Archive for July 2008

The impact of social media: research from Universal McCann

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I saw a really useful set of research findings today from Universal McCann, the third wave of their research into the impact of social media. The research comes from a couple of months ago but is a fantastic digest based on a large respondent base.

The slide deck is below and is very detailed and worth going through, but I thought I’d pull out three highlights that resonate with our own experiences at FreshNetworks.

  • The research highlights the power and continuing rise of the Asian social media market. China has more bloggers than the US and Western Europe combined and across the region social media growth is huge. I’ve seen this for a number of years, often investigating the Asian market (especially South Korea, China and Japan) for clients wanting to know what the next thing to hit the Western Europe might be.
  • Video is the fastest growing reported area with significant growth in penetration across all regions. We see this every day - a growth in the use of video on sites and of making video portable and shareable. I know that the BBC in the UK has seen a significant rise in the viewing of video in its news site since it started embedding video rather than linking to it.
  • There is a measurable impact of social media on brand reputation. The research shows that 34% of people post opinions (positive or negative) about brands and that 36% feel more positive about brands that have a blog. This is an interesting finding, our recent post on brand blogging talked about how brands might get this right, this research underlines the importance of getting it right.

The slide deck below covers the full detail of the research findings and I really think it is worth your while reading it. It’s particularly useful for looking at how different regions and countries are developing in different ways.

  • Report: Like it or not, number of bloggers growing rapidly
  • UK Social Network User, Ad Spend Numbers Keep Growing
  • Firms ‘miss’ social site success
  • YouTube most popular network site
  • Summer Social-Network Traffic Still Sizzling, but Down from ’07

Two new examples show diversity of online communities

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I’ve spent the day talking about online communities. At the WOM UK Espresso briefing this morning and then with a client until now. So returning to my desk it was great to see updates of two new online communities that have launched. One for US brokers, Charles Schwab, and the other for UK high street retailer, New Look.

For Charles Schwab, the online community is a benefit to its active clients. It has created Schwab Trading Community for it’s active trading clients to, reportedly, do four things:

1. Participate in timely discussions on both short and long-term investing topics
2. Swap information, ideas and trading experiences
3. Connect with other traders to make trading more fun by learning from each other
4. Gain access to Schwab and third party trading experts both informally and via a series of blogs, tutorials and live webinars

The New Look community is different. MyLook, as the community is called, will be for a select group of customers to help with business issues. As they say:

MyLook allows customers to share their views, suggest improvements to the brand and give opinions on the latest trends through surveys and forums on the site.

The insights gained will be presented to the board to shape the brand’s direction and strategy.

These two communities highlight well the very different purposes brands can use communities for and the different ways in which they then execute their plans.

  • Charles Schwab is an example of a community that rewards loyal and regular customers - providing services that would be of use to them while extending their brand experience and building advocacy and word of mouth for the brand.
  • New Look is an example of an online research community, it is private and invite-only. Building a community of customers to test new business ideas and to get feedback.

Whilst these are both online communities they are very different, they will probably use very different features, be attracting different types of people and be managed in different ways.

They are, of course, aimed at different types of people from brands in very different sectors. For me that just shows how online communities can be used by a wide range of brands to reach a wide range of people.

  • Some Q&A; on virtual private communities
  • Charles Schwab launches online community for active traders
  • Charles Schwab Launches Virtual Community for Active Traders
  • New Look to use online club to shape business

How not to use Facebook for marketing

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For the last few days I’ve been privy to an interesting  example of how not to use social networks for marketing. It all started when somebody I don’t know (let’s call him John) asked to be my friend on Facebook.

I don’t know John and have never known John. It became clear that we were both members of a couple of groups and that was, I assumed, where he had got my details from. I have a fairly tight group of friends on Facebook and use it mainly to keep in touch with people I know and don’t get to see as often as I like. So I haven’t accepted his invite. I did look at his profile though and the very day he asked me to be his friend he also befriended almost 200 other people.

People are popular, but often not all at the same time like this so I wanted to find out why.

As I checked back at John’s profile, signs came with his changing statuses. First was one telling us that his new book was out in a few months and we should call his PA to reserve a copy. Next came an update about a radio interview he was doing and then came one about an event.

It may be a coincidence but it seemed as though John had found people with interests aligned with his new book and asked them to be his friend so that he could constantly market his new book through their feeds.

Clever you might think and there are lots of people (myself included) who feed their blog posts and other items through Facebook. The problem came in John’s approach to adding friends.

Over the last couple of days posts have appeared on his wall saying things like

Thanks for the ad. Who are you?

This wasn’t just spam. John is a real person who has found people with similar interests to him and asked to befriend them. This happens all the time. That John was trying to use this for marketing just highlights the complexities of using Facebook for this.

Facebook is a very personal space. It’s the place I go to to find out about my friends, post my photos and read my messages. This can be a very difficult context for brands, or anybody trying to market a product, to enter. You are interrupting a user’s experience and need to do it sensibly and sensitively. Whilst some people will be happy to receive your updates to their news-feed, others will see this as an intrusion.

Of course dealing with this is easy. Just don’t befriend them. From the marketers perspective this makes it difficult to control who you can get your message to.

  • Facebook Marketing
  • The Facebook Platform is Biased Toward “Fun” Apps
  • Three Reasons To Become Friends With FriendFeed
  • Social Networking - Go Where the Fish Are!

Coca-Cola and the art of brand blogging

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Coca-Cola

I found the Coca-Cola Conversations blog for the first time today, reading a post about how Coca-Cola first sponsored the Olympics games 80 years ago today. The blog is written by Phil Mooney, the “historian/archivest” of Coca-Cola, with the aim of

sharing information on a wide variety of topics, ranging from brand history to the value of collectibles

The blog asks people to comment and enter into a dialogue, and there is some exchange there. But reading this blog reminded me that corporate blogs, and indeed social media, can be used in very different ways by different organisations. This blog isn’t about new product developments or service advice; it’s about the history and heritage of the brand. And it seems to serve it’s purpose very well.

There are a few things that seem to make for a successful corporate blog:

  1. A named and dedicated (main) contributor - when you are using social media as an organisation it’s important that you enter into the social and personal nature of the medium. The blog shouldn’t be from a brand because a brand can’t write. People want to know who is writing what they are reading - they will build a bond with them as they read more and more of their posts and so a face and a name are critical
  2. Regular updating - companies develop and change quickly, and a consumer’s experience with your product will also be regular. The nature of social media encourages regular engagement and people expect this. It’s critical that you update your blog regularly. There is nothing worse than going to a brand’s blog and finding the last post was a few days or a few weeks ago.
  3. Find ways to bring your consumers inside the business - this is something I think Coca-Cola Conversations does well. Corporate blogs should provide a way for their readers to feel more like insiders in the business. You should learn things that are not available elsewhere and as a community of readers feel that you are getting exclusive information as well as learning more about the organisation. This is why the brand history and heritage aspect of the blog work really well - you can find out more about Coca-Cola and feel like a true insider by reading the blog.

Each of these are important, but I think the latter is most important in terms of building engagement through the blog. Whilst the content that you post might be interesting and you may be doing it on a regular basis, creating an environment where people feel that they are insiders by reading the blog will have real benefits. People will want to come back and read more because the more they know about the brand and organisation the more they want to know more. They’ll also feel more comfortable commenting because you are encouraging and creating an atmosphere of sharing and discovering.

Of course creating this atmosphere is not easy. Coca-Cola Conversations does it well, as do other brands, and some of the lessons from this exercise would be good for others to apply. Perhaps the first stage is to find the one thing you can truly engage people on and that you can write regularly about. Isolate this and you have the beginnings of a real corporate blogging and social media strategy.

  • 35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action
  • Should My CEO Have a Ghost-Written Blog?
  • Why I Love Corporate Blogs
  • Most Corporate Blogs Are Unimaginative Failures
  • Is Social Networking and Blogging Bad for Business?

Where does social media sit in a firm? Probably many places.

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I really enoyed a post by Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Media about where social media sits in an organisation. his comments and experiences mirror very much ours at FreshNetworks. For different organisations social media sits in different places. It may be marketing, corporate communications, PR, product or proposition developers, a research team… the list can be endless.

Whilst it is true that for most organisations marketing and comms departments tend to be thinking about social media, you find that other departments are too. And some of these departments are thinking about social media in new and innovative ways.

Jim Tobin lists five areas where social media sits in his experience:

  • Brand managers can now use social media as an integral part of marketing campaigns.  I lead with brand managers here because getting the right social media marketing plan developed and executed is an art-one that will certainly impact brand perception.
  • Product developers can use social media for consumer intelligence.  The idea that you have to spend tens of thousands to get limited information from focus groups is becoming outmoded.
  • Public relations can look at the messages that they send and figure out how they can make them a) more interesting and b) more easily digested by the blogosphere and the networks.  Typically (a) is harder than (b) for many companies.
  • Customer service should be using social media to decrease call volume and increase customer satisfaction.  Paying $35 per phone call to answer the same types of questions thousands of times isn’t helping anyone.
  • Human resources can be using social media to convey what working at the company is all about, and they should certainly be using it to go find candidates with particular backgrounds.

This is not dissimilar to our own experiences although I would add a couple of other areas:

  • Research or insight teams make use of social media to monitor or probe customer opinions, watch how their brand and their competitors are being discussed, understand more about customer lives and habits and even ask specific questions. This can either be done passively (observing what others are saying in social media) but is much more effective if done actively, with organisations setting up their own online research communities.
  • Senior managers should be using social media as a way of them connecting directly with consumers. Too often in organisations the traditional approach has seen customers sitting outside the organisation. They may not be actually engage directly with the organisation - rather they will buy the product through an intermediary and any research or other contact will be done through a third party. Social media makes it easier for the whole business to engage directly with customers.

Where social media sits probably depends on the current business or strategy needs of an organisation. In truth all firms could benefit from effective use of social media across each of these places (and probably even more). Where social media will sit will depend upon what their need is now. Is it reducing customer service costs or finding out more about how their customers discuss their brand? If is about conveying a corporate image or getting insight into product development?

Too often people can automatically think of social media as a marketing tool. It is undoubtedly effective as this. But it can be so much more. It is really about using new ways of communicating and new ways of sharing and working together to solve business problems. Which problems these are and where social media sits will depend on the business. It might be all of these places, some of them, or just one. In many cases it probably should be more than it is.

  • Where does Social Media live in the organization?
  • New Communication Theory and the New Roles for the New World of Marketing
  • Social Media 101: How to Get Your Business Involved
  • Who should take charge of Social Media?
  • Social Media is a communications channel and not a marketing tactic
  • The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media
  • The statesman, the lawyer and the marketer