RealTime IT News

Using IM for Marketing

Instant messaging (IM) -- whether on the public or enterprise side -- is generally known for hooking up two people in a real-time conversation via the Internet or private network. What IM is not necessarily known for is reaching customers.

Through the efforts of several companies, though, the latter is about to change.

Already, public IM concerns America Online and Yahoo are using the real estate in and around their respective IM clients to place advertisements for various companies -- Yahoo already has its IMvironments, and AOL is set to release its "Expressions" environments in the next version of its AIM client.

Other companies, though, are looking beyond using those traditional ideas to actually using IM conversations as part of their marketing campaigns.

Getting to Know Your "Neighbor"

Todd Tweedy is no stranger to the worlds of instant messaging and marketing. Earlier this year, the Washington, D.C.-based owner of The Tweedy Group introduced a new model for marketing via IM called "neighboring." In a nutshell, Tweedy says neighboring will change the context of product and service recommendations by encouraging individuals to express their own views and voice about a product or service to their own private network of personal contacts. This becomes especially important as IM networks create an extra degree of separation between consumers and advertisers.

Unlike most marketing campaigns, neighboring uses dialogs that are initiated, modified, and terminated by individuals within an IM network -- not by a corporation or marketing firm. Neighboring, in contrast, lets advertisers gain access to closed-social networks by using real-time communication tools, such as IM, so that advertisers can communicate product and service recommendations from neighbors to individuals across small groups.

The power of the neighboring model lies with the influence an individual has in an established small network, as well as the strength of the relationship an individual has with an advertiser.

Instant messaging has already become a powerful relationship tool for individuals, but since businesses are effectively walled off from such a networked community, they will be forced to rely more on their current customers to initiate and distribute product and service recommendations, Tweedy says.

Now he's working with several companies, including a major publisher and a well-known educational Web site, to implement the neighboring strategy.

Some publishers are looking to use instant messaging as a way to provide additional value to their advertisers, "and to create new revenue streams, especially when (advertising sales directors) are not selling a lot of their ad inventory to begin with," Tweedy said in a recent interview. "It's really looking at providing another layer of value to the advertiser especially in long-term partnerships with a specific publisher."

The "advertising" via IM would take on more of a customer-service flavor. For example, a customer-service rep IM'ing with a customer can make a product recommendation from a company that also is an advertiser at the site. Tweedy is working with the educational Web publisher to move customer support right in front of the site visitor using instant messaging, through pop-up windows or floating modules.

In addition, sites can utilize IM to share the opinions of other customers who are interested in making their views known to other visitors, "to make them part of the customer service team," he said.

A lot still needs to be ironed out, though, before the strategy can really take hold, he said. "The problem is how do we integrate an instant messaging opportunity into the content framework of a major publisher, or another type of publisher," Tweedy said. "Where do we integrate the instant messaging ad package so we can support product and service recommendations, and tie them directly to sales?"