As social media marketing becomes more widely practiced, the questions of the day are less frequently focused on the benefits of social media and more often focused on its implementation. Justifying social media to superiors is no longer the marketer's biggest challenge.
Instead, marketers are being challenged not on the potential benefits, of which there is ample evidence, but rather on how to get those benefits. Where to start?
Social Media as a Catalyst
With this challenge in mind, it's vital to understand that social media is neither the end nor the beginning of any marketing effort. Rather, social media is a catalyst that works most effectively when it is finely woven into the fabric of a brand's other activity.
When putting together a puzzle, it helps to take a look at the big picture on the front of the box. Likewise, when putting together a social media strategy it's necessary to zoom out a little and examine how social media will fit into the context of your other business activities. Below are four pieces of the puzzle that brands can mesh with social media to maximize results.
1. Cause Marketing
The socialization of the web has made it evident that brands that want to succeed online must feel and act like humans, not like desperate, distant corporations. Accordingly, some social media marketers have taken on the role of teaching brands how to be human: don't say stupid things, don't feed the trolls, and don't dominate the conversation – pretty fundamental stuff that somehow got lost during the incorporation process.
However, guidelines for not screwing up aren't enough for brands to really benefit from social media. Until you bring something interesting to the table something that inspires passion, laughter, or curiosity nobody will care if you have a Twitter account.
One of the most effective, simple ways to get people to care about what you're doing is to do something worth caring about: get behind a cause. Brands have been benefiting from cause marketing for a long time, but the catalytic nature of social media has brought three additional benefits to the cause marketing table:
Access to increased publicity
The ability to be a vocal activist instead of a silent philanthropist by joining conversations
The ability to bring customers into the support process
Pepsi is one of the best examples of a brand that has recently seized the opportunity to leverage a mix of social media and cause marketing. Their Refresh Everything project incorporates votes from users to decide where Pepsi will donate their funds as well as a variety of other simple social media features: single sign-on, a Facebook Fan Page, and a blog.
By involving users with a voting process, Pepsi has effectively done three things. First, instead of just doing good themselves, they've helped their customers do good, which helps establish a very positive brand association. They have also created a situation that will compel users to share with their friends (in order to accrue votes for the cause of their choice). Finally, they have built a feedback mechanism that will ensure the causes they support are also the most popular among their customers (which is great PR).
Brands can benefit greatly from integrating social media with cause marketing, and they can learn a lot about how to get started from the tactics that Pepsi has used.
Disclosure: Pepsi sponsored Mashable's NextUp NYC: The Future Journalist event.
2. The Offline World
Isolating the impact of social media to the web is an easy mistake to make. It seems natural enough to meet online goals with online activity, but the tangible world of physical objects, locations, and events can often provide a compelling medium to drive fans to engage with you online, or vice versa, you can use your social media efforts to drive activity to guerrilla marketing events like Red Bull's stash, or simply to brick and mortar stores.
Integrating your social media efforts with real products, store locations, or activities is an important way to acknowledge that you care about the complete customer experience, and that you're not just in the social media space because it's popular.
Some of the most successful campaigns, such as Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice, have been focused on driving the purchase of offline products. Similarly, customer support profiles like Comcast Cares would be much less successful if they didn't have the power to influence real offline change by working with customer support representatives that can help customers on location.
On the surface, social media may look like a simple set of social networks that people use to communicate, but when marketers look deeper they find that it presents a whole new venue for empowering all of their existing services, online as well as off.
3. Media Coverage
Though citizen journalism and user generated content have proven to be extremely powerful (Iran's election crisis, Barack Obama's massive online get out the vote efforts, etc.), it is important to remember that brands can still benefit enormously from traditional media coverage.
When it comes to social media, or any marketing for that matter, brands must find ways to leverage all of their assets in the same direction. Just like the offline world can easily be used for online gain, so too can traditional media be leveraged in the new media space.
Amit Gupta, founder of several wonderful startups like Photojojo and Jelly, sheds some light on how his businesses have benefited from traditional coverage:
Mainstream press is harder to get, but still drives significant awareness, especially among everyday' people who aren't spending all day on the internet. And the names of old media carry
significant cache, enough to drive double-digit increases in conversion rates simple because of the credibility their names lend.
I exchanged e-mails with Amit and he was kind of enough to lend some extended insight on what to expect from traditional media. TV, web, and radio are all able to generate fast, measurable results. With these mediums, people are either interested, or they aren't. There are comparatively few lagging responses. Newspapers and magazines on the other hand, while carrying significant credibility, produce results that are harder to measure because their content is often read over days, weeks, or even months.
The ultimate success of a social media strategy depends on your ability to recognize problems and seize opportunities to solve them. When considering the needs of your campaign, whether it's brand equity or an immediate spike in interest, consider traditional media as another tool in your toolbox that could meet those needs. However, remember that part of your strategy should involve doing, saying, or making something interesting and worth talking about. If you don't do that, no amount of good press can save you.
Lastly, your social media strategy is inherently paired with technology. Without technology, social media cannot exist. However, technology's role in creating a social media strategy often goes understated.
At SoCon10, a social media conference in Atlanta, Carol Kruse (head of interactive marketing at Coke) described the pain her team went through creating a Facebook application, only to find two months later that changes in Facebook's design would require Coke to restructure the application – a maintenance cost that hadn't been anticipated. Having a plan in place for making technological changes on the fly is an important ingredient in the fast-paced social media world.
But technology is more than just a potential cost that bloats social media campaigns; it's also the life that fuels them. Applications like the recently launched MySpace Fan Video are powered by collaboration between experienced creatives and programmers, not just one or the other. Thus, perhaps the most important synergy to be formed by any company delving into social media is one between their technology team, internal or external, and their marketing team driving the strategy.
Synergy is the name of the social media game. Whether you're coming from a small company or a well-known brand, starting as far back as possible, zooming out and staring at the big picture, is crucial to creating a strategy that makes sense.
These are four of the most important pieces to the social media puzzle. If you can think of more or have something to add to these listed, please leave a note in the comments.
More business resources from Mashable:
- 5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Personal Brand Online
- 4 Elements of a Successful Business Web Presence
- HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy
- HOW TO: Choose a News Reader for Keeping Tabs on Your Industry
- HOW TO: Measure Social Media ROI
- HOW TO: Use Social Media to Connect with Other Entrepreneurs
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, TommL
Reviews: Facebook, Iran , Mashable, Twitter, iStockphoto
Tags: cause marketing, List, Lists, mainstream media, MARKETING, PUBLIC RELATIONS, social media, technology
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