Recent IBM figures show that the average European spends 11 hours per week on social media. And they’re not just teenagers – half are aged over 35. While social media has made its way into our everyday lives as individuals, it is still a challenge for marketers to work out how to plan, organise and resource social media into business practice. A workshop with managers from 20 UK businesses identified some of the ways in which social media are being embedded into marketing practice, and some of the ongoing challenges.
Be social in the ways that matter
It is easy for organisations to feel pressured into having a presence on every social media channel. Charlie Osmond, cofounder of social media agency Fresh Networks, observes that with an ocean of social media opportunities, there is a greater risk than ever of over-stretching the communications budget. So organisations need to work out who their target audience is and then fish where the fish are. Three years ago, RS Components, the world’s largest distributor of electronics and maintenance products, was facing a challenge in engaging with its customer base of design engineers. They valued the RSComponents.com website as a quick and efficient catalogue for picking up the parts they needed, but not as a place to commune with others. In fact, they reported they were largely ‘anti-social’ with little interest in Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Yet RS Components understood that it was vital to connect with these engineers early in the design process, as it is often too late to change a component once a design is well advanced. Further investigation showed that these ‘anti-social’ individuals could indeed be social, but this was most likely in forums where they could swap ideas with peers and trusted experts.
Help people to help each other
With the social needs of their customers in mind, RS Components created the DesignSpark online community for design engineers ‘brought to you by RS Components’. The forums are moderated but posts are live, and may include praise and criticisms, as well as references to competitors’ products. Created initially with the input of 200 engineers, within 18 months, the DesignSpark community boasted 72,000 members. As inherently social creatures, human beings like to connect with others. And one of the ways in which we connect is by helping each other. The DesignSpark community taps into this need. For instance, one engineer posted a design problem and within a few hours had received six different yet feasible solutions from peers, suppliers and experts. The result isn’t just deeper relationships with existing customers, the community is introducing younger engineers to RS Components.
Don’t blindly assume that social is better
A number of assumptions appear to have risen up around social media. Such as, social has longer-lasting impacts and wider reach than other media. Social media alone can indeed have massive impact, for instance, when a campaign becomes viral. But, social media insight specialist Spectrum Consulting has shown that the impact of social may be relatively short-term, unless it is cleverly co-ordinated with other campaign elements. An integrated communications campaign for a premium branded product tracked by Spectrum had a large and provable impact on engagement. Centred on a campaign microsite, which included short films by an Academy Award-winning director that reinforced the core brand values, the campaign also included TV, PR and localised contests and events. Research demonstrated that the campaign had significantly increased the rate of new Facebook fans, but more importantly, benchmarking it against others in the category revealed that it was one of the top two based on effectiveness.
Make social ‘boring’
Many companies commenced their engagement in social media by allowing a few enthusiasts in a corner, as it were, to get busy on Facebook and Twitter and in response to customer demand. However, organisations such as Virgin Media have developed a more strategic approach to their social positioning. This was achieved by identifying champions from key functional areas including customer service, corporate PR and product development. This team agreed a social media mission and tackled the implementation challenge. They defined a framework for classifying activity, an action plan per key audience, ‘how to’ guidelines for each major social medium, a fit-for-purpose online listening solution, and a view on how to measure impact going forwards. In so doing, Virgin Media has gone some way to achieving something that IBM says should be the objective of all organisations. That is, to ‘make social boring’, an everyday feature of business. However, while not quite at that point, businesses need to be working through and planning for changes to marketing and operations plans in order to effectively implement social media across the functions of their business.
Find the white spaces to create value
Along with the rise in social media, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of social currency. Social currency is what encourages people to engage with and talk about your brand. Some brands such as Great Ormond Street Hospital have an inherent social currency, as people want to help this organisation. The charity has been very effective at harnessing that goodwill through a range of social media, to generate funds and support. However, when you operate in a field such as banking or insurance, then it can be more difficult to identify sources of social currency, particularly when in a competitive category. Citibank recently announced a new app which allows credit-card customers to share their rewards via Facebook. However, a
challenge for brands in these sectors is to work out how far to reach beyond your core category to ‘white space’ that is not encroached on by your competitors. Volkswagen created social currency beyond its category of ‘cute cars’ with its funtheory.com website: a site devoted to showing ways that human behaviour can be changed by making activities enjoyable. It produced three YouTube videos of behaviour change (none of which involved a VW car) and then encouraged people to make their own suggestions. The videos rapidly went viral with over 23 million people viewing the YouTube films.
Provide opportunities to play
People like to play sport because we enjoy playing with others and because of the thrill of winning. These needs are as true in the online as the offline world. The global gaming industry taps into this need through a range of popular games, including Sims Social, Cityville and Words with Friends, among the top ten Facebook games in 2011. While it has its downsides when money and addiction are involved, the prize in many of the most successful social games involves virtual currency only. This insight would indicate that enjoying time with others – and not just financial gain – is also an important driver of participation. The next generation of social media engagement by mainstream brands will borrow techniques from the gaming world not as a frivolous sideline, but as a fun way of having relevant conversations, such as in designing new products and crowd-sourcing ad content.
Be social within your business
As well as looking without, managers can also harness the power of social within their own organisations. IBM has been practising what it preaches for several years. The company’s blogging policy was developed by IBM bloggers themselves via a wiki. The bloggers agreed principles with which they felt comfortable, had these approved by the legal department and then produced what became known as the Social Computing Guidelines. IBM’s programme has been hugely successful, with estimates of 15 million downloads of employee-generated content over the past three years. When it comes to social media, we are all undoubtedly still learning, and our guidelines will need updating as frequently as our social media strategy.
The themes presented here are a synthesis from the members and guests of the Cranfield Customer Management Forum including IBM, Barclays, BP, British Gas, Co-operative Banking Group, HSBC, Invesco, London Symphony Orchestra, RBS and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.