Marketing via online social networks: From The Marketer magazine April 2010

 

The following article was first published in The Marketer magazine in April 2010 – The Marketer is the monthly magzine of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the worlds largest marketing organisation.

Marketing via online social networks: is there money to be made, or are social networks simply a reputational management headache for marketers and brand managers?

Social networks and social media generally are a great opportunity for marketers. We can gain feedback, customer insight and understand what people think of our businesses. The problem is we might not like what we hear, and this is the double-edged sword facing the marketing world.

The general approach has been one of non-engagement. Social networks are fast moving, mostly unregulated places that tend to give a platform to the most vocal. This has lead many companies, especially those with compliance departments, to bury their heads in the sand and having a strong policy of not getting involved. The idea being that nothing can go wrong of your not doing it in the first place. Unfortunately, this completely misses the point.

Wether your company is big or small, it is likely somebody is saying something about you online somewhere. That may be a on a blog, through Twitter, on a social network or any number of other places.  If you aren’t aware of what is being said and where it is being said, you are missing an opportunity. First of all to understand what people think, but also to engage, react and to try and improve peoples perception of your brand or company.

As many of us already know, quite often the vocal minority can cause us the most problems, and engagement, when done badly, can often make things worse. However, this is no excuse for shying away. Customer service doesn’t improve by ignoring people. However, most customer service doesn’t occur in a public arena so we must take a considered and effective approach. Quite often the best approach with those that are not being reasonable online, is to try and drive the conversation offline. This has two positive impacts. First of all everything that is being ‘said’ will not remain in Google forever more, and secondly people are quite often more reasonable when speaking to a ‘real’ person.

Those that are vocal about our business in a positive way are one of the best opportunities we have as marketers. My nurturing advocates we can create an extremely effective way to improve brand image and to directly driving more traffic and conversions to our websites. This comes down to peer to peer recommendation. The amount of searches done online with the word “Online Review” appended to the end has more than quadrupled in the past 4 years*. We only have to look at the travel sector and the influence that TripAdvisor.com now has to see the impact this can have. Social Networks can drive the bottom line, we just don’t always see the connection because we don’t understand what motivates our customers purchases. Very often this is what their peers think, have said or have reviewed.

The first practical step in engaging with social networks and social media more widely is to be aware of what is being said. Many online brand-monitoring tools where too expensive for smaller businesses, and larger companies needed to embrace social media to commit the kinds of budgets involved. Happily there are no many cost effective tools in this arena. ViralHeat.com is a good example of a low cost and very effective tool for monitoring what is happening online for a particular brand, product or company. Even Google Alerts, a free service from Google that tracks particular search terms, can help give us some insight.

The next, and more difficult step is too engage with these audiences, build advocacy and manage negative issues. The bottom line is that ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.

* Source Google Insights for Search 9thMarch 2010

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