Social is changing marketing. Traditional broadcast techniques designed to deliver a flood of brand impressions in the hopes of raising a consumer’s awareness and preference are no longer sufficient. There is a new kind of consumer, who so far proves to be more socially savvy than most brands, and they expect a different kind of experience.

Through technology and social platforms, consumers are more connected with each other and empowered with a host of information resources to guide them through most any buying process.

The Social landscape is changing rapidly

New social platforms, like Pinterest, continue to surprise us with entrance into an already busy landscape.

Google is increasingly going social. In addition, Google continues to be a game-changer with the introduction of “Google Search Plus Your World”, which alters the search results based on your friends’ preferences. “In Google Search Plus Your World, your friends’ online experiences are more relevant to your personal search results than links and domain authority. This is a game changer from what we all knew and understood about perceived relevancy of public web search results.”

But changes can’t just be blamed on the newcomers; Google+ members have the perk of being listed at the top of search results, a distinct advantage for marketers that have made Google+ a priority.

As evidenced by these few examples, social media does anything but remain stagnant. Don’t let rapid change be a distraction, establish a strategy for appropriately integrating social in a way that will be relevant for your audience and brand.

The social consumer

Smartphone penetration grew more than 21% last year, and now about half of mobile phone subscribers have a smartphone in their pocket.

Digital dominates pre-purchase research, and with smartphones in hand, today’s consumer is conveniently poised at any moment to gather information, compare prices, and find product recommendations and reviews. Not only can they do all that right at a merchant location, but to top it all off, they can tell others by posting to their personal social network about a product or experience. And with friends tuned-in to hear the latest, these updates are potentially instantaneous.

Internet users spend almost 25% of their time on social network sites.

And there are many different motivations behind consumers’ sharing behavior. Whether it’s bragging about a great deal, revealing a new find, soliciting opinions about one product versus another, connecting emotionally by making friends a part of daily experiences, or just venting about frustrations, consumers are talking. With gas prices through the roof these days, it’s not uncommon to find Facebook friends sharing snapshots of the shocking gas price at the pump. It’s just that easy to share, and only takes a matter of seconds for consumers to voice their experiences.

Social shopping behavior is real, in fact social shopping personas already exist, like this one on the 4 types of social shopper. For marketers, this presents unprecedented opportunity.

There is a gap – socially Consumers are ahead of brands

Studies reveal that customer expectations exceed a brand’s ability to deliver . 90% of brands are ignoring online mobile shopping. According to a recent study, less than 10% of the web is ready for mobile. This is hard to imagine when projections for 2012 search volume suggest that 1 out of every 4 searches will come from a mobile phone.

Opportunity in the gap

This gap presents opportunity for marketers who are ready to get in the game. Thriving brands will integrate social into their marketing.

Marketing campaigns must be relevant, interactive and engaging, designed with a customer experience perspective. Campaigns that are not social run the risk of alienating a significant and growing consumer segment.

Consumers are already connected and sharing, and with the right campaign message, brands can benefit from consumers’ enthusiasm to share.

Social marketing requires a new mind-set

Two-way communications is a must in the social media realm; the consumer’s voice must be heard, and if not, it will signal consumers to move along to a merchant who will respond rapidly. Buyers expect brands to dole out tailored offers and solutions to meet consumer demands. They also expect a consistent experience.

Based on the EIU survey of retailers about what they need to build a successful social media strategy, The Economist reports that success requires the following “Four C’s of shopper success”:

  1. Consistency—the brand promise should remain consistent across all channels, including the perhaps less formal realm of social media
  2. Community—in contrast to the retailer always in-control of the message, social media is the turf of the community of individuals who share an interest in a brand or product
  3. Collaboration—only when insights are shared effectively across departments will social media deliver optimum value
  4. Commitment—at all levels of an organization, buy-in to social media needs to be cultivated, supported and mutually sustained to realize the benefits.

Four ways You Can Use Social Media to Enhance Your Marketing Campaigns

1. Develop an Engaging Customer Centric Content Strategy

When designing marketing campaign copy, remember that relevant content drives conversations and conversations engage consumers.

Where possible, move away from traditional ad copy and use content to speak to the needs of your consumers throughout the buying process. Make it conversational and personal. Think of ways to help them solve their problems, or how to feel good about using your product or service, so good they will want to share the experience with friends and colleagues.

Think service more than sell. Leverage internal and external feedback to provide content that is rich with tips, techniques and suggestions. Think about ways to adapt this content to your different channels and touch points.

Find ways to allow consumers to participate by commenting or offering suggestions on appropriate platforms.

2. Let Visual images tell stories

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is most appropriate here. Images and videos can serve many functions, bringing the brand experience to life; they are one of the most effective ways to spread your story on social platforms.

Pictures and video can feature particular aspects of your marketing campaign by providing demonstrations or testimonies. You can cover supporting events like trade shows, conventions or local community activities. Interviews can reveal the personal side of a campaign.

Encourage consumers to become part of the campaign by sharing their own experiences and content. Merchants who invest in free value-added classes are providing a great venue to get consumers talking. Maybe it’s a class your local florist is hosting that you’ll invite a friend from a personal social network to come join you. Or it could be a build-it-yourself workshop for kids at your local hardware store that you just can’t resist sharing photos of your kids with hammer in hand, building his first birdhouse.

Sometimes a video might be the campaign. A great example of this would be Blendtec, a small Utah-based manufacturer of high-performing blenders, who successfully marketed its product on a budget of $50. The “Will it Blend” campaign entailed production of a YouTube video, featuring the blenders pulverizing just about anything under the sun, including an i-phone. The video went viral, becoming the 33rd-most-viewed series ever on YouTube, and helped drive sales of the company’s $399 high-end consumer blender up to 500% in 2008.

3. Leverage Your Blog

Your blog can provide a personal voice for your campaign. Brands that use blogs effectively generate more leads at a lower cost than brands that don’t. According to Hubspot, companies that blog generate 88% more leads per month than those who do not. The blog platform allows you to become a thought leader if the content and conversation are designed with the needs of prospects and consumers in mind. Whether you’re publishing a book, advocating policy change or trying to sell more product from your home-based business, blogging should be an option. Companies that blog have 55% more website visitors.

4. Install Share friendly functionality

Every marketing campaign asset should have social media share icons. Make it very easy for consumers to share your content with their cohorts. There are free apps that facilitate sharing across a variety of social platforms. Encourage readers to share with friends and colleagues.

Most important, focus on delivering a consistent memorable customer experience, one consumers will feel compelled to share with others.

Social presents significant marketing opportunity, many small changes are more likely to be effective than sweeping changes that take a long time to implement. Welcome the rapid changes this heyday of social marketing inevitably presents. Fostering a culture of learning, adapting, and responding, through a continuous learning process, will better serve your organization and your customer.

 This monthly Social Media Integration column is contributed by Joseph Ruiz. Joe is President of Strategic Marketing Solutions, a full-service marketing and consulting firm specializing in web-based integrated Relationship Marketing. Joe thrives on the ever-changing nature of marketing in the digital age, embracing interactive opportunities, while applying three decades of hands-on expertise in online and traditional marketing. When he’s not helping business-makers navigate through complex marketing challenges, Joe enjoys reading, working out and traveling just about anywhere…anywhere you can get a digital signal, that is.