Mar 03, 2009

Helping Brands Understand Social Media

There's a tendency among brands, especially during tougher economic times like the ones we're in now, to cut back on marketing efforts that they view as fluff.  Social media tends to fall into this category in the eyes of many advertisers.

The obstacle that needs to be cleared for many brands is that the way to set goals and measure success for a social media marketing campaign are a world apart from other forms of interactive marketing. Because it works differently and it isn't as quantifiable as other forms of interactive marketing, social media ends up being seen as fluffy and not as important by these brands.

Social media, however, is probably the most important thing any brand can do.So to get these brands on the social media bandwagon, it's important to provide them with some education about social media and the marketing power it has in order to get them just as enamored with it as their customer base is.

First, brands need to understand that they need to have different expectations and goals for their social media marketing campaign. Social media won't provide them with results that generate hard numbers like 2 million impressions. Metrics like brand lift and buzz, user sentiment about the brand in blogs and forums, and how this sentiment about the brand stacks up against its competition are the measuring sticks that matter in social media.

Brands also need to understand that results won't come in a lightning bolt but start with a groundswell that then builds and develops over time. The impact of the brand's social media marketing efforts can be gauged by comparing the level of buzz from before the campaign's launch to where it's at six months later. Whether consumer sentiment has changed for the better since the campaign's inception is also evaluated. Success or failure is judged over time - there are no quick fixes in social media ; A successful campaign, however, can return results that provide long-term benefits to the brand.

These results, however, can take a form that might make brands think their investment has been wasted. The number of fans for a brand's Facebook page or the number of users participating in its blogs and forums will be smaller on paper and seem less consequential as a result than the million impressions another form of interactive marketing might return. The difference with social media is that sometimes 30 users can provide an influence that packs as powerful a marketing punch for the brand as those million impressions.

These 30 users will be the voices praising and advocating the brand away from the brand's social site. These individuals carry a big stick when it comes to driving user sentiment because they are the ones who are going online and serving as brand advocates, spreading the good word about the brand entirely on their own.

These brand advocates also help illustrate another unique selling point for social media.  Unlike PPC or e-mail campaigns that run for a set period and then stop, a social media campaign's groundswell can build and keep growing without any help. Users will keep talking about the brand as part of their ongoing online conversations. In essence, the social media campaign will feed itself. As long as a brand stays responsive and engages with its users to keep sentiment positive, the social conversation will continue as users spread positive buzz about the brand.

If a brand still needs to be convinced that social media works, a timely example illustrating the impact social media can have is readily available. Barack Obama fully capitalized on the power of social media. With millions of fans, his social media groundswell played a big part in getting him elected. This type of success story should provide the last nudge a skeptical brand needs to keep social media as an ingredient in its marketing mix.

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