This year, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the concept of social media. Of course, sites like MySpace and Facebook have been in the news for quite some time, but they were largely classified by traditional media outlets as things that young people played around with. Recently, however, social media has been creeping into the lives of more people on a daily basis. The now-infamous race to one million followers on Twitter between Ashton Kutcher and CNN brought the microblog/social media Web site into the mainstream. Since then, every major cable news network has been pitching things like, “Follow us on Twitter to get the latest news and weigh in!”

While social media may have made it into the mainstream, it is now beginning to play a major role in affecting how people interact with one another as well as how businesses communicate with each other and with their customers. Think about your own use of social media—you probably have an account on LinkedIn to connect with business colleagues, an account on Facebook to keep up with friends and find lost connections, access to Flickr to share photos with friends and family members, and a link to so you can read reviews before going to a new restaurant.

These connections within each social network help develop relationships on new and different levels. If you are looking for a job, you will probably leverage your LinkedIn contacts before visiting to run a search. Maybe you won’t feel the need to go to your five-year reunion because you are still in contact with all of your old friends through Facebook and you already know what is going on in their lives. You can use Flickr to immediately share photos from your vacation with friends and family members, while also contributing your photos to different topics and communities. In addition, businesses like restaurants may see your sub-par review of their service on Yelp, and they might use this information to make improvements.

Social media is also affecting the fundamental ways that companies utilize marketing to reach people. Again, it all ties back to relationships. A person that utilizes a specific form of social media wants meaningful relationships with other entities (including other people and businesses) that utilize the same network. Marketers need to find new ways to take advantage of social media to not only build out their company’s brand, but to also build better relationships with their customers. By building out these relationships, marketers can gain new insight into who they are marketing to and how to better target and market their products and services.

Print Service Providers…Getting into the Game

As with all other forms of media, social networking represents another opportunity for print service providers to support marketing executives. Creative providers are determining how to blend print, e-mail, and social networks to deliver business results for clients.

Starbucks' stock has been beaten down from its mighty highs of $47 to recent lows of $17 in the face of strong competition from Peet's, Caribou, Dunkin' Donuts, and even McDonalds. This, coupled with a suffering economy, has prompted the coffee house chain to make many changes over the past few months. A New York Times article published on May 18, 2009 included a discussion about how Starbucks was launching its biggest marketing campaign ever. Coincidentally, this new campaign blends print and social media.

In a new ad campaign, Starbucks wants to share its message with a new generation of coffee drinkers and then recruit them to retell their stories online. Skip to next paragraphThe coffeehouse chain is putting up new printed advertising posters in six major cities. To further spread its message, Starbucks is attempting to harness the power of online social networking sites by challenging people to hunt for the posters and be the first to post a photo of one using Twitter.

The outdoor ads boil Starbucks’ message down to headlines, and some of them even contain veiled jabs at competitors—“If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, you must not be in a Starbucks.”

Chris Bruzzo, Vice President for Brand Content and Online, stated that Starbucks’ social media presence gave the company an advantage over competitors with gigantic ad budgets because its fans wanted to talk about it online. “It’s the difference between launching with many millions of dollars versus millions of fans,” Bruzzo reported.

Another example is a recent campaign that was launched for the Girl Scouts of America. Allegra Print and Imaging (based in Scottsdale, Arizona) developed a multi-channel campaign that included variable data post cards, e-mail, and a pURL (personalized URL). The theme of the campaign was “Support the Sash.” The e-mail and direct mail components drove respondents to a pURL where they were asked if they were interested in donating to the Girl Scouts or joining a Facebook cause page. In additional to significantly improving the average donation, the campaign also engaged respondents in the online community. More than 45% of the responders joined the Facebook cause page.

Huntsville, Alabama-based ( is ushering in a new twist on the social media phenomenon with the advent of social cards that anyone can design for themselves. Meshables are personalized prints for real life social networking. They help individuals, promoters, and businesses build unique and memorable relationships with people. The site enables users to create personalized prints that can be as unique as the creator's personality.

Meshables believes that business cards are fine for the working world, but that they can send a lot of mixed messages in casual situations. Social cards, or meshables, provide a new way to connect “off the clock.” Meshables can be almost anything, ranging from a picture with your contact information on it to attractive artwork that might have links to your social networking pages. They are creative little handouts that say something about you as a person, not just you as some company’s employee… and yes, they are printed!

Printers… Get Social!

Marketers have begun to take advantage of social media and mobile technologies to achieve a number of goals, including going beyond the brand to build relationships with customers, attracting a new set of customers, keeping existing customers happy, and letting customers become part of the product creation process. As more successes unfold, the need for service providers that offer solutions around the utilization of social media will become increasingly crucial. Learning how to use social media as a marketing tool is the first step to helping clients understand where and how social media marketing can help them to achieve specific business goals.

The social media marketing channel is open, and the opportunity to take advantage of it is here today. Innovative marketers and service providers are already making full use of social media to drive print and new profit streams. The overriding message is that print is social (media) too!