Social media is a marketing conundrum similar in some ways to the dot-com bubble of 2000, when there were a multitude of possibilities for investors and advertisers in the marketplace -- but like the Pets.com sock puppet, there also was little bite behind the bark. Can social media move the needle for brands? Or is this new frontier destined to remain an online coupon service offering discounts, deals, sweepstakes and giveaways that essentially buy "likes" from consumers?
A recent study by the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey found that a significant 41% of social media users are persuaded to "like" a brand because of discounts and special offers. The brands that fare best in the social media sphere are entertainment-related, especially movies and TV series -- which account for 48% of social media users, according to a May 2012 study by Performics, a performance marketing company. Products that are not so sexy, like package goods and appliances, were liked by only 10% of respondents in the Performics study.
These studies reflect the reality that in social media, historically, brands have rapidly grown their fan base by offering discounts and deals. This path, however, has resulted in companies cultivating followers that do not align with their core customer base -- rather, they are bargain shoppers that are highly inclined to jump to another brand for a better deal. A perfect example of the perils of relying on daily deals rather than on building a loyal fan base is the the social media sock-puppet Groupon, which is dying a slow death thanks to its dependence on attracting one-time discount hunters.
So where does that leave the ten-percenters, the bread-and-butter clients who ask us for social media solutions but don't have the inherent brand charisma or dynamics to create a dedicated and motivated fan club?
While true followers for these brands are harder to find, they are beginning to be created via rich, contextually relevant content -- not coupons. We are just now starting to see this trend turn as brands more effectively cultivate an "advocate base." It's possible that during this transition brands may see a loss of "fans" while things shake out. To encourage this evolution, brands need to be careful about how they manage deals/discounts/coupons. It's an easy trap to fall into when we as marketers are pushed so hard to prove an ROI associated with our online efforts.
Here are five key considerations to keep in mind when planning a social media campaign for clients:
1. Don't continue the habit of an exclusive diet of discounts/coupons -- gradually wean consumers off the drug.
2. Consider how your “fan” base matches up against your customer base. If there are identifiable differences, work to cross-pollinate. Create content to get fans to become committed customers/advocates (via higher-value associations) and get customers/advocates to become fans (to engage socially).
3. Develop a comprehensive content strategy that blends channels. For example, what do you do in response to a “like”? Keep in mind that consumers see a “like” as a request to engage -- with you and other customers -- and they are willing to engage in other channels beyond social. They are not simply saying they approve of your content.
4. Improve social engagement with content that reflects customer ideals. Recent research from advertising research firm PhaseOne Communications indicates that the most socially successful brands deliver consistent messaging that taps into shared traits between them and the consumer. This strategic approach in guiding more effective content is referred to as a “me statement.” This statement conveys an idealized self image that the brand represents and that consumers wants to be associated with. For example, a working mother may grab takeout for her family multiple nights a week, but the idealized image she will associate with online is her love of gourmet dining. This is something she is willing to publicly acknowledge, follow and share -- keys to successful online engagement.
5. Consider how to get more value out of social by using it as a research and/or customer service channel. Getting an ROI on social efforts isn’t limited to converting sales.
The good news: trends point to social media as a viable marketing tool with long-term prospects. After all, the sock-puppet notwithstanding, if it wasn't for the dot-com bubble we wouldn't have the digital evolution that has established business success stories like Amazon and Google and also is helping to reshape -- and digitize -- Madison Avenue.