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Chris Bowler VP, Social Media Email
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It’s Not Enough to Be Liked — Getting Serious About Social

We know from eMarketer that nearly 90 percent of U.S. companies will be using social media in some way by next year. (80 percent already do.) But according to a recent PRWeek report, more than a third of all companies don’t have a point person responsible for social media within their organizations, let alone the commitment that calls for more than a solitary person for social media. We’ve outlined three areas of focus around strategic social media for marketing organizations, some immediate ways to get there and how to integrate agencies with an in-house staff.

All CMOs want the same thing: to make their organizations much more customer-centric rather than focused on products and channels. But to embrace the customer today means getting much more serious about social media. As we continue to see, social media transforms not only the way brands communicate, but also encompasses other marketing functions including customer service, research, social databasing and product development.

Social media continues to rapidly evolve. We know from eMarketer that nearly 90 percent of U.S. companies will be using social media in some way by next year. (80 percent already do.)[1] But according to a recent PRWeek report, more than a third of all companies don’t have a point person responsible for social media within their organization, let alone the commitment that calls for more than a single person to manage social media. The reality is that many companies are still experimenting and delegating social media to junior staff and a patchwork of agencies. That has to change if brands are going to take full advantage of the power of social media.

Here are three areas of focus on strategic social media for marketing organizations, some immediate ways to get there and how to integrate agencies with an in-house staff.

1. Embrace your new strategic asset — a Facebook brand community

The last few years of social media activity has rightly centered on Facebook, the largest platform. We’ve progressed from the creation of brand pages as an experiment and come to the understanding that today these pages are strategic assets in the form of large-scale communities. Among the top 100 brands today, the average fan base amounts to over 7,000,000 “likers,” which is something truly remarkable in such a short time.[2] And while fan count isn’t the best gauge of an effective social media program, it offers a great head start for a brand to activate this new strategic asset.

Consider how shabbily most brands organize around this asset. Many outsource this increasingly important platform to an outside agency. And it’s not just Facebook. Management of Twitter profiles and YouTube channels are also being outsourced. What should be a core in-house function, is relegated to the periphery, with only half-measures to deal with ongoing customer service, fan activation and ultimately product and service innovation through community co-creation.

Of course, many brands find an agency to offer these services because the brand can’t staff these social media channels properly. According to Forrester, more than 50 percent of companies say they lack the people on their teams to manage channels in the social space.[3] And agencies are all too eager to sell-in another service offering. (Full disclosure: Razorfish provides community management services and currently manages several types of social media platforms on behalf of our clients.) But the nature of this outsourcing needs to evolve. Philosophically, a brand should manage its own community — providing transparency and authenticity to its customer base, as well as operational efficiency. Agency community managers can get in the way, creating a barrier between the brand and its customer.

It’s not as difficult today for an organization to hire seasoned community managers as it may have been just a few years back. We are seeing resumes from candidates who manage social media channels for small companies now looking to step up to bigger brands. Posting an opening on Monster or Mashable is often a way to get things started. The big decision in hiring the right resource centers around a candidate’s ability to blog/post/tweet in the right social voice for the brand — this skill is an art, not a science, and shouldn’t tilt all the way to an overly polished and copy-written approach.

Another consideration is where within the organization these resources should reside. We see lots of different configurations here. To be truly serious about social media, we advocate dedicated roles, starting within the marketing team, for community managers. DeVry University, a client, has created a successful model where three community managers — each aligned to key audiences of students, alumni and prospects — reside within the marketing department and report up to a director of social media.

Even though an organization may have an in-house social media team, an agency still has an important role to play. But this role should be strategic and creative, acting behind the scenes as a force multiplier, rather than replacement for a brand’s direct participation.

Here are some key ways in which an agency can shift from tactical community management to strategic community development:

Strategic activation. By representing the consumer, the agency is in an ideal position to define the role that social media can play for the client’s brand and business. This process gets beyond using Facebook as a channel for communication, where content and interaction is aimlessly posted and fan accumulation becomes the mere end goal. The real purpose is to identify and develop the unifying concept for why a consumer should and would interact with the brand in a social way. Sometimes this is obvious, especially for high-interest brands, but it’s much more challenging for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands where getting beyond the product is essential for true success. And typically this approach not only defines a brand’s social media efforts, but also their digital marketing efforts as a whole.

Opportunistic oversight. While brands should focus on ongoing community management, the agency shadows the brand team looking for strategic and tactical opportunities to add value to the conversation and content. Taking advantage of in-the-moment opportunities, such as a brand mention by a celebrity on Twitter or a relevant video that’s getting traction on YouTube, are a few examples where agency resources should provide another set of eyes and ears for the brand team. A framework for this “and pounce” approach can easily be set up immediately.

2. Infuse social research into the marketing organization

The social research space is still in its infancy, but brands need to rapidly infuse the various elements of social media intelligence into their marketing and business process.

Let’s start with listening. While conversational monitoring around a brand’s products and competition is standard operating procedure, true listening hasn’t impacted most organizations yet. At Razorfish, we are testing listening research to inform a number of different types of marketing functions. Take media planning, for example. While the traditional approach to developing a media plan is first to analyze how a specific audience can be targeted across a range of media options — including TV programming, print vehicle and digital channels — listening research provides a whole new approach. Armed with listening data, the media planner can determine where conversations around an industry category is taking place, and therefore where a paid message may find more receptivity, or where launching a social media program might spur engagement for the brand. For Best Buy, social listening techniques were used to identify partnership opportunities in the gaming space such as Comic-Con. Razorfish gathered insight around hardcore gamers — determining what events and game titles drove the largest spikes in relevant discussion. By partnering with such events, Best Buy was able to create brand affiliation with gamers and generate authentic gaming content that could then be redistributed through earned and paid channels.

Another way we are testing listening research is rapid insight development. A recent poll conducted on one of our client’s Facebook pages yielded more than 1,000 comments in less than 24 hours. These comments provided a wealth of insight into how customers use this product, which strategists and planners can use to inform future marketing programs and even product innovation. We know we’ll see rapid insight development evolve into research dashboards, piping this real-time information directly to the planning and strategy teams and allowing follow-up questions back to the community.

How to make this happen in your organization? Here are some key ways in which social research can be infused into the marketing process quickly:

Start with a basic listening audit. This can be a brief report that determines who is talking about your brand, category and competitors over a short look-back window of, say, three months to a year, in order to capture seasonality of conversation. This isn’t rocket science, rather a tried and true way to get grounded in the conversation. Even for socially established brands, ask yourself: When was the last time you conducted a point-in-time listening audit?

Use a hybrid approach to listening. The growing need for conversation monitoring measurement and mining has led to a flurry of new social listening tools, many of which have very unique capabilities. For example, Radian6 has access to one of the largest data pools and satisfies monitoring requirements, but NetBase takes a conversation quality approach and uses natural language processing to identify key themes and categorize sentiment. However, neither tool is effective without the analysis of a subject matter expert. The most important tool when trying to distill millions of pieces of social conversations is a pair of human eyes. We recommend taking a hybrid approach to social listening by choosing tools like NetBase, which can categorize content by sentiment and discussion theme, while also employing an analyst who is immersed in the brand to put the findings into context.

Analyze Facebook insights. Compare Facebook to your other communication channels and you might find that your fans are different than the consumers you think you’re targeting. And then solve for why. For a Kellogg Company brand, we discovered that the audience the brand wanted to target — men, ages 18-24 — was very different from the fans of their Facebook page, which was skewing 90 percent female. This naturally leads to a shift in social voice and content creation.

3. Get on the path to true social influence marketing

Day by day, brands continue to fine-tune ways to engage their customers in the social space. But too often this process involves throwing content against the proverbial wall, and just seeing what sticks. Even when the best social editorial calendars are developed and deployed, we still aren’t starting from a place of strategic insight and personalized engagement. However, it’s not as if brands aren’t successful with this generalist approach — they continue to grow their fan base.

Ask yourself which is worse: a brand starting out with few fans and followers, or a brand with millions of fans that are treated as if they are indistinguishable from one another?

What’s missing is an understanding of the customer’s needs, why they became and continue to be a fan of the brand and how they influence one another. This is as simple as social personification. Armed with this information, brands can tailor their interaction more specifically. Yes, it’s difficult to segment today, but this is going to change as social networks evolve. Case in point: Google+ and its model of Circles. Over time, this characterization of a person’s social relationships may allow a closer, more personalized interaction between customers and brands as well. We aren’t there yet, but the concept behind Circles is our future.

Waiting around the corner, then, is greater intelligence on a brand’s social graph, which quickly leads to an understanding of what the most important influencers are. More importantly, we will be able to have granularity around influencers in a segmented way. For example, we will have ways to activate the “deal-seeking influencers” looking to make noise about a promotion, or the “category enthusiast” influencers, hungry for new product news and willing to share it with their circle.

How to start down this path for your organization? Here are some key first steps:

Fan categorization. At a basic level, this is about how a customer wants to interact with a brand in social media. Do they want help with customer service issues, receive product information or get special offers? Start by stepping back and look at customer behaviors that inform how to structure community content. A great first step might be to assess user posts and comments and categorize them by interest. Next, design polls to further gauge areas of interest to the fan base.

Smart data collection. Another way to understand your fan base is to ask for user data when appropriate. Signing up to receive special offers or exclusive content is a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many brands don’t take advantage of this opportunity. By providing different opportunities to collect an email address, users begin to self-categorize by interest. Having opted-in to a particular interest — for example, new product information — you can now deliver more relevant communications. In turn, as users talk and share this information across their social networks, you have the beginnings of a tagged influencer database.

Get familiar with Google+. While user adoption and usage is still an issue, Google is re-architecting how we group our friends and colleagues through Circles. If you haven’t tried it yet, give it a test run.

Three listening tools to watch:

  • NetBase: Best-in-class natural language processing that helps categorize sentiment by theme and intensity.
  • Evolve24: Strong social listening capabilities — large data pool, topic categorization, trend analysis and the ability to merge digital and traditional media data, which is a very unique feature.
  • Sentiment 360: Semantic AI-based sentiment analysis that provides a high degree of accuracy (industry leader), while also automatically ranking content for relevance and conversation type.

 

Notes

  1. ˆ “Social Media Survey 2010,” PRWeek, September 1, 2010.
  2. ˆ “PageData,” Inside Network, August 2011.
  3. ˆ Sean Corcoran and Christine Spivey Overby, “Accelerating Your Social Maturity,” Forrester, June 2, 2011.