Is the social channel a 'must have' or a nicety?
The internet provides consumers with more choice than ever but many find it difficult to distinguish one product from another, highlighting the fact that marketers need to develop long-term relationships with customers to keep the lines of direct communication open, according to Sam Cece, CEO for StrongMail.
Relying on traditional channels to reach and monitor the behaviour of customers is at best hopeful these days - and at worst inaccurate. To successfully market a brand, organisations need to take time to develop a thorough understanding of the interests and behaviours of customers, and how to best to reach them.
To understand how prominent social media data has become, marketers need look no further than the UK's House of Commons. Politicians are experimenting with these channels in an attempt to better understand and connect with their public. Most MPs regularly use Twitter to communicate with their constituents, while many petitions are now organised via Facebook to secure the greatest level of awareness possible.
But, despite the rise in popularity of social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, many businesses still ask: "why invest precious resources in such a fledgling technology?"
Every day, consumers post information on social media channels that can be used by marketers to refine the targeting of their campaigns. This ranges from generating reviews to recommendations or even comments from online forums. They also voluntarily share public information about their lifestyle preferences and interests that can be tapped for significantly better targeting across channels. Facebook, for instance, has a global database of valuable lifestyle and demographic information from over 700 million people worldwide. That's more than most traditional data providers will ever have.
But can social media really be an effective business tool? Business social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn are now seen by many as key channels to conduct business and share views. This throws up a number of questions which many organisations are still struggling to answer. For example, is LinkedIn purely a resource for business networking and job opportunities, or is there scope for brands to reach and engage prospective customers with well-targeted marketing offers? The short answer is that social media has only just begun to grow up and mature. While marketers are beginning to embrace Facebook and Twitter, they have not yet fully capitalised on them as valuable marketing resources.
To leverage the social media channel successfully, for example, email subscribers could be asked to connect with a brand on Twitter, Facebook or other networks. Similarly, members of a brand's social networks could be encouraged to opt-in to email communications.
Enabling Facebook Connect and Twitter Sign-in capabilities, as well as promoting Facebook applications, are all ways to access this wealth of data. Many organisations are currently investing in building Facebook apps to help drive brand engagement, but all members of the marketing department need to ensure they have access to the data that is secured through that process. Instead of leaving social media marketing to the brand marketers, email marketers need to collaborate with their brand counterparts and look for opportunities to use the massive amounts of data on the social web to learn more about their own subscribers.
When you combine this knowledge with the mass of customer data that companies often collect but then waste (usually derived from interactions across multiple channels such as retail stores, web sites, call centres, and so on), businesses can create a more complete picture of each customer. The next step, then, is to deliver relevant messages to customers.
In order to take full advantage of these huge deposits of data, email marketers need to actively source and then append customer and prospect email databases with the wide array of social data that is available from a variety of sources. A good example of this is a project that StrongMail recently ran for Castrol, which effectively used social media to engage with its customers on a one-to-one basis via complementary brand pages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. In addition to providing integrated communities for its fans to congregate, Castrol is also using the user-generated content (UGC) to better understand topics that are most important to its customers, which it can in turn use to refine its products and marketing efforts.
Marketers therefore need to be able to link referral marketing programmes from web sites or emails to social media channels. This allows consumers to recommend products or services they like via the channel that most suits their current needs. Marketers can then analyse the effectiveness of campaigns, identify their biggest influencers and the total reach of a programme, by reviewing factors such as email open rates, standard click-throughs and sale conversions.
By collecting social data, adding it to a database, and then using it to increase the relevance of customer communications, marketers could vastly improve the performance of their campaigns across every channel.