Senior marketing executives around the world now agree that the use of social media for corporate, brand and product marketing is not a passing fad, according to research sponsored by TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony.
Consumers on the internet may have taken much of the 'brand control' away from marketers, but has the business world yet seized on the uses of social media for better brand marketing? To find out, the survey questioned marketers about their experiences with various types of social media tools in their marketing strategies.
Nearly 50% of the marketers surveyed said they believed that social media is now a vital component of corporate communications that should be monitored at the executive level, and that significant resources should be allocated to doing so.
These responses suggest that companies are taking social media seriously. Beyond the need for board-level support, another 30% said they saw social media as an unconventional new opportunity that businesses should grasp with a sense of urgency. In addition, 95% said they believe that social media will grow in significance over the next five years.
When asked about the uses of social media, respondents endorsed it as a strategic tool to gain consumer insights (37%), build brand awareness (21%) and increase customer loyalty (18%).
Early adopters are winning
The survey found that the early adopters (which is called 'revolutionaries') were already more advanced in their understanding and execution of social media marketing initiatives than more cautious marketers (nicknamed 'wait-and-sees').
Nearly five times as many revolutionaries were already implementing social media in their organisations, and three times as many wait-and-see companies were only at the early learning stages with regard to social media tools and techniques. In addition, revolutionaries were also far more optimistic about the future of social media, with 81% foreseeing a growth in its significance over the next five years, while only 33% of wait-and-sees had the same view.
Influence in marketing
When asked about how they would use social media to influence their marketing initiatives, wait-and-see companies generally put more emphasis on using social media for new types of marketing campaigns (such as viral marketing and videos), while revolutionaries tended to focus more on listening to customers points of view.
One area where both groups were in agreement is that they are eager (95% of revolutionaries and 60% of wait-and-sees) to study consumer feedback and learn from it. "The survey showed that most marketers think that social media is another media channel that companies can use to push their messages through," explained Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer for TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. "The revolutionaries have a more sophisticated approach to creating stronger relationships with consumers and, as a result, are gaining a competitive advantage."
Listen, then act
The potential business impact of social media was found to be similar from country to country, although the US had a stronger point of view on the value of market research in social media. For example, 88% of US respondents (compared to 65% of global respondents) said that reading and analysing social media to understand unfiltered consumer perceptions would have the most impact on the future of their business.
Similarly, marketers in all countries were in general agreement (a global average of 62%) that word of mouth (WoM) campaigns would have the second greatest impact on their business, while the US once again led the argument at 75%.
Product launch effects
Respondents also endorsed the role that blogs and other social media channels play in an integrated product launch campaign. The most effective potential use of social media, chosen by more than 50% of respondents, is creating a user community of bloggers to provide user experience feedback.
Another 47% said they believe that using social media vehicles (such as YouTube) to generate a viral marketing campaign would also be very effective in a product launch. Specifically in the US, more respondents supported the idea of using social media to boost the effectiveness of their marketing efforts than their global counterparts.
The main barriers cited by respondents were a lack of senior management commitment and best practices, followed by a lack of controls, standardisation, time and resources. For example, when asked to create a title for a senior position to manage long-term business opportunities afforded by social media, respondents struggled. This unexpected reaction suggests that companies are still uncertain about how to manage social media initiatives.
Respondents also criticised marketing service suppliers for not providing sufficient expertise to help businesses understand and exploit blogs and social networks. They also noted that many agencies lack the necessary practical experience in social media initiatives, and tend to apply traditional tactics that may not be effective for this emerging media channel.
Shift in marketing techniques
"This study revealed a tremendous shift in the public relations and marketing professions," concluded Jen McClure, executive director for the Society for New Communications Research. "Communications professionals have a real opportunity to increase their strategic importance. At the same time, companies and other organisations need to take a hard look at their cultures and ready themselves for this new approach to communications."
The full research report has been made available for download from TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony's 'Social Media in Business' Facebook group - click here (free registration required).