Social media marketing relies on brands’ ability to connect with consumers in a way that feels authentic, meaningful and human. We asked experts from some of the UK’s most socially-savvy brands and agencies to discuss what they see as the key issues facing social media marketers in 2013.
Jeremy Waite, Head of Social Strategy, Adobe EMEA
The more I think about it, the more I realise there is a fundamental problem with the way most brands are ‘doing social’: they are obsessed with creating content.
The issue is that the amount of content being created is growing exponentially (think Moore’s Law), but the amount of useful content is not. Ninety per cent of the entire world’s data has been produced in the last two years and it’s getting worse. Brands are struggling to stand out (especially the ones without large media budgets). It’s not survival of the fittest anymore; it’s survival of the fastest.
Many brands have become so obsessed with creating content that they have forgotten why they were creating it in the first place: to engage with their audience. I see brands spending 90 per cent of their time creating content and 10 per cent engaging with their fans and followers. It should be the other way around. So instead of spending their time crafting the most perfect piece of content, I suggest instead that they invest their time becoming obsessed with their customers. And that means getting involved in every relevant conversation related to what they do.
This obviously puts community managers at the heart of any social strategy, but that’s where they belong. Strategies shouldn’t be built around content; they should be built around people. Community managers are the stars. After all, they can drive loyalty, solve complaints, build advocacy, engage with your audience and grow your brand (in real-time) faster than anyone else.
Pete McGarr, Managing Director, Tempero
The key challenge for a lot of brands with social media this year will be realising that so far, they’ve got it wrong. Most brands have entered the channel with a focus on the platforms rather than the people. Facebook has dominated the agenda and confined social marketing to a tactical level with no strategic or sustainable affinity being achieved.
Social media is at its most powerful when people are motivated by the same thing, whether that is a birthday party or a riot. Brands need to identify the sweet-spot of genuine shared motivations with their audience and employ social media solely as a means to promote and demonstrate that affinity.
These shared motivations will vary by sector but for brands that sell reasonably high value products, customer service should be a high priority. Social media removes barriers and provides the opportunity for human contact with your customers. Make that contact something they remember for the right reasons. For brands that focus more on lifestyle association, content is your priority. But again, you need to develop that content from a social proposition, built on a credible area of common ground with your audience, or it’s unsustainable.
Phil Worms, Director, Marketing, iomart Group PLC
“Social media is as social media does” – with apologies to Forrest Gump’s mum – conveys the notion of judging social media on its actions as opposed to a superficial appearance. And that’s the real challenge and issue for any marketer.
We’ve all been smart enough to grab the social media IPR for our brands but do we actually understand what is meant by the term ‘social’? A quick dictionary check throws up words such as ‘companionship’, ‘gregarious’ and ‘engaged’ – hardly terms I associate with the barrage of bland brand messages that fi ll my timelines hourly. Social media has both the power to promote and alienate in equal measure.
Successful social media execution must have a push/pull relationship at its very core. At iomart Group we offer cloud hosting services – not exactly sexy, and, by their nature, of limited appeal to the wider community – a common challenge for any non-FMCG brand trying to encourage interaction. When I socialise with friends I don’t talk about routers and IP addresses, so why would I want to assume a false personality simply because I’m online?
We introduced a sports campaign called Host Your Kit – free strips for deserving UK youth teams – which allows us to take our brand into areas not normally associated with IT and which also provides us with a rich vein of engaging content.
Jimmi Prebble, Digital Strategy Diretor, Pancentric Digital
Consideration for the consumers’ reasons for being on and engaging with content on social media is often forgotten. Before brands entered into this space, consumers used them to catch up with friends, share things with them, show-off, update people on where they are, what they’ve been up to. We’re a few years on from the birth of social media as a mainstream digital channel and none of this has changed.
But too often, I’ve observed frustrated brand managers wondering why the offer posted on Facebook wasn’t successful, why nobody has entered the photo upload competition, or retweeted one of their messages. It’s because the brands that consumers follow on social media are not the first priority for consumers; reading about what their friends are up to or sharing an update with their friends/followers is. Brands come second, nearly every time.
The response to dips in engagement is often to question strategy, increase post frequency and try new ‘clever’ tricks to encourage integration. However, the best way to address this problem is to understand that you’re not number one, but if you stay true to who you are, if you continue to provide the content and support that consumers loved you for in the first place, you’ll keep them happy.
Andrew Roberts, Managing Partner, Gravity Thinking Limited
Social media is now business critical – it can create, foster and sustain more personal relationships with consumers, and whilst brands are increasing investment in building social presences, businesses are underestimating the power of the relationships.
Facebook’s EdgeRank increased mobile usage and the growth in social commerce means success is now not a vague display of preference (or as Facebook call it a ‘Like’) but a committed value exchange.
At the heart of this value exchange is content – it creates sustainable relationships with the end-user, it marries utility and delight, it can be playful, involving and charming. But we all know that the creation of great content isn’t easy – it requires data-mining, intuition and creative thinking – in a nutshell using logic to create magic. Social data offers the richest and most relevant information marketers have ever had. It can drive qualitative and quantitative insight and provide a multitude of logical leads and even answer that eternal question: what do consumers really want?
Creating magic in social can be boundless. From simple tone of voice – checkout Betfair Poker’s Twitter account – to agile proactive initiatives like Bodyform’s witty spoof video response to a boyfriend bemoaning period adverts.
Brands like Red Bull and IKEA are the masters of using content as a reminder to the consumer of who they are and why they should ‘Like’, follow and ultimately buy them!
So let’s think about the power of relationships and not settle for ‘Likes’ but focus on the power of (brand) ‘love’.
Vincent Sider, VP, Social Media, BBC Worldwide, @vincentsider
I think fans feel differently about the presence of brands depending on which social network they are using. When it is an open graph, where they go to chat with friends, date, gossip, share their ego, they may have a tiny amount of attention left for their other interests (i.e. lifestyle-related content, cars) but not for all brand content especially when, just like hitting the nail with a hammer twice, marketers retarget that content in the newsfeed.
It is critical to be mindful of this as marketers won’t know whether that content actually puts people at risk with unwanted ads appearing in their newsfeed – for all their friends to see!
When it is an interest graph, the situation is a bit different as users are talking to ‘trusted’ strangers who share the same interest. Therefore the propensity to accept brand conversation is probably higher.
Sixty-five per cent of marketers’ time is spent capturing data and only 15 per cent of their time is spent making sense of that data (according to Google). That should be the other way round and brands need to have the right analytical skills in place. The future is bright for statisticians, and people with analytical skills!
Simon Nicholson, Social Media Manager, Honda Motor Europe
I think the main challenge for organisations in 2013 and beyond is managing social media as a whole, both internally and externally. As the management of social media matures, it is becoming less generalised and each area is becoming more developed.
The capabilities for brands to operate in social media or social networks have developed over the last few years. Now the question is not ‘how?’ a brand can communicate through social media, but ‘why?’ and ‘to whom?’ The development of these capabilities allows social media activities to more closely integrate into core business strategy and operations. For example, specifically looking at how we can communicate PR messaging or the optimisation of customer relation processes.
We’ll see more integration of activities into their respective departments but also more integration in terms of the operations and strategy across the organisation. All communication must be aligned in messaging as we communicate with consumers in a truly dynamic environment, where the individual controls when and where information is consumed.
I see the future for social media as specifically developed specialist usage but completely integrated across the organisation.
Rob Burton, Social Media Planner, House of Kaizen
At House of Kaizen we always focus our clients’ attention towards developing a fully-rounded listening strategy before they enter into any social media activity. Too often we find that businesses who enter social media blindly – without real purpose and knowledge of the needs and demands of their audience – are the ones who end up facing crisis.
Choosing a tool that fits your bespoke needs is a vital point in the process which should be treated with the same importance as any technology investment your business makes. From the start of that process there needs to be a clear set of goals and outcomes that you expect to achieve from listening. Ask if the vendor picks up conversation from all online channels or just social? How far can you backdate conversation? Can you segment the data manually to create insight?
This is where the agency relationship becomes all important. Social listening tools are just technology at the end of the day and unless you’re able to understand where the valuable conversation is, which parts to extract and when to dive deeper for insight, then overall efforts are wasted. Data is just data unless you know what to do with it and it requires skilled marketers and data analysts to harness this information to develop meaningful strategies.
Tess Tucker, Group Digital Marketing Director, Just-Eat
For brands that have been investing heavily in Facebook one of the biggest issues to tackle has been the EdgeRank update last autumn. This has meant that brands have had to work much harder to get their posts into their fans’ feeds.
In theory the updated EdgeRank algorithm is good for Facebook users – they are shown only the most interesting posts. For a brand it’s frustrating that reach has decreased dramatically – if a person has chosen to ‘Like’ a brand, shouldn’t Facebook continue to show this content rather than using an algorithm based on other people’s interaction with the content? If somebody doesn’t like what they see, let them ‘unlike’ it. Of course, if the brand is paying for it in the form of promoted posts Facebook does not seem to care so much if it’s ‘relevant’. Which has in turn led to concerns that the increase in adverts appearing in feeds are switching people off from Facebook – something Facebook may need to address soon.
For brands aiming to increase organic reach we need to be making the most of Facebook’s targeting options. If we can better target our content by age or gender, we increase our chances of getting better engagement levels and reach to keep our brands top of mind.
James Erskine, Media Director, The Big Shot
How brands communicate across social media should vary hugely from brand to brand and depend on what business objectives have been set against each social channel.
There are two key issues that, in our experience, social media marketers are not addressing. Firstly, not knowing what job social media is doing. Our thoughts are that social media is a good route to form the beginnings of a content strategy and that most brands are not addressing a business problem with the communication they offer existing and potential customers across their social media.
Secondly, brands, in many cases, are not being true to themselves in their communication. There seems to be a reliance on making audiences laugh (well, chuckle) when, to reinforce a brand proposition, it might be better to be useful and interesting rather than trying to labour a weak point/joke or post a picture of a cat with a funny hat on.
At The Big Shot we work with brands across many different arenas to deliver engaging content that both fulfills a business objective (or at least a marketing objective) and stays true to the overarching brand proposition.
Charlie Wells, Strategy Director & Head of Social, SapientNitro
Brands have been dipping their toes into social to varying depths. Now all brands have some sort of social presence, with some sort of system and some sort of tool. (If you don’t, you’re playing catch up!) However, very few brands are using social to transform how they connect their brand and their consumer.
At SapientNitro we are changing the way brands connect with their customers. Our approach is called ‘storyscaping’. It’s about designing a landscape of connected consumer experiences through which any consumer can create their own branded story. Social is an essential ingredient for connecting experiences and connecting people.
My recommendation for anyone wanting to improve their social offering is to think big, think about how you create a connected consumer experience around your brand, think about how your brand can bring people together, think about how you can create a storyscape. If you can do this, all the social tasks become easy; what content strategies you should use, what tools and processes you need, what people you need to hire and/or train, what metrics you need to measure, etc. All of these become clear when part of a storyscape. Social is the glue that holds a storyscape together. Without a storyscape, social is just another channel to talk at people.
Oli Snoddy, Head of Planning, Twitter UK, @olisnoddy
We will look back on 2013 as the year that brands really figured out real-time marketing, and how to use timing as a key source of competitive advantage.
We’ve all experienced them: real-time brand responses to big cultural moments. On the news of Alex Ferguson retiring, for example, Nandos swooped in, and announced that they would be extending Manchester opening hours as a mark of respect: #NandosFergieTime. This simple, timely gesture was retweeted 17,000 times, and delivered much brand love.
Even more important is anticipating and planning for these moments. Twitter’s keyword targeting, for example, enables you to serve hypertargeted messages to people just after they have Tweeted or engaged with a specific term. You no longer need to know when a moment will happen in order to plan for it.
Beyond advertising, brands such as Lynx have detailed scenario plans in place for whatever life may throw at them. Backed into a corner by Les on Channel 4’s Dogging Tales – he cited Lynx as the dogging cologne of choice – Lynx had the strategy and structures in place to respond in near real-time. They got in on the joke and used it to position themselves and actually help define their brand.
And it’s not just the big events that brands can leverage. For most brands, it’s the sum of all their customer moments that hold the greatest opportunity. O2 routinely turns customer service queries into amazing marketing moments. Barclays recently created #bespokeballadsvideos for followers engaging with their campaign on Twitter. Personal and fast can be the most powerful of all.
2013 is the year that brands become more personal. People like one-to-one conversations. People like to talk in real-time. People like to be part of shared cultural experiences. As real-time marketing grows up, brands are more able to deliver on this than ever before.
Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner, Spinnaker
The honeymoon period is most definitely over. The social bandwagon has been leapt upon by brands across every category imaginable, largely driven by the sense that there might be a consumer expectation or need for them to be there. This couldn’t be further from the truth and too many brands have been left wondering what went wrong.
Consumers don’t want brands cluttering up their lives just for the sake of it. They may flirt briefly if something is up for grabs, but let’s not pretend there’s much love involved. No, what the successful social stories have shown us is that brands need to establish a natural fit, a reason to be there. For some brands this might mean that time and money is best invested elsewhere. But for those where the potential is still high there is a need to re-examine purpose, success measures and relevance. The best way to start this process is by listening – use monitoring tools but also your own intuition by spending time with your audience. Happily, I have seen a marked shift in brands adopting a more rigorous approach and I am hopeful that we are about to enter a period of effective two way brand-consumer social engagement.
This feature appears in Figaro Digital Issue 18: July 2013