which will post a live feed of Twitter reactions to celebrity guests and other content on-screen. And apparel company Marshalls enlisted the services of cross-dressing Internet star Liam Sullivan (or Kelly, as he's known on YouTube) for a 4-minute promo video that they hope will blend in seamlessly with the YouTube community. Being an early adopter doesn't come without risks, however. Burger King found that out the hard way during their Whopper Sacrifice promotion, which encouraged Facebook users to un-friend 10 individuals on their friends list in exchange for a free Whopper from the fast food chain. It sounds like a decent publicity stunt, but a crucial portion of the publicity came from the fact that each spurned friend received a notification on Facebook that they'd been ditched for a Whopper. Facebook disabled the notifications, citing a violation of privacy standards, and the Burger King Whopper Sacrifice promotion was withdrawn as a social networking fail.