We have never been more connected to people, places, and things than we are now. In the ongoing evolution of social media in 2012, people’s behavior in social and mobile matured to a point where the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning is check Facebook on their phone (some even sleep with their phones). Social media adds to the growing appetite among marketers who seek new ways to harness its full potential in social campaigns.
Brands like Oreo and Denny’s are successfully playing in the social space with real-time activity that encourages consumer-generated content and conversations, making it abundantly clear that everything can -- and should -- be social.
The key challenge that continues to impact the widespread adoption of social media in marketing is uncertainty. The industry -- including social platforms, agencies and brands -- is undergoing a rigorous search for an absolute ROI measurement tool. There’s a common understanding that social media has a strong impact, but it’s not just about sales -- it's about a change in mentality toward a brand. Strategic and thoughtful social media engages consumers and creates brand equity, and in turn, drives ROI.
The following five functions of social media are evolving and enhancing marketing.
1. Identifying what the consumer "really" wants
Social media is a platform for brands and companies to hear what people have to say about their products and brand in general. Is customer sentiment positive or negative? What is the post-purchase experience like? Which types of promotions are consumers most receptive to? Platforms like Twitter and Facebook help garner rich and accurate insights in real-time and in a neutral environment. For example, Mountain Dew does rigorous monitoring of people’s flavor preferences on social media, so they can understand and cater to the consumer in the right way.
2. Research and development
Social media creates an enormous opportunity to host real-time “focus groups” with people who have emerged as online brand evangelists. Fans on social networks represent another source to collect valuable feedback from a group that’s willing to talk passionately and candidly about the brand. Ikea successfully leveraged this idea. It introduced a new product line based on the input of social media fans who showed Ikea how they assembled their Ikea product in their own ways.
3. Gathering competitive intelligence
By merging real-time competitive insights with reported findings, social media enhances and amplifies traditional market intelligence. Listening across multiple social platforms and monitoring competitive activity can reveal insights on new product launches, key messaging and important marketing cycles. Layering in social and digital can reveal trends that are reported through data vs. real life.
4. Realizing business value
At an organizational level, social media can be used to improve collaboration, tighten communication timelines, and open access to talent in all departments. It can improve efficiency and productivity across operations, marketing and sales, customer relationship management, product development, and more. Enabling a collaborative platform for multiple teams, and avoiding hours spent in meetings, travel time, and other operational tasks, can also help to free up considerable resources.
5. Redefining the customer relationship
Many marketers are beginning to realize the power of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter as a CRM tool. Having access to live feedback from customers as they engage with a product or service helps brands to shape a powerful story. Social media can help identify areas for potential product extension, serve as customer support, and help turn around potential PR crises before they escalate.
Zappos takes the cake as one of the most successful CRM brands out there.
Ultimately, the success of social media and any new technology platform depends on the community’s support to help it reach a critical mass of encouragement, nurturing and adoption.
Linking the value of social media to ROI in business requires true environmental changes -- embedding talent from diverse backgrounds within research and insights teams, shifting from single to multiple channels for integrated communications planning, and unifying search and social instead of placing them in separate silos.
Looking ahead, it will be critical for marketers not only to have a presence and authentic voice on social media -- but more importantly, to establish that presence in a meaningful way with content their customers want and care about.