They’ve done it again- Twitter, my favorite SNS (Social Networking Site) to troll for randomness, has rolled out another feature that is quickly making its content a little, well, less random (and consequently might lead to a little more posting and a little less prowling from this bitty blogess.)

Cut the alliteration- what on earth am I talking about? And how the heck does it relate to the billion dollar question? Three words: Targeted. Trending. Topics. (Okay, I lied about cutting the alliteration bit there.)

Over the last few days, Twitter has announced the release of Local Trends, giving the average Tweeter the option of hash-tagging globally as well as in their own backyard. Now for some reason, Mr. Jack Dorsey’s minions don’t think I qualify to be part of that 1% that has access to this particular feature just yet- but if you’re dying to know what it looks like, Mashable has screenshots here of what we can expect in the next few weeks. (On a sidenote, apparently Mashable’s own Ben Parr has yet to receive access to this feature as well, so I honestly feel a little less rejected.)

Yeah yeah… so why do I care? Because unlike Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, or the ever-floundering Friendster (yes it still exists!), Twitter is fairly devoid of the capacity for intense personal connections on a first name basis. (Case in point, I have a group of friends that are food bloggers and hardcore Twitterazzi. I randomly followed them on Twitter one day, won a beer in a contest they were having, met them at a bar, and was introduced as my screenname- thank goodness I didn’t pick something more embarrassing, because what you are online is what they refer to each other as in person. For real.)

Not that these sorts of connections are a bad thing- on the contrary, it’s great for Tweeters looking to monetize their feeds and doubly great for advertisers looking to push their product on a select group of people with minimal effort and maximum impact. Twitter is simply icing the cake at this point, selectively aggregating content for a desired region, and adding more bang to a demographic-specific ad’s buck in the process. Don’t believe me? Check out this example:

Image Courtesy of TechCrunch

Image Courtesy of TechCrunch

Since I have gone to Coachella several times over the last few years, I can attest to this example both hypothetically and literally. So say you’re consulting for a company like Coleman, or Coppertone Sunscreen, or American Apparel. All three of these companies make products that festival-goers will undoubtedly purchase before they make their yearly trek into the desert for several days of scorching heat and amazing music. (At the time of this article, Coachella had just over 24,000 followers on Twitter, with that number growing daily and not including other Coachella-related Twitter feeds. They claim close to 50,000 fans on their official Facebook, and almost 61,000 on Myspace.) But are a potential 100,000 combined eyes and ears really worth it in this day and age?

Most advertisers look for eyeballs numbering in the millions, but I really feel that many of them are missing a huge opportunity here. What’s the point of flooding a space with ads that a million people will see but only 20,000 of which will buy your product in the long run, when you essentially have all of the tools to address your specifically targeted demographic of 100,000 willing consumers? We are basically knee-deep in Wild West 2.0, and advertisers will either continue loudly tramping along with business as usual (and face extinction,) or adapt and learn to breathe underwater before the big meteoroid hits. (Or something like that- I’m pretty sure I combined a few stories there.)

Yeah okay, maybe that example was a little extreme, but for advertiser’s losing more and more money every day, this is no laughing matter (otherwise, they’d be sitting at the Jonathan Club drinking 18 year scotch and playing Yahtzee, not scrambling to hire “social media experts” as many of the job postings are lately.)

The demographic with the purchasing power is constantly shifting and evolving, much of this being dependant on how their social networks shift and evolve. From people talking and sharing ideas in person to print and video to online, our everyday information overload capacity has expanded, and our intake and output of concepts has sped up dramatically. Entire generations are now growing up in a virtual reality; thanks to social media and aggregated content, people’s interests are changing faster than ever- and in order for these advertisers to maintain interest, they have to engage with the consumer and have a constant conversation on a regular basis. They have to see what the consumer is talking about, and talk about it with them. They have to respond to thoughts and ideas and articles and not just talk about themselves all day long. In short, advertisers need to learn how to talk WITH us instead of yelling AT us.

Going back to the Local Trends query example on Twitter, say Coleman noticed that Coachella was trending in California (although personally I’d recommend they do a search that includes the entire US since people come from all over for this festival, but this is a moot point since it is not particularly conducive to the example.) Prior to social networking, Coleman’s main advertising option would have been to go to the content producers (in this case, Goldenvoice) and strike up a promotional deal that would hit Goldenvoice consumers (and soon-to-be-campers in need of tents and gear.) They also had the option of grass-roots and guerilla marketing, but these methods are generally only able to target small groups on the street, on college campuses, or at the festivals as attendees enter or leave the gates (not really grabbing them during the prime equipment buying hours weeks before, wouldn’t you say?)

But what if Coleman decided to adapt, create their own Twitter profile, and become a part of this conversation instead? (which as of this post I couldn’t find one, although it looks like there may be a few squatters on similar user names.)  Interactive social marketing is easily the most underrated and inexpensive form of advertising online, and yet I am still regularly surprised how often major service and item providers use it incorrectly, overcomplicate it, or worse, turn to more expensive and outdated alternatives instead of getting their feet wet for their own futures. Why am I surprised? Because there is a formula that works, and it’s just about as easy as it sounds. (Warning: Alliteration Ahead.)

Seven Simple Steps to Social Sphere Survival

1. Create Twitter profile

2. Say HI WORLD! I’M HERE! I’M NOT A SPAMMER! I CARE ABOUT MY CUSTOMERS AND WANT THEIR FEEDBACK! (Maybe not in all caps though. That was only to convey excitement.)

3. Brace for feedback storm. You will get good and bad. AND you need to respond to as much as possible, with retweets (RT), @ tweets, link backs, etc.

4. Run contests. If I was going to Coachella and saw that Coleman was giving coupons to their Twitter followers or a tent away to whoever sent in the funniest camping picture, you can bet your last buck I’m going to follow them, send ridiculous pictures, RT whatever they ask me to, and I’ll do it, other people will too. This causes your “community” to grow quickly, exponentially, inexpensively, and gives you a direct line to your targeted audience. (Funny enough, these exact reasons are also why I follow Southwest and Jet Blue, two airlines who have the best Twitter deals and feeds. They have both created an online community solely based on their Twitter feeds, often saving me money when I fly and saving them even more money when they advertise. And yes, I do actually click their #topics to see other people’s funny picture contest entries and replies, bringing us to number 5…)

5. HASH TAG EVERYTHING. Getting your name out there? Don’t know what you want to talk about? The great thing about Twitter is you don’t have to start the conversation- thanks to trending topics, you can just as easily join in on one. (Ex. Coleman post: Are you guys ready for an amazing show? Tell us what camping gear you’re looking for! #Coachella.) Easy peasy. Especially since hash tags are now being run through more narrow search parameters than ever before. BUT!!!

6. Don’t tell people what they want- ask them what they want. Are your consumers looking for coupons? Free shipping? Special weekly deals? More cowbell? Once the conversation ball has started rolling, don’t be a butterfingers and drop it, and don’t fall back into your old ad-habits. Just talk with your audience. Give em’ a good Q&A session after the show. Really, we don’t (always) bite.

7. Lather rinse repeat.

And that’s enough on this topic for now. (Coming soon: what the social media sites are going to have to do to counter social marketing to still pay their rent without stepping on any toes…)