* The creation of content using social media (e.g. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds) and not online advertising on social media sites.
Most consumers don't want a conversation with you
Assuming you spend some time and money on social media, how best to use this? What do consumers want from your brand? Well, here Marketing directors are out of touch. About 1/3 believe that consumers want a 2-way conversation with brands. This raises expectations about how involved consumers want to be in creating content themselves. In reality, a mere 5% of consumers said they used brands’ social media for this reason.
In contrast, desire for useful information and deals is much higher than marketers think. This means you need a stream of distinctive, relevant content and attractive promotional offers to be active on social media.
The low interest in 2-way dialogue is confirmed by data on the top 200 brands on Facebook, done by the Ehrenburg Bass Institute (EBI). Only 1% of people who liked a brand’s Facebook page were interacting with it, based on the metric “People Talking About This” (total likes, posts, comments, tags, shares). In other words, 99% of people were on the brand’s Facebook page to consume content, not create it.
Content is king
Brands need to create a stream of distinctive, relevant content on social media, and this has several implications. First, this needs a new skill-set. You need someone with writing or journalistic experience to lead the creation of brand content, either in your team or an agency partner. And, like a newsroom, you have to react on the spot to important events and consumer comments. Marks & Spencer work on a 2-hour response time to comments in social media, for example.
Content creation, talent and speed were all seen as being difficult for over 1⁄2 of our marketing directors, topped only by the challenge of proving ROI.
The key challenge for a newsroom is to have a stream of interesting, impactful news that can make headlines. This is where brands with large ranges of products and services, such as retailers, have an advantage of more to talk about than the limited offer of most product brands.
Focus on facebook
With a better understanding of what consumers want from social media, where should you focus your limited time and money? After all, social media experts like to scare us by showing an ever expanding plethora of platforms.
Our marketing director survey confirmed our belief in a focus on Facebook and a supporting role for Twitter and YouTube. Brands’ own websites also came out as being extremely important.
facebook has by far the biggest audience (900 million) and gives more ability for brands to create interesting content. The key challenge on Facebook is creating bite-sized bits of compelling content, given that 90% of people consume brand content as part of their ‘news feed’, not on the brand’s Facebook page as you might expect. You have to stand out amongst the news from a person’s c.200 friends to be seen.
twitter has a smaller role to play, given its even more limited reach. It has fewer members (300 million). And brands play an even smaller role than on Facebook: the UK’s top 10 brands Twitter following is only 1% of their Facebook following. The main role of Twitter for brands is a new-age helpline, most relevant for complex service brands, and for following celebrity CEOs. For example, the CEO of US retailer Zappos, Tony Hseieh, has 2.4 million followers, almost 200 times the following of Zappos.com's Twitter feed.
youtube: Whilst every marketing director dreams of a YouTube sensation that ‘goes viral’, we suggest that viral success should be seen as a bonus to your conventional media plan, not the main objective. Firstly, the key drivers of virality seem to be sex, humour and “spectacle”, and these my not fit with your brand. And more importantly, YouTube success is a lottery. For every viral success, many more films fail to fly.
“What’s our digital strategy?” is the wrong question
Social media is only one aspect of the digital world brands operate in today. In fact, “What’s our digital strategy?” is the wrong question. A better question is “What’s our strategy for a digital world?”, as this opens up opportunities beyond social media.
For example, we worked with the Carling Black Label brand in South Africa on a digitally-empowered activation called “Be the Coach”. This allowed soccer fans to vote via mobile phones to actually pick the teams for a special cup match between South Africa’s top 2 teams, the Kaiser Chiefs and The Orlando Pirates.An amazing 11 million votes were cast in 7 weeks. And the campaign has helped improve brand imagery, most often used and volume. During the match fans could vote via SMS for the player they wanted to substitute.
Other examples of digitally enabled brand activity include the Nike+ alliance with Apple that allows you to track your runs with your iPod or iPhone, and Gillette’s launch of an online subscription service for getting re-fill razor blades.
In response to the question “Can social media show you the money”, the jury is still out. On the upside, social media can amplify the rest of your marketing mix with limited extra budget, though you need to invest in people to create great content. However, you need to cut through the hype to understand exactly what role it can play, and avoid feeling pressurised to “just do it” to keep up with marketing fashion. Specifically:
Social media’s supporting role: given its limited reach, social media is far from replacing “old media” and is rather there to amplify the rest of your mix.
Most brands are not social or online: if your brand is closer to pasta sauce than Prada, social media should probably use less than 10% of your budget.
Content is king: most consumers want interesting content, not interaction, and you need a “news team” to create this.
Focus on Facebook: it has the biggest audience and opportunity for creating content. Twitter is tiny. And YouTube viral videos are a lottery.
Think beyond social media: there may be other, bigger digitally-powered opportunities to build your brand and business.