Social media digital marketing
History of social media If you are twentysomething you might find it hard to believe that there were dark days before social media. However, you might be surprised to find that you have to go back quite a way to find these dark days. While the social media we know and love today really got started in the early 21st century it has its origins in the 1970s with the advent of bulletin board systems – essentially a method to share data, code and other information with other like-minded users. These bulletin boards were no flash in the pan, actually surviving right through to the 1990s. In terms of the big names we still know today, it is LinkedIn that has had the most staying power, having started out in 2003 (although an honourable mention needs to go to MySpace, which was launched at the same time, but has since declined from its early success, despite efforts to rejuvenate it). While Facebook commenced life in 2004, it was a full two years later that it opened to the world (initially being focused on Harvard students, then students in general).
Twitter commenced in 2006 and early users (meaning the first five years or so) will be very familiar with Twitter’s ‘Fail Whale’, which displayed when the service went down, which it did, a lot – perhaps a reflection on how quickly the platform and social media was now growing. Interestingly, social media is one area in which Google does not have a dominant status. Google+ was the bread maker of the social media world. Lots of people had an account but very few actually used it. According to studied data compiled by Edward Morbius in January 2015 only 9 per cent of the 2.2 billion registered users had posted something (Anderson, 2015).
Social media defined As with a number of other elements of the online world, what is understood by the term social media is still open to debate. I have previously defined social media as ‘a collective term for the various social network and community sites including such online applica- tions as blogs, podcasts, reviews and wikis’ (Charlesworth, 2007) and in more tangible terms as ‘sites where users can add their own content but do not have control over the site in the same way as they would their own website’ (Charlesworth, 2014). More recently, I have settled on the definition of ‘an umbrella term for the various social network and community sites which are composed of user-generated content’ – and that is the one I will use in this text. This is not simply hubris on my part. The two previous editions of this book and my books An Introduction to Social Media Marketing and Social Media Marketing – Marketing Panacea or the Emperor’s New Digital Clothes? all include exten- sive discussion and a plethora of definitions from a variety of sources. However, I do not feel they would add to the understanding of the subject for readers of this book who have lived in a social media world for most of their lives. If you would like to delve into the various definitions, simply spend a few minutes in a library or on a search engine. Similarly, how social media works.no longer worth committing pages of explanation (as was the case in the first two editions). However, it is important to make clear that social media and social media marketing are not the same thing. Zhu and Chen (2015) present the public’s use of social media as a matrix dividing the various platforms into those that address content and profile-based against customized and broadcast messages.
Customer service and reputation management Like it or not, increasingly customers vent their dissatisfaction and indeed heap their praise online and, more often than not, via a social channel – Twitter being ideally suited to a (very) short rant or rave. However, getting customer service right in the social channel is far from easy. It requires new skills to be learned by your existing ‘call centre’ and demands a 24/7 presence. But perhaps most crucially it requires rapid response. Customer expectations on response times have shifted dramatically. Days have turned into hours and hours into minutes. But those that are prepared to accept this shift can profit.
Types of social media To truly understand social media you need to get a handle on the numerous different types. However, this is not, I’m afraid, as easy as it might seem. There are literally thousands of social sites, apps and platforms, and therefore classifying and cataloguing them is incredibly difficult. Add to this that there are probably 10 new social sites/apps created every day – and also that today’s popular platform is tomorrow’s dud – and this is a bit of a minefield. So in this section I try to cover the main types of social media and list just a few of the (current) big players. Social networking When most people think social they think of sites such as Facebook, which allows users to post most forms of media and share with a close group of friends or, if they prefer, the whole world. Typically these sorts of sites are categorized as true ‘social networks’ but the term should be used in a much broader sense. Some social networks in fact encourage face-to-face interaction, Meetup being one example, and numerous ‘friend finder’/dating applications being others. If your business operates within these markets then you could investigate potential opportunities such as advertising or even sponsoring events, which could be online or even offline. For your digital strategy these networks can offer significant brand awareness opportunities and direct conversion campaign opportunities. Facebook, for example, offers paid campaigns, company pages and even insights to provide analytics on performance. These networks are probably the broadest in terms of opportunity. Blogs and micro-blogging Blogging is hugely popular.
However, the vast majority of blogs are not! While some bloggers have hundreds of thousands of followers, the majority are small hobby sites for close family and friends. The proliferation of blogs is due in part to the relative simplicity of setting one up. Blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress are hugely popular and the majority of domain registration companies will happily bundle in a blog with your domain pur- chase. While some blogs are global phenomena, for example the Huffington Post typically receives over 100 million monthly visitors (Huffington, 2014), even these pale into insignificance compared to the largest micro-blogging platform, Twitter, which at the time of writing had 320 million active users sending 500 million tweets a month (Twitter, 2015). Both types, of course, have different purposes and need to be considered differently by marketers. Twitter is great to push out pithy messages and indeed to receive them from your customers. Blogs allow for more detailed consideration and can therefore wield quite considerable power over potential customers. For example, positive reviews on technology, such as on Tech Radar or Pocket-Lint, can have a significant impact on sales. Blogs can offer an opportunity to organizations that have rich content to share or have products and services that can be promoted to highly relevant blog sites. Micro-blogs such as Twitter and Sina Weibo can offer a great deal of advertising potential to an audience that is limited on time and looking for interesting content to share and absorb. Visual media sharing A number of social platforms have been developed that focus on visual media, the most ubiquitous being video-sharing site YouTube; popular photo or image-sharing sites include Pinterest, Flikr and Instagram. A more recent phenomenon is short bite-sized video or images, the ‘Twitter of video’ if you like. Two good examples are SnapChat, where the user ‘snaps’ a photo or a video, adds a caption, and then sends it to a friend – the twist being that the image/video disappears after a few seconds) – and Vine, which creates short, looped video clips. Being able to create adverts that fit with the visual medium is highly relevant for some businesses in areas such as media and fashion, although not relevant for others. We should expect to see more opportunities in this space in the coming years as these social sites expand even more. Professional networking Professional networking sites are, as the name suggests, largely for the business or academic world. LinkedIn is the most known and has replaced many people’s rolodex of business cards, the huge benefit being that LinkedIn contacts remain up to date regardless of the number of job switches a person may have. With 350 million registered users it is also a recruiter’s dream and has, perhaps inadvertently, helped mobilize the workforce.
Content Discovering great new content is increasingly difficult in a world dominated by big media brands and the vast quantity of new content added every second to the web. To help solve this issue a number of content curation services have been created, the vast majority of which leverage the power of the crowd to perform the curation. Storify is a good example of a more commercially focused platform; pitched more to businesses than individuals, it allows for collaboration as well as curation. Reddit is a good example of a very broad platform that is perhaps more consumer than business focused.
Social publishing With the vast quantity of social platforms at your disposal (and, of course, at the disposal of your customers) the job of managing the publication of your social messages is quite daunting. However, as with everything in the social world we are spoilt for choice when it comes to social publishing platforms. Two of note are Hootsuite and Buffer. Hootsuite syncs with Facebook and Twitter and is also fairly capable on other major platforms too. It allows scheduling of posts, team collaboration and, as one of the most widely used publishing platforms, is well supported. It is squarely pitched at community managers and does a great job of providing user interaction stats. It therefore has value from a customer service perspective as well. Buffer’s attraction is the sophistication and simplicity of its user interface. One look at your homepage and you will get all the basic questions answered. While Buffer does not quite have the analytics depth that Hootsuite does, it is an excellent tool for those keen to jump in quickly – as it is certainly simpler to master. Social advertising For years many esteemed digital marketers suggested that social (in particular, Facebook) and advertising were simply not compatible, the rationale being that when on Facebook users’ mindsets were not generally in shopping mode. As it turns out they (and I include myself in this) were wrong. The problem was not that Facebook’s audience had a lack of appetite, the problem was Facebook’s layout. In short, the ads were way too easy to ignore and in 2013 Facebook took the brave step of including them in the main news feed. Predictably there was a massive backlash (as there had been, and will be in the future, for all major redesigns) but this time Facebook had got it right commercially (and as the platform is so ubiquitous the majority of those who said they would leave the platform just went quiet for a while). The placement of ads made a difference, as did the targeting, which allows advertisers to create ‘look-a-like’ groups based on their current customer base. The mix of better targeting and better ad placement has worked wonders for advertisers and, of course, Facebook’s bottom line. It is worth remembering, though, that social ads should not necessarily be duplicates of your direct response display ads.
Social networking In the previous editions of this book – and in other publications – I have associated social networks with online communities. It was, therefore, necessary to start this section with a differentiation between the two. However, such is the nature of contemporary social media that I now believe it is impossible to distinguish between them, and so I will con- centrate on Facebook as an example of social networking. Note, however, that although Facebook is the best known, it is not the only provider out there – see the extensive list of social media platforms earlier in the chapter for the others. One thing that all social media sites share is that without content to maintain visitors’ interest, the sites soon lose any appeal they may have – even if that content is produced by the members them- selves. Virtual communities depend on people visiting their sites, facilitating social inter- action and, most significantly, enhancing the loyalty of community members. However, it is a perceived usefulness that is a significant antecedent of a member’s sense of belong- ing to the virtual network or community.
Social media service and support When I first developed my concept of three online marketing objectives around 20 years ago, the opportunity for organizations to use the web to provide some kind of service and support was limited – often to little more than a frequently asked questions page. Indeed, the only decent example I could offer was that of Cisco, who used an on-site forum as part of its dissemination of advice and guidance to its engineers who were spread around the world. However, the advent – and popularity – of social media platforms has opened up the potential for consumer service and support to be provided online. Realistically, social media service and support can be broken into two elements – though they are inter-related. Those two elements are proactive and reactive service and support. Proactive service and support Aimed at improving the customer experience, this is where social media platforms are used to deliver a planned series of facilities or actions as part of the package offered to the customer when they make a purchase, so enhancing their use or enjoyment of the purchased product. This might include installation tips (including videos), how-best-to- use advice or operational guidance. Proactive support is well suited to public social media platforms as other customers – and potential customers – can see the conversations between the organization and consumers. This can lead to both brand enhancement and sales – an example of the trickledown effect described in the online objectives at the end of Part I of the book. Reactive service and support Better described as after-sales service and support, this element of service and support acts in response to customers’ requests, queries or complaints. In other words, the cus- tomer experience (the proactive aspect of service and support) has failed for some reason and so the customer is coming to the organization via social media for support, or – more likely – help or recompense. However, although it is common for organizations to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter in this way, there is a reasonable argument that even with a strong social media team and organizational ethos, interactions with dissat- isfied customers are best conducted out of the public eye of social media platforms – and in one-to-one environments such as email or telephone.
Measurement The first question to answer when considering measurement approach is what to measure. It is important to think beyond fans or views – while these metrics are interesting the real value is in the quality of the engagement: