Engaging with customers through social media presents large and small businesses alike with a huge opportunity to grow the size and loyalty of their customer base. Equipped with huge marketing budgets and more time to dedicate to building an online presence large companies, such as Nike and Coca-Cola, are the undisputed leaders in utilising social media for huge revenue gains. Social media marketing has enabled many already successful companies to evolve into the super brands of today. Such successes are in a large part attributable to the expertise, fresh ideas and great execution of the marketers behind building impactful campaigns and creating engaging content.
The remainder of this post will summarise some further thoughts about social-media marketing.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked-in can be valuable extensions beyond a company website for building an online presence. They add another string to a company’s promotional portfolio and can extend the reach of a company’s product and message to an extent unimaginable prior to the Internet age. Social media fosters experimentation and innovation in marketing and advertising campaigns. As the different platforms evolve so too must strategy and content in order to keep existing customers engaged and reach out to new people.
Social media platforms can humanise brands to a greater extent than is possible through a print or TV advertising campaign. These sites allow companies to develop and display their brand personality and present themselves in a certain light. Traditional barriers between company and consumer are removed and a new flow of conversation on a equal level is possible. Interactions give companies the freedom to exercise their voice beyond the time-constrained short and sharp message typical of adverts. They can engage with customers through conversations, interactive content and platform specific promotions.
While social media opens up great new opportunities for customer interaction it also leaves businesses in a fairly exposed position. Social media platforms have become a place for feedback (both positive and negative) and conversation between customers and companies. Brand reputation is at stake and with the increased visibility delivered by a social media presence companies think carefully about how they wish to position themselves on social media. The eyes of the internet carefully watch for how a company responds to criticisms, conflicts or comments on current affairs.
Underinvestment in Online presence
Given the simplicity and the low monetary cost of setting up a website and/or social media pages it is surprising that 55% of small businesses still operate without an online presence (according to 2013 research by Google). In terms of economic theory this anomaly could be explained as sub-optimal investment because of unrecognised positive externalities. Small businesses appear to be underinvesting in online and social media marketing because they do not realise its true value. Cultivating an online presence delivers value through a combination of direct benefits and positive externalities. A positive externality is an additional benefit resulting from an economic transaction.
In this case the transaction is the process of creating and maintaining an online presence. Direct benefit comes from increased sales revenue resulting from new exposure and social media referrals. The transaction cost for the business is the total cost, both time and monetary, involved in this process.
Positive externalities (additional benefits) accrue to a business in the form of increased brand awareness, recognition, exposure and brand loyalty. These benefits may not immediately translate into revenue but they are important and carry long-term value. What explains the lack of online presence in small businesses is business owners underestimating the true value (sales benefit +Positive externalities) of engaging with customers online. Big brands lead the way in terms of recognising the true potential value of social media and are constantly working on their strategies to stay current and interesting.
Innovative advertising with YouTube
YouTube (with 1 billion active users each month) is one of the latest social media sites to become a platform for innovative marketing strategies. Users of Youtube watch a huge variety of content and encompass all demographics. Engagement can be widely measured; with video statistics available to track watch time, like and dislike indicators and a channel subscription option which can be taken as a display of loyalty.
YouTube still houses traditional video ad campaigns but has also become a platform where customers can go to find out more about a company by watching an extension of an advert or viewing extra material from a company such as video giving an insight into their production process. Now marketers are exploring new formats; such as seeking product endorsement from influential YouTube content creators. This has been identified as a way to harness already loyal viewers who trust the endorsement of the ‘YouTuber’ that they watch even more than they would a high profile celebrity in an ad campaign. While every imaginable type of video can be found on Youtube certain sections of the site – especially the videos of lifestyle video bloggers – are seen by users as a place of no-frills, honest and trustworthy reviews (although this sentiment may be fading somewhat as this type of promotion becomes more lucrative and frequent). When products are promoted through this type of endorsement YouTube can really humanise a brand. This type of marketing essentially allows traditional word-of-mouth recommendation to be amplified to a massive scale.
In another innovative move Nike is currently experimenting with the launch of its first original series via the platform consisting of 8 short videos released at a rate of one per week. The consumers who watch this series have chosen to take the time to sit and watch material which is far longer than a traditional advert. The need to flash the image and message of a particular product is reduced. Through this series Nike has the chance to promote many different products at once as well as more generally to portray the aspirational lifestyle aesthetic and brand values of Nike. The product stories told by the series can evolve slowly and with a lot of depth. The customer watching the series understands that something (brand/product) is being promoted and is happy to engage/watch with the content as long as they find it entertaining.
It is interesting to see how online platforms are influencing the marketing strategies of companies and the evolution modern advertising.
My research suggests there are certain key principles to keep in mind when using social media to communicate with consumers:
- Content is key. The content shared on these sites should aim to be engaging, relevant, interesting, representative and valuable to the consumer in some way (either by being informative or giving them access to a promotion of some sort).
- Be consistent. There should be consistency in the timeliness, quality and tone of the content promoted across social media site in order to optimise reach and engagement. The brand should aim to present a unified voice across channels but adapt to the different platforms.
- Know your audience. Learning what type of content customers will respond positively too and engage with is key for optimising strategy. Once an online presence has been built web analytics can add a statistical element to getting to know your customer.