Marketing Profesionals – Do you have a Social Media Strategy?

social-media-marketingHate them or love them, online communities are here to stay and are likely to have a big impact on the consumer behavior. Patrick Dixon in his lecture (video at the end of the post) has outlined how social media is likely to impact our personal lives, behavior and the way we do business. Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. The way social media is defined, it includes the social networking sites, blogs and social book marking sites. Common social media marketing tools are Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, Facebook and YouTube. Given the high usage of social media across the world, it is an unexplored goldmine for marketers.

Social Media started as a medium for people to connect but with the passage of time, as the communities grew in size, companies started to use it to increase their brand visibility and connect directly with the consumers. Since this platform provides a possibility of 2-way communication, it is a double edged sword. The companies can get great feedback or rave reviews of their new products but at the same time they must be prepared to hear the issues related to customer care being faced by consumers. One bad experience quoted by a consumer may prompt other consumers to cite their bad experiences and soon the entire social media can turn into a brand bashing forum. Hence, there needs to be a clear social media strategy on part of companies with perfect alignment across all functions including sales and after sales service. It is not the job of marketers alone to enhance presence on the web but the other functions also play significant role in it.

Many companies made the mistake of ignoring the power of blogs and social media. Dell was one such company which ignored a post by Jeff Jarvis on his blog Buzzmachine. The post was written out of frustration on the customer service delivery of Dell. The post attracted the attention of other readers who were facing similar problems with Dell and soon it started to rise on Google Rank. Dell was in complete denial and even rubbished the power of blogs by saying that there is only a miniscule size of population that reads blogs. Ultimately, it had to pay heed to the complaint after a lot of negative media coverage. However, Dell learnt its lessons from this episode and set up a team to proactively engage the blogging community. It now believes that the most vociferous customers could actually be the best customers for the company and bloggers whose complaints get solved are also likely to give positive publicity to the company by writing about its proactive approach to problem solving. Dell now test markets its upcoming products on online communities.

There are many advantages of utilizing social media as it allows a less structured 2-way conversation. The reduced communication barrier between the company and the consumers leads to a better quality feedback. Through the social media, companies can identity their advocates who can help create the word of mouth for its products and can solve customer problems proactively at lower costs than conventional methods. If the company plays its strategy well in an honest way, it may soon gain the status of a trusted advisor. It is easy to keep an eye on the current trends and preferences through online communities. Marketers can stop trying to guess what their customers are talking about, and instead join the online communities and talk to them directly. The next big question is whether to build your own community or join an existing community. The answer is simple yet complicated – it depends. It depends on the situation of a company like size, market position, ability to engage consumers, need for consumer insights, etc. So there is no one size fits all strategy here. However, we can still use a simple framework to determine the best way forward.

Are you an established player? For a new company, it is beneficial to join existing communities rather than creating its own community as it would find it difficult to attract people to join its own community. A brand that has a large number of consumers would find it easy to form a community even if it is able to engage just 2-3% of its consumers. Sometimes, a company has such a fan following that it may already have multiple communities and there might be need to consolidate them. Apple and Google have large fan followings and probably there are hundreds of communities tracking these companies

What do you want to do by engaging the communities? If you want to spread the word about your products then it makes sense to engage the existing communities and promote the products in a way that encourage the members to share about your products with their friends. A Facebook application can be very useful in spreading the word around. However, if the intention is to seek consumer insights about your products, then it would be better to build your own community

What is your budget? Smaller budget means that you would need to device innovative ways of engaging the existing communities.

Do you want to reach out to new target segments? If your company wants to reach out to new target segments who are still not its consumes, then it makes sense to participate in existing community/communities

Do you have a cult following? If you are McLaren or BMW, you may want to give that special exclusive club feeling to your consumers. This kind of need requires an exclusive platform and hence makes sense to develop your own platform. Engaging on an existing community site may not provide the feeling of privileged to your consumers in this case

What is your product? If your product is a low involvement product, then it would not help if you build your own community as the consumers would not feel the need of joining your community. In this case, it would be much better to participate in existing communities.

Even if you decide to create your own community, it would be wise to engage the existing communities as well. The existing communities could serve as a ground for getting the consumers to join your community. It is important to treat social media strategy like a product or services strategy and there is a need to put high priority resources behind it. Social Media should be part of the broader marketing strategy and should be reviewed at the highest level.

The above framework is just a guide and the situation of each company is unique. Every company should analyze its situation before deciding its social media strategy. What is important is to have a social media strategy. Even no participation is a strategy if made out of informed choice. 

Consumers, Lifestyles and Online Communities – impact of new technology, communications, wireless networking on business and personal life. Patrick Dixon – Futurist / Futurologist conference keynote speaker (38 min) 

Online Communities Change the World – marketing and consumer (4 min)

Also Read: Potential of Mobile Social Networking

                          Mobile Operators & Social Networking

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