Gone are the days when spends on digital and social media were a miniscule percentage of overall marketing spends and managing them was relegated to young interns who already had a presence on social platforms. While most companies have woken up to the power of the medium, there is also more than a little apprehension as questions abound about utility and returns on this medium.
This post is a summary of learnings from various sources; my experience handling various digital media agencies – overseeing email, search, digital and social media marketing, from observing various types of social media campaigns and their impact, and from studying the latest behavioural research on this topic. Read on…
Don’t buy fans and followers; favour organic growth:
While planning a social media campaign, one of the first suggestions on the table is likely to be a contest with products being handed out for free in order to lure new followers or create a buzz.
The argument for chasing fans and followers during the early days of social media was that the consumers engaged via social media were more likely to buy and recommend the brand. Now, studies have shown that the mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a consumer’s behaviour or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by the consumers’ friends. As marketers experienced this, the argument for chasing fans and followers moved from getting these fans to buy your products to using these followers to spread information on the brand.
But such luring tactics often attract the wrong people who are not strongly attached to the brand. This leads to low engagement with content which defeats the whole purpose of acquiring these fans to spread information. Letting fans and followers grow organically, you are likely to attract those with a positive predisposition towards your brand. And on this foundation, meaningful campaigns can be built going forward.
Have channel specific campaigns and strategy:
For brands, it’s become a norm to be present on multiple social networks. The content is created with focus on one social media network, usually Facebook, and then cross posted (same content across networks) or cross promoted (content modified slightly for other networks). At times, content is cross-linked between social media, e.g., driving people from Twitter to a Facebook campaign. While the reason expressed for this is that the audience on various networks is different and one is maximizing reach, the underlying reason is most often economies. You save effort, you save time, and ultimately you save money.
Everyone knows that there are big differences between different social networks – predominant content format, posting structure, audience profile and how a user interacts with them. If the differences are so fundamental and so wide, how can one strategy work effectively across?
The big folly is that we put all digital and social as one arm of an integrated media campaign. The result? Marketers and brand managers think of campaigns across digital and social as one campaign rather than thinking about integrated digital campaigns with each network on one arm. It is crucial to pick the right network for a brand rather than jumping on to the next social media bandwagon. Select social networks that fit brand message, type of content, and target audience. Then ensure that the strategy for each channel is in line with the consumer behaviour and interaction that the channel dictates.
Go beyond content marketing, pre-roll ads; collaborate:
Of late, you see a plethora of brands releasing 2-7 minute long videos on YouTube. While most of them in India are released on festive occasions or events, and are about family relationships, it’s not uncommon to see brands talking about issues like self-consciousness, gender stereotypes, sexuality, empowerment etc. Call it storytelling, branded content marketing, brand purpose videos, every agency and marketer wants to create that next “viral video” that wins awards!
The reality is that Consumers often see through these tactics and recognise the intention behind the content that the brands churn out. Very few brands have generated meaningful consumer interest in such “amazingly awesome”, “heart wrenching” videos. Then, in desperation, comes the artificial trending and pre-roll pushing of these videos which are routinely ignored and skipped. Brands need to go beyond this ‘advertising on digital media’ mentality and take advantage of the many possibilities that digital and social media offer today.
For instance, consider youtube. YouTube has a simple Venn diagram indicating the sweet spot for developing a video content strategy. Since it is tough for a brand to “Create” all the content that fits this sweet spot, they suggest considering the options to “Collaborate” and “Curate”. HBR talks about the rise of crowd culture where today you’ll find a flourishing crowd around almost any topic. Cooking, parenting, health, fashion, films, arts, skin care… you name it and chances are you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, some with millions of followers. That’s where the leverage of collaboration comes in – content that fits the brand message and target audience can be produced and promoted in partnership with the creator’s channel.
Listen to everything; Measure appropriately:
Of late, companies have started creating social “command centers” – rooms with wall-to-wall computer screens and projections, tracking campaigns and brand chatter in real-time across social networks 24×7. These are used to a) create relevant content speedily around a campaign or event, b) receive and respond to consumer feedback and c) identify and mitigate potential PR crises (of late this is becoming the #1 reason for establishing such centers).
While such centres turn big data into beautiful data, more often than not, they fail to deliver on expectations. Those who look at such data closely, berate the inadequacy in data gathering, integration and analysis tools. And those in senior management don’t relate to, and state as meaningless, graphs of retweets, likes, mentions and sentiments. Core to both of these issues, is that the business case (outcome) of social listening is not clearly defined and the investment is justified by activity.
If the primary role of social media is managing consumer feedback, the meaningful measures should be related to traditional consumer feedback mechanisms like call centres (number of calls reduced, speed in resolution etc.). If it is for listening to consumer talk, then measures should be related to traditional research programs (insights generated, product feedback received etc.). These are tricky to measure, but despite the innate difficulties involved, such measurement and attribution is important and possible.
Though social media has been around for more than a decade now, it’s still relatively new and brands are still figuring out a way to navigate and leverage this medium to create impact. In the next post, we’ll delve into an approach to measure the impact and returns on this medium.
- Ravindra Ramavath