Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Social Media Doesn't Work (and What You Can Do About It)

Time to face reality: Marketing and advertising are a lot harder to do today than ever before. Half of consumers don't trust print ads or television commercials, and fewer still trust what they hear on the radio. And consumer trust level is even worse for direct mail and outdoor advertising.

What's the No. 1 trusted source of advertising? Word-of-mouth! That's a huge game changer. Before, marketers had to convince consumers to buy their product. Now, they have to convince consumers to convince other consumers to buy their product.

It's no small wonder that marketers have fixated on social media as the solution. Nearly all consumers are using social media these days to share everything with their friends (e.g., hobbies, events, humor, and, sometimes, even information about products and services).
Engagement DB, which studied the world's 100 most valuable brands, found that the level of those brands' engagement with their consumers via social media correlates with revenue. Companies with the highest level of social media activity increased revenue 18% in the previous 12 months, whereas companies with the least activity recorded a 6% drop in sales.

No wonder Nike's chief marketing officer, Davide Grasso, once noted, "Facebook is the equivalent for us to what TV was for marketers back in the 1960s. It's an integral part of what we do now."

Others also took the hint and made social media a priority for their marketing teams. For a lot of marketers, that meant setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter profile. But the results haven't worked out as planned. For many, the sales needle has moved little.
The reason for the lack of results is familiar. The same thing happened back in the day when advertisers were first told that the Internet was the place to be. Their biggest failing? A build-it-and-they-will-come mentality, which still exists. Too many marketers create accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and when nothing happens... they become disappointed.

It's as though marketers have forgotten what makes marketing and advertising really work in the first place. The problem is the lack of engagement.

Engagement made all the difference during the creative revolution of 1960s advertising. The voice and personality of Bill Bernbach's Volkswagen advertising was engaging. The style and design of Saul Bass's art was engaging. David Ogilvy's Hathaway man (with the eye patch) was engaging.

What's Different Today?
Today, marketers still have to be engaging. The difference is that the options available for reaching consumers have multiplied exponentially and consumers are much more distracted. That challenge is compounded by the misperception that social media is replacing other media. The "experts" responsible for that misperception are repeating the mistake of "experts" who suggested the Internet would replace television. But people aren't watching television less. They're just watching television while surfing the Internet.

Social media has simply been added to the rest of the continually expanding media-sphere. And, by itself, social media is no more important than other forms of media.

What's important, in fact, is not media. Engagement is what matters.

The way to make social media work is to forget about "social media," per se. Marketers must return their focus to developing an effective communication strategy. A good communication strategy will dictate whether social media is an option, and it will define exactly how social media is going to work for the brand.

Social media, then, is just one aspect of an effective communication strategy. So how does that work exactly?

Three Things That Make Social Media Work for Your Brand
An effective communication strategy has three primary ingredients:

  • A content development/message strategy
  • A media channel strategy
  • An engagement strategy

1. Content Development/Message Strategy
The biggest challenge that marketers face today is the demand to be interesting. Their content—their message—has to be interesting to be effective. People have so much control over the content they consume; if content doesn't appeal to them, they will probably never see it because of pre-emptive filtering that blocks content from getting through.
That's why having a strategy is so important. You need to know whom you're trying to reach, what they are interested in, and what that has to do with your brand. Put it all together, and you have something you can work with. Primary research has never been more important than it is today.

2. Media Channel Strategy
Working out the nuances of content/message is vital... but potentially worthless if the media channel used to deliver it is inappropriate either for the content or for the customer. Chances are that social media will be a part of the overall media strategy, but that is not a forgone conclusion.

That's also why strategy is so important. You need to know whom you're trying to reach, what kind of media they consume, when they consume that media, and where they consume it. The answers will determine which social media channels (among other things) are best suited for your message and your customer.

Though coming up with such a strategy sounds easy, many successful brands consult with specialists to pull it off.

3. Engagement Strategy
Your engagement strategy takes everything you know about your customers, their interests, and their media consumption habits, and brings focus to those insights. An engagement strategy is an idea-driven solution inspired by the critical information you have gathered.
Ideas are as numerous and diverse as the problems they solve. But here are five idea starters.

Five Engagement-Strategy Idea Starters
1. The 'One Thing' Strategy
One approach to developing an engagement strategy is to determine the one thing that's relevant to your brand that will resonate with your customers. For example, you may determine that your brand of data security is fast and furious, and so you focus your brand engagement on all things adrenaline.

Volkswagen adopted such a strategy with its Fanwagen. Its focus on being fun, hip, and cool went into creating a fun, hip, and cool vehicle that integrated everything fun, hip, and cool about social media into retro models of its Beetle and VW Bus.

The Fanwagen featured a Facebook newsfeed printer built into the dashboard, Facebook relationship status posted on the car's license plate, and even a camera with a wall for posting photos. The Fanwagen was one-of-a-kind. Any one could enter for a chance to win the Fanwagen by "Liking" Volkswagen on Facebook.

2. The Zealot Strategy
Another approach is to make your brand accessible to the crowd and solicit its input, ideas, trial, and feedback. For example, if you may make fishing lures, you could engage customers via topics such as "tricks of the trade" and "lure innovations."

In January 2009, Tourism Queensland adopted that approach when it embarked on a global search to find an "Island Caretaker" to explore the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in Australia, and report back to the world about her experiences.

The tourism agency touted the opportunity as "The Best Job in the World" and turned its blogger-recruitment campaign into a massive awareness campaign fueled by the interests of travelers and spread via each of their social media networks as they attempted to blog their way into their dream job.

3. The Guru Strategy
Another approach is to position your brand as the industry leader or innovator. Whitepapers, blog posts, opinion pieces, etc. are developed to express thought leadership to customers who are interested in following your lead. For example, a financial services company might engage its audience via webinars on investing and whitepapers on diversification strategy.

Merrill Lynch did exactly that when it created the Merrill Lynch Advisors. The $20 million campaign, dubbed "The Power of the Right Advisor," was built on several key issues that Merrill executives noted over the prior year of research.

Retirement is still No. 1 on consumers' minds, but so are liquidity, balancing demand, and understanding risk. Merrill Lynch's integrated engagement campaign included its first YouTube channel, with its own webcasts and panel discussions with experts on subjects such as retirement.

4. The Gaming Strategy
Play with your customers. Develop contests, promotions, games, loyalty programs, etc.
Fast-food chain Burger King has created "Whopper Sacrifice," a Facebook app that gives customers a coupon for a free hamburger if they delete 10 people from their friends list. The "sacrifices" show up in your activity feed. The activity update would say, for example, "Karie sacrificed John Smithson for a free Whopper."

Unfortunately, you couldn't delete your entire friends list and eat free for a week. The promotion was limited to one coupon per Facebook account. Facebook ended Burger King's promotion early because it was too successful. Too many people were becoming unfriended as a result of the promotion.

5. The Exclusive-Content Strategy (the 'See It Here First' Strategy)
In this case, you have a valuable asset in the form of original content that you've created for your brand. That content may be an entertaining video featuring a popular celebrity, or original music performed by a hot, new band, or never-before-released photography documenting a subject of interest.

TomTom, for example, uses Monty Python comedian John Cleese to lure people into "Liking" the TomTom Facebook page. A two-minute video featuring Cleese dancing around a traffic jam appeared on streaming video sites. The spot ends with the invitation to see more John Cleese video at TomTom's Facebook page. But if you want to watch the videos, you first have to "Like" the page.

* * *
Making social media work for your brand is not dependent on how much money you spend on the execution of your strategy. The Whopper Sacrifice (see item No. 4) is evidence of that. All of the examples in this article have something in common: A big idea. That's at the heart of an engagement strategy. The big idea is what draws people in and engages them. The big idea inspires people, creates buzz, and compels people to share that idea with their friends.

The reason social media sometimes doesn't work is simply because marketers are thinking too small. When they consider the cost of creating a Facebook page (basically free), they take a "sure, why not?" attitude, and their foray into social media starts and ends with the expectation that they will be getting something for nothing. But effective advertising is a lot harder to do today than ever before. Or, at least, advertising is still as hard as ever. You still have to produce big ideas that engage people if you want advertising to work.

Mike Heronime is founding partner and strategic services director at Numantra, a full-service advertising agency. His 27-year career has included a wide array of experiences including traditional advertising and interactive marketing for mega brands like Pepsi, American Airlines, Samsung, and ExxonMobil.

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