4 steps to direct social media marketing

Here are four things your brand can do when entering the social media arena.

Globally, most people interact socially at least once a month (Forrester, McCann). Social media has become mainstream and is set to become big business in the marketing industry. Forrester estimates marketers already spend almost $1 billion on display ads in social networks and another $750 million on social media marketing. Spending on social media marketing is expected to grow to $3 billion by 2012.

The focus of social media marketing is to promote positive word of mouth through integrated social media campaigns. Personal recommendations and individual opinions posted online are the most trusted sources for consumers to find out about products and services. Social media automates, accelerates and exposes the process by which people seek and provide recommendations. In social media marketing, brands enter social media to encourage and measure this critical customer behavior.

The social media marketing process can be broken down into four steps:

Step 1: Show up
Companies must establish a presence in social media before interaction can be promoted. Dunkin’ Donuts illustrates how an engaging Facebook fan page can enable happy customers to connect to the brand. The company’s page has a variety of content including contests and quizzes. It also promotes other company content on other social media sites (Twitter, YouTube), and serves as a distribution point for promotions and news about store openings.

Step 2: Connect
After creating a presence, companies must establish relationships with brand followers. In other words, they need to find their advocates, connect with those people who are fans of the brand and have spoken favorably of it online. These connections enable companies to communicate value propositions and encourage adoption. Once a connection is established, companies can spread the relationship to other channels. Each site can have different social tactics. For example, Life is Good maintains a Facebook page. The company promotes local events and virtual rewards sent among Facebook members — the clothing is not even mentioned explicitly. Sales and promotion of the company’s clothing line is left to the website and catalogue.

Step 3: Give
Online interactions with brand followers and fans need to involve two things: an opportunity to contribute and an incentive. Promotions and contests are an excellent way to engage brand followers and fans. Charles Schwab offers their online followers a monthly opportunity to interact and contribute by suggesting copy for the “Talk to Chuck” national advertising campaign. Customers who submit questions and concerns have a chance to see their content addressed in TV and online advertisements.

Social networks are also a great place to engage fans or followers with new products. Some companies offer opportunities for loyal followers to sample new products. Receiving free samples is a good incentive for brand followers to engage companies online.

To best promote engagement, social media content must:

Be timely — opportunities should be relevant and provide some sort of benefit
Promote personal expression — empower fans and followers with opportunities that allow individuals to put a little of themselves into the content/application; this provides incentive to pass it forward
Be portable — provide the ability to share the content/application in multiple environments
Be meaningful — interactions should create value for participants. They can be entertaining, insightful, interesting or factual
Make it easy to act — calls to action must be prominent, easy to find and simple to respond to
A good example of online interaction and engagement is Office Max. The company offers entertainment value to share with friends each during the holidays with “Elf Yourself,” an interactive, sharable opportunity for expression. People upload pictures of family and friends that are then incorporated into an entertaining elf dance that has proven to be very popular and gets shared widely among social networks.

The Office Max example brings up a good point — all content should be shareable. Another good example of this is Capital edu. Capital edu offers college students the opportunity to take a picture of themselves holding a sign that declares their educational goal. The student then uploads their picture to a branded Flickr page where it can be shared and linked to among family and friends.

Step 4 Get
The final step is to transform social engagement into company value. This can be done in a variety of ways:

Create buzz — Social interactions can be used to create visibility and attention around events, product updates, store openings and new products or services
Product research — Companies use social networks as venues for the “new focus group,” engaging followers online to solicit feedback and opinions on new products. This information is then used to improve or change existing products or services
Customer service — Brands that are active online can identify who is talking about them, query new followers, resolve issues, and acknowledge when things go wrong. Customer service via social networks makes brands more personable and approachable to fans and followers
By making themselves available and engaging fans and followers online, companies can augment and improve marketing efforts significantly. Many marketers are unsure about how to enter social media marketing and fear that social media campaigns aren’t measurable. By taking a data-driven and measured approach to social media marketing, marketers can identify, recruit and engage socially active customers and prospects within their preferred social networks and communities.

A few marketing solutions exist to help companies that want to enter the social space. An effective solution should support marketers at every stage in the social media marketing process, enabling them to know which customers are active in online social media, and on which networks they are congregating.

An effective solution should also provide a means of measuring the response to social media content and identify the most engaged advocates for further interaction. Marketers able to obtain a precise measurement of the results of social media interaction are then able identify clear connections between social media marketing and company revenue.

So get started! Social media is exploding. Every month is an opportunity waiting to be seized.

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