Guest Column: Marketers Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Social Media

Marketers Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Social Media

By Ken Barber
Director of Digital Marketing, Integer

The social media trend is still a foreign concept for many businesses. Media has typically been a one-way channel used to push messages and requests to consumers. How could it possibly be social?

Well the times they are a changin’, to borrow from Bob Dylan, and marketers now must contend with a new media option that is more of a dialogue with consumers than a one-way lecture. Wikipedia, the popular collaborative encyclopedia website, defines social media as “a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many); a democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers.” 

Allowing large groups of individuals to freely share their content with each other is the underlying principle of social media. Examples include blogs, microblogs (e.g., Twitter), message boards, consumer review sites (e.g., Yelp), photo and video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube), online networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn), and other common-interest community sites (e.g., MeetUp).

Marketers initially shied away from social media participation due to limited reach and a narrowly focused user base (mostly young, tech-savvy consumers). This is no longer the case. Facebook boasts more than 55 million active U.S. users and has reported that women over-55 are the fastest growing demographic group. YouTube videos can receive tens of millions of views, outperforming Super Bowl ads. Even the popular trend of posting online status updates (e.g., Twitter) is now performed by more than 10% of U.S. online adults and growing exponentially.
Imagine a consumer has an unpleasant experience with Brand X. He quickly posts details of this experience (descriptions, images, and cell-phone video) to his favorite social networks. The story spreads like a virus across that person’s network. It finds other people who are dissatisfied with Brand X and gives them a reason to join the conversation. They post it to their networks, the pattern repeats.

After a few weeks, the ‘Down With Brand X’ Facebook group is formed, 1 million people join, and the members announce a boycott of all Brand X products. The mainstream media picks up the story and expands the reach even further. Scary? Yes. Realistic in the world of social media? Absolutely.

Consumers have received a tremendously powerful gift in the form of social media and are not afraid to use it to expose brands that disappoint them. Marketers who participate in social media have the opportunity to connect with consumers on a more frequent basis and in a more personal setting, making it easier to learn about and respond to a consumer crisis before it spirals out of control.

Social media participation can assume various forms depending on your marketing goals, available resources, and comfort level with a more open communication environment. Popular approaches have included creating a Facebook page for your company, starting a Twitter account for your CEO, adding a discussion board to your website, or posting entertaining product videos to a branded YouTube channel and seeking community feedback.

Social media are incredibly transparent, so even small missteps by a novice social marketer can be quickly discovered and communicated across the network. Below are some best practices to increase your chances at success.

  • Listen Well. Starbucks launched the My Starbucks Idea website to solicit ideas on how to improve the company and then posted the ideas that were implemented. Remember the two-way nature of social media.
  • Facilitate the Conversation. Nike showed its love for runners by creating an online community where runners could find, post, and share their favorite runs.  Comcast wanted to create a more real-time, personal discussion about customer concerns and created a Twitter account that has attracted 16,000 followers.
  • Focus on Content. Urban Outfitters asked fans to post photos of them wearing UO clothing to a popular online photo-sharing community. The store received interesting content to help drive traffic and sales while fans received inspiration on how to wear the clothing. Always ensure content is interesting or helpful and is updated frequently. Don’t be afraid to seek content from your community.
  • Be Honest. Today’s empowered consumers are adept at sniffing out a fake. Authenticity is one of the key tenets of the digital age.  Be transparent. Respect your audience and admit when you’re wrong.
  • Be Responsive. The clock seems to tick faster in the social media world, and silence on an important issue can be interpreted as guilt. Kryptonite learned this lesson in 2004 when they were too slow to respond to multiple blog postings about major product defects.
  • Measure Differently. Evaluate your effectiveness based on the level of interaction you create with your community, not just impressions.  Look at metrics such as the size of your direct community and the amount of brand-related content contributed by your fans.

Social media represents a fundamental shift in power from businesses to consumers. Instead of worrying about this loss of power, embrace your new empowered consumers by participating in their existing discussion or creating new communities where they can interact. Whether you like it or not, your consumers are online talking with each other about you, your products, and your industry. Why not be a part of the conversation?

Ken Barber
Director of Digital Marketing, Integer

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