Tarnished social media still strong for marketing
As if to confirm that social media is no longer the next 'shiny object' there are already books such as 'How to Leave Twitter' being published, according to Paul Kennedy, head of consulting for UK-based marketing solutions provider Callcredit, who asks if - despite the valuations of the latest generation of new media companies reaching an all time high - the social bubble is perhaps about to burst?
In June 2011 there were, for the first time, a number of news stories reporting a decline in the number of Facebook users. This could be seen as a sign of a level of maturity or saturation being reached in the social networking market. Some commentators believe that, as Facebook adoption (penetration) approaches 50% in any country, growth generally starts to slow. For the UK, Facebook adoption peaked at just over 30 million users in early 2011 and, by July 2011, the numbers were reportedly already lower.
For many brands, social media has become 'business as usual' - just another tool in the marketer's battle to acquire and retain customers, especially as newer, more nimble players attempt to get ahead of them. This new level of market maturity can be viewed from three points of view: the consumer, the platform, and the brand:
- The Consumer In its 2011 Communications Report, the UK communications watchdog Ofcom confirmed that the take-up rate of social networking for UK internet users has now reached 46%. By early 2011, there some 30 million Facebook users in the UK. Social networking had become the most commonly used internet function on mobile phones and, conversely, mobile use of social networks was 80% up over 2010.
- The Platform New merchant portals have been introduced by Facebook and Foursquare and will soon be launched by Google+. In Facebook's own words, it has "invested in new ways to help advertisers to think beyond the click". The cost of Facebook ads is going up (determined partly by auction and partly by the network itself), and this a sign of rising demand. BlackBerry Messenger v6.0 is "socialising" the way consumers use mobile applications, and UK-based Autonomy has launched its own augmented reality platform, Aurasma, which allows users to create their own virtual worlds via a smartphone application.
- The Brand The average company involved in social media marketing now has 29 Facebook pages. Even the most conservative business sectors such as financial services are adopting social media in innovative ways - for example, First Direct's crowd-sourcing campaign, and the appointment of its social media marketer, Mark Mullen, as CEO.
Barclays is one of the UK's top ten financial service providers on Facebook, and its application is reportedly "one of the most liked of all time".
Noddle, a new consumer financial service in the UK, has also used social media from the very beginning by interacting with its users via Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The company's social media team post and respond to enquiries at all hours of the day to maintain a level of immediacy and strong user engagement.
Indeed, many UK businesses are now hiring social managers of various types. According to The Financial Times, for every brand post on Facebook, fans write an average of 100 comments in response and, for every fan of a brand, there are an additional 34 friends of that fan that can be reached with a marketing message.
Social marketing that is conducted in isolation from customer data and other corporate functions is doomed to failure, in much the same way that many customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives have failed by being siloed. Instead, initiatives which have been based on clear commercial objectives (such as data captured, opt-ins gained, trackable customer journeys, or direct sales measures) and a coordinated approach across the business, have the best chance of success.
Despite Facebook's obvious consumer reach, it is not the magical answer that many initially may have hoped for. Some advertisers are now looking beyond Facebook to other alternatives such as YouTube and Foursquare. There is even evidence that Facebook may not be as appropriate to some brand categories as others. And, while it is clearly a good idea to have a presence on Facebook for most businesses, that presence alone may not be enough; marketers must understand their target audience's preferred social behaviours, and reflect those within the brand's social media presence. (Insights into what is best for your brand's proposition can, for example, be gleaned by undertaking social profiling of known customer groups.)
There are some underlying trends which confirm the arrival of social media into business as usual marketing activity. These include:
- Enhancing established engagement and marketing techniques Marketers in the UK are still most reliant on email marketing according to recent research. Social functionality and principles are being woven into the fabric of existing communications and touch points - from email to retail and even direct mail.
- Encouraging real participation In the early days, social media was seen by many as another way of pushing communications out to audiences. Marketers are realising however that social media simply does not work that way, and are devising innovative tactics to tempt consumers into participating in brand activities whether it be posting pictures, entering competitions or providing new ideas.
- Transacting socially The rapid rise of brands setting up transactional applications within Facebook has been one of the strongest statements of commercialising social. In the UK, this has been led by brands such as ASOS and Pizza Hut who are seeing incremental uplifts in revenues as a result of broadening access options ahead of their traditional competitors.
- Mobile displacing desktop time The boundaries between mobile and social continue to blur. This, together with the boom in demand for tablet devices, has dramatically changed how consumers across the UK are choosing to view, compare and shop.
- Growing role of location There are many location platforms offering consumers the opportunity to register at venues, places and spots to interact with their network but also to receive special deals. But which location based service has the edge: Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Gowalla or Yelp? The reality is that businesses need to engage using all services as different consumers use different platforms.
- Evolution of social monitoring The 'cottage industry' that quickly emerged to provide stand alone social monitoring services (often by point solution providers) is gradually being replaced by service providers offering deeper insight, evaluation (the 'so what' and 'what next') as well as building metrics which are consistently trackable and aligned to existing marketing KPIs.
- Integration of social data into customer databases Brands have begun to puzzle out how to link conversations, posts, blogs, check-ins and other social data elements to traditional offline data. For example, Callcredit holds over 30 fields for each social data record and has a range of options for matching these into customer databases, and enabling analysis and informed engagement.
- Social Relationship Marketing (SRM) Within the context of CRM, new measures of influence and relationship are now used along side value. Relationship levels can be calculated based on sharing activity and influence measured on publishing frequency and social graph (e.g. 'Klout' scores).