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How Your Company Can Benefit from Green Social Networking

Well over half of Americans ages 15-34 are actively using online social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace), spending on average more than seven hours per week on such websites and driving the growth of overall time spent online.

For those 35 and over, the percentage of social network users drops, but still represents tens of millions of people. Participation in social networks continues to grow, though more slowly than in prior years, as more people seek to connect, share and collaborate with sometimes far-flung family, friends, business colleagues and other likeminded individuals online.

Today, hundreds of millions of online users have already joined at least one social network, with an increasing number belonging to more than one. About 40% of all social networkers say they use social networking sites to learn more about brands or products they like, with 28% saying that a friend has recommended a brand or product to them.

For green marketers (with "green" here used in the larger sense of not just environmental, but also CSR and social causes), social networks represent a unique and potentially more personable way to communicate with green consumers, and those open to learning more about the issues. Those users can be found across a wide variety of social networks, including both general interest and vertically focused networks that connect people interested in environmental and social responsibility.

SRB Marketing, Inc. has identified and verified a list of over 50 notable green social networks in its new publication, Green Social Networks: A Special Report; and that's not counting the hundreds or more that pop up with the term "green" in their names that use platforms, like Ning, that allow anyone to create their own social networks. Expanding the search to include terms like "environmental," "eco," "sustainable" and others would likely grow the list into the hundreds.

SRB has also ranked the top 15 of those networks and provides a list of the top 5 here, by Alexa Traffic Rank, accompanied by each network's Google PageRank.

There are a number of ways marketers can integrate social networks into their marketing mix:
  • Create branded profiles and start groups on existing social networks. Users often connect to a brand or a cause as an expression of their online identities.
  • Integrate marketing campaigns with social network profiles and tools. Extending your marketing efforts to online social environments can help lead to viral distribution of your marketing message.
  • Associate with celebrities. A celebrity link to your branded page equals a tacit endorsement -- but be wary of backlash from skeptical consumers. This relationship tends to work best when the celebrity's environmental credentials are well established.
  • Start your own social network. Online applications such as Ning have greatly simplified the process for creating your own network, including features such as blogs, video, and interactive tools or "widgets."
  • Advertise on social networks. Social networks are looking to generate revenue by offering more targeted opportunities for advertising. Facebook, for example, now enables marketers to advertise based on users' profiles.
With any of them, some real effort and/or budget are required for success. That's why rather than a scatter shot approach, it's important to choose the right social networks for your organization, brand and objectives, and then commit the time to give your efforts a chance to work.

Nonprofits certainly have done well. For-profit companies and brands are also starting to get some traction with social network profiles and pages. Ben & Jerry's has nearly 30,000 fans on Facebook, with a very active Page that includes a video contest, a quiz, and hundreds of posts from its fans. Starbucks has over 130,000 Facebook fans. There are two Facebook groups, apparently initiated by Toyota Prius owners with over a combined 1,500 members -- something Toyota could nurture if it isn't already.

Even Susan Bratton's own DishyMix podcast, one of many made available through her company, Personal Life Media, has hundreds of fans alone -- yes, that hundreds of fans for a single, small brand within a small company.

There are also some things to watch out for when engaging in social network marketing:
  • Don't underestimate your audience. Consumers are becoming experts on separating the genuine from the purely commercial. Keep it “real" -- a forced conversation online rings alarm bells for media-savvy users.
  • Don't skimp on the time commitment. Maintaining a robust presence on social networks is an ongoing job. Assign one person to update your social networking page regularly, and daily if possible.
  • Admit your mistakes. Social networks and blogs are ideal forums for the "gotcha!" game. If your company is in the wrong, failing to say so or -- worse yet -- seeming defensive, will appear uncaring. Think of Web 2.0 as an opportunity for honest dialog with your customer base.
Green Social Networks summarizes an in-depth case study on the Nature Conservancy's efforts, offering specific evidence of how this organization has succeeded. The report also covers how to tell if your efforts are working -- how to measure your success.

Perry Goldschein is the founder and managing director of SRB Marketing, an award-winning, full-service internet marketing firm, which has served dozens of clients since 2003, including Ben & Jerry's, National Geographic and Yale University. He has written on numerous green marketing and internet marketing topics, spoken at various trade events, and has been quoted throughout the industry media.

This article is Excerpted from Green Social Networks -- a Special Report by SRB Marketing, Inc. For more information, visit

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