Social media has profoundly changed the way people communicate with one another and is changing how brands engage with their audiences. What were once thought of as outlets for tech trendsetters are now mainstream marketing vehicles used by brands to connect directly with their customers.
According to a recent Nielsen report, consumers are spending more time than ever using social media, and that consumption plays an important role as marketers build their brands and connect with their audiences more directly. It plays a significant role in how consumers find out about and share information about brands and products. In fact, 60 percent of consumers researching products through multiple online sources learned about a specific brand or retailer through social networking sites. Overall, consumer-generated reviews and product ratings are the most preferred sources of product information among social media users.
Research shows that social media is increasingly a platform consumers use to express their loyalty to their favorite brands and products, and many seek to reap benefits from brands for helping promote their products. Among those who share their brand experiences through social media, at least 41 percent share their experiences publically on social channels to receive discounts. Social Media also plays a key role in protecting brands: 58 percent of social media users say they write product reviews to protect others from bad experiences, and nearly 1 in 4 say they share their negative experiences to “punish companies.” Many customers also use social media to engage with brands on a customer service level, with 42 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds acknowledging that they expect customer support within 12 hours of a complaint.On the flip side, another trend is the interest of consumers to act as ambassadors and advocates for brands through social media. A majority of active social networkers (53%) follow brands. These brands are increasingly recruiting their fans and followers to spread word-of-mouth recommendations about their products and services, and among consumers who write product reviews online, a majority say they share their experiences to “give recognition for a job well done” by the company.
There is no denying the pervasiveness of social media, but what does it mean for brands and what should companies do about it?
- Get on-board the train – social media marketing has moved mainstream and your customers are already there. If you expect to succeed with any marketing initiative you want to include a social component.
- Have conversations with customers. Today’s informed social-enabled consumer has no hesitation about providing feedback and they expect responses. The communications is less about shouting at consumers and more about conversing with them.
- Branded content is king. Anything from video to infographics, compelling content is what gets noticed. Social media experts need to have a strong content development skill set.
- Involve everyone. The most effective social media marketing involves the entire team, not just the marketing department. HR, Sales, Customer Service, Executive staff, even R&D, should be consulted for social media content.
- Your messaging can be anytime, anywhere and any place – the freedom is unfettered but social conversations can be like drinking out of the proverbial fire hose. Have a plan in place to monitor and manage the conversations.
- Move beyond the community with your social connections. Depending on a brand’s focus (consumer or B2B) you will want to motivate your social followers to connect with you via a subscriber list, registration via your site or some other viable call to action. Brands need compelling content that motivates users to connect with your brand off the Social web.
- Have some idea of what’s working and what isn’t with your social media marketing activities. Monitor and optimize programs over time.
At its core, branding is still about connecting with customers and being disciplined and consistent in creating goodwill and preference based on your platform. Social doesn’t change that, but it does create new opportunities and challenges. Brands have lost some control over being the primary drivers of how their brand messaging is communicated. Now other consumers, bloggers, product reviewers and other audiences contribute to the way that story is told based on their experiences. It’s a scary thing for marketers whose products don’t live up to the hype they’ve created. That can be exposed very quickly. However, if your product/service lives up to the quality standards of the market, there is opportunity to build a group of brand advocates who will share goodwill on your behalf. The transparency between marketing and business execution is regulated by consumers who are eager to share their opinions, whether they be positive or negative.
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Brands should have a well thought out plan for establishing their social presence in addition to a disciplined approach to managing and evaluating that presence. Being proactive, responsive and consistent builds brand perception, but it can also detract from a brand if those things are neglected. Brands can’t control their brand perception in the world of social but they can manage it by delivering great products, services and experiences in the real world that earn customer praise online.
Previously published on The M/C/C Minute at www.mccom.com/blog.