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Twitter and Facebook seem to be in the headlines almost every day, Hollywood is even making a movie about Facebo ok, and it seems as if every company is now looking to social media to help prop el themselves beyond the aftermath of the GFC. But there is still a lot of confu sion about what social media actually is and where the threats and opportunities lie. In this article I take a close look at the social media landscape, describe some of the “platforms”, examine how these are changing the market place and outline a strategic framework for deploying social media as a branding, marketing, PR a nd intelligence tool. What is social media really? The big social media brands are YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn but they are just that – brands, and like any brand they are designed to cater to a cert ain niche to meet a specific need. As with any successful product or service the people behind these brands spotted a market need and developed a solution to it. They then had to work out how to generate revenue. Because social media is able to generate a huge amount of data about each user (age, gender, place of work, where they live, things they like, people they know and so on) the most obvious choice was to provide highly targe ted advertising. Facebook is the brand that has managed to do this most successf ully so far. But it is still early days – and Google is yet to weigh in seriousl y. The market leaders do not define the market. Social media is the convergence of technology and the desire people have to be h eard and connected. In an age where people are feeling increasingly isolated, so cial media has managed to connect people with old friends, complete strangers an d interest groups – or said another way connect people to the “market segments” they wish to belong to. This has happened in a way no other technology has been able to do. We humans are essentially tribal animals and social media has allowed us to gath er into these new ‘location free tribes’ incredibly fast. What’s more, the users of social media like it and want more. The march of social media is now unstoppable. There have been times this year wh ere the amount of time spent on Facebook eclipsed the time spent on Google. This competition is only going to intensify. Facebook recently released some new too ls to extend its reach and influence over the whole of the web. Recently rumours around a new service called GoogleMe have started to surface. Social media is now becoming more than a marketing experiment. By the end of the year the majority of big name companies will be looking at how social media can be directly integrated into their brand strategy. It will be the core of any ne w digital strategy. Why has it happened? Networking and collaboration is fundamental to what it means to be human. In our bodies atoms work together to create cells and cells work together to create ou r organs. In our brains’ neurons work together to create our thoughts, feelings and language. In your company people are working together in a similar way – to create something bigger and more exciting than the sum of it’s parts. We can take this thinking and look at the development of the personal computer a
nd see a very distinct pattern emerging. Before anyone had a computer or a smart phone, everything was a social event. Me etings were face-to-face or over the phone. Communication in general was human-t o-human based. In the last 30 years things changed. Initially the personal computer made everyt hing a private and secluded affair. Games, for example, could be played without the help of another human and work could be carried out sitting in front of a sc reen. The advent of the early internet exposed the power of a computer network. But from a personal perspective ‘computing’ was an insular activity. The first social networks, forums and blogs worked with a huge number of anonymo us users. While this was a step forward in person-to-person networking, the anon ymity allowed people to behave in ways they would never dream of in real life. T his constrained many of these networks to the domain of early adopters and speci al interest groups. The ‘rules’ that govern effective social networks were yet t o be developed. What has happened recently, particularly with Facebook, is that it’s become far easier to transport your real identity around the web. This means that increasin gly people are joining new social networks with their ‘real identity’ – their re al name, their place of work, and other details that define them as a person in a movement (sometimes referred to as the ‘Open Web’). Naturally this makes peopl e think more carefully about what they say and how they behave on social network s. Because they ‘own’ their comments the common rules of society come into play . When a person’s reputation is attached to what they say it makes them think ca refully about what that comment might mean to others. Of course people can still misbehave in social networks as they can in real worl d networks. But the networks are now being governed by majority rule so this beh aviour is quickly dealt with. This makes cooperation and collaboration much easi er. Because of this the barriers to entry are dropping at an astronomical rate. Companies are starting to feel more secure in setting up their own networks, kno wing that the majority of users will join to get value out of the information th at is provided and quickly deal with other users who lessen the overall value of that network. So when thinking about why social media has become so widely adopted, and ponder ing where it is going, avoid getting distracted by in the leaps in technology. T hese are important of course but it is the behaviour of the network and the deve lopment of new social norms that are really driving the progress. Every individu al in this massive network is doing what he or she is preprogrammed to do – comm unicate, collaborate and continue the march of civilisation’s evolution. The New Web The age of the “website” as we have known it is coming to an end. People may sti ll go to your site but they expect information to be tailored for them and avail able on the social media platform of their choosing and on any device that conne cts to the web. What’s more they expect to be able to comment on almost everythi ng they see. The web is no longer a digital version of print. It is the space wh ere conversation is facilitated. Websites are becoming applications that feed in formation out to various social based platforms. This allows people to receive a nd consume information the way they choose. The more you can utilise your social media presence and leverage the influencers in your network the better. It is even possible to embed e-commerce and other w eb based applications directly into Facebook. Most brands need to start thinking about their websites as a database that organises and distributes information a
nd features to specific groups within the world of social media. Owning the data One way to think about the forces driving the development of social media is the old saying: “knowledge is power”. To that you need add a more recent motto “and the person with the most data wins”. Each social media brand-name earns its mon ey from collecting and analysing data. And they are not too keen on sharing that information. Obviously there’s a huge amount of data that brands can obtain from the many soc ial media monitoring tools currently available. But if you really want ‘granular ’ information about your brand you need to devise ways to generate and own your own data. If you are used to thinking about campaigns and short term goals this might feel difficult. If you take a longer term view however, it is possible to generate massive amounts of data relevant and specific to your brand, your produ ct category and your competition. It’s the economy, stupid During the 1992 presidential campaign in the USA, Bill Clinton’s campaign strate gist coined the phrase “…it’s the economy, stupid…”. He did this to make the cas e that Clinton was a better choice for president because president George H. W. Bush had not successfully addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession. Clinton, of course, won that election. Nearly twenty years later the world is emerging from a period of economic turmoi l that has forever reshaped important elements of the market place. One of the m ost significant changes is the movement of social media into the mainstream. Thi s is far from surprising. Challenging economic times always induce consumers to carefully assess how they spend. Being a member of a community where you trust t he recommendations of people who are real consumers is an obvious choice. Techno logy has allowed this to happen in a measurable way and on a global scale. We are now in a time where the phrase “it’s the social economy, stupid” could we ll become a catch phrase for companies rather than voters. Those that ignore the opportunities social networks provide may well be putting themselves at a disti nct disadvantage. Fractured or identifiable markets There has been a lot of talk about how social media is fracturing markets. This is a myth. Social media doesn’t ‘create’ new markets and market segments. It just identifie s them. The interest groups and needs already existed – we just didn’t know enou gh about them. The mountain of data that social media produces can now shed light on who these people are, and what they like. We now have clearly identifiable and serviceable markets. Of course this has created an additional layer of complexity. But utilising tool s to listen to, and more importantly, understand these market segments gives you an opportunity to talk to them in their own language and hear what they have to say. You might say this technology can help you treat your customers like human s – something that most forms of marketing and communication have not been good at thus far. Defining value
A recent survey of the social media activity of major brands, including Nokia, A didas, Nike, Coca-Cola and Red Bull, showed that some brands are engaging well w ith their Facebook fans. The people who have voluntarily decided to follow what these brands have to say tend to spend significantly more than non-fans – someti mes more than twice as much. Further, fans were more loyal and 68% were inclined to recommend the product to their peers. Nike was able to put a value of $209.8 3 on each Facebook fan – even though some fans spend nothing at all. It could be argued that these fans would be loyal brand advocates anyway. But ev en so social media has given them a convenient platform to stay engaged and and share their views and preferences with others. Starting a social media strategy With this background we are now equipped to discuss how to form a social media s trategy. Before we start a couple of principles need to be highlighted. First th ere is no “one size fits all” when it comes to strategy. Secondly it’s worth tak ing time to get a strategy right. Many companies have been adopting an approach to social media based on an assump tion that it is ‘free’. They have set up accounts and hoped it will work. It won ’t. Hope is not a strategy, and social media takes time to get right – so it can ’t be free. So let’s walk through the basic steps… Define your goal A brand needs to first define it’s goal. Social media can be used for customer s ervice, customer acquisition, brand awareness or public relations. But trying to do everything will produce unfocused results. Understanding what stage your com pany is at and setting goals to propel communications to your desired stakeholde rs is the first step. Listen to gain context Once you have defined your goal you need to measure what is already happening. B efore meaningful KPIs can be set it helps to know what measurement tools are ava ilable and the quality of the data they generate. These tools can be categorised into three groups. Site analytics – One of the most important tools you will need to utilise is web site analytics – tools that measure the activity on your website. Google analyti cs is an extremely good free option but there are many others depending on what it is you are actually trying to do. Make sure you do your research get advice a nd know what option is right for you. Social media monitoring – There are a number of ways to monitor what is happenin g in the social media space. Who is talking to who, who is influential and why t he conversations are happening. There are free tools available but some of these lack precision as the technology is not constantly upgraded or not enough effor t is put into collecting the data. A well developed tool is worth the investment . Good monitoring tools can give you extremely detailed information – what peopl e are saying about your brand, who is saying it, details of the demographics of your social media following and even what people are saying about your competiti on. The right data allows you to snare the ‘low hanging fruit’. Data mining tools – To dig deeper into data it may be necessary to employ more a dvanced tools. You may need ‘text mining’ to get an overview of what words or th
emes seem to be surrounding your brand online or ‘geo-locating’ comments to iden tify potential new markets. Good choices require knowledge of what type of data is available, and how to bes t get your hands on it. Choose your communication platforms Platforms then need to be chosen. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are a few of the big ones but there are many more. Each is focused on a different demographic. T here is also the possibility of creating your own platform to fulfil a need that may only exist for your market Set KPIs Once you know your goal, have chosen the tools you will use to measure it and th e platforms through which you will focus your communications you are ready to se t your KPIs. There are many ways of doing this. One of the most effective is aim ing to ‘increase positive sentiment’ – basically getting more people on side. Define a voice Finally you need to create a ‘voice’. A tone for how you will communicate. Will you be informative, humorous or serious? What language will your market respond to? Making the correct choice and implementing well is important. Get this righ t and your market will follow. Get good advice Ultimately a good social media strategy needs good advice. So make sure you talk to people who know this space well. Looking to the future Social media is here to stay. These methods of communicating have become embedde d in our technologies and culture. Companies will soon be interacting with a gen eration that will find it impossible to imagine a time where the individual didn ’t have a voice and an ability to exert influence. This gives those companies a huge opportunity to be involved in conversations ab out their brands and to learn and respond to the views and preferences of their customers. We are moving into the age of the ‘people organised web’ – information organised by people, for people and recommended by people in your network. We have moved beyond the ‘industrialised’ view of the world where markets are represented by i mpersonal statistics. Markets are made of individuals and they demand to be trea ted as such. This is the beginning of the next great step in the evolution of human civilisat ion. It’s happening. Time to get on board and be part of that evolution.