Saturday, August 21, 2010

Look who's talking

Digital Activation and Social Media
One of my favourite client presentation moments occurred this year during a session where I was promoting the benefits of social media for business gain. After stating that digital was one of the battlegrounds with their competitors that they needed to own, the client casually remarked they already had a twitter and a facebook page. 'Great ... is it working? Are you engaging with consumers? Are you measuring the impact?' I replied, to which I received a few casual headshrugs and a paper aeroplane.

If you build it, they will not come
This illustrated one of the common misperceptions of digital activation. You can't just put up a website with a few social media channels and expect people to automatically find it. There has to be a breadcrumb trail that leads to a gingerbread house of rewards, minus the witch of course. Integral to the success of any social media channels then is a well-constructed launch strategy. Be it teasers, count-downs, microsites, dollars thrown into the street or free balloons ... generating buzz before the reveal is half the battle. But I'm jumping the gun ... before you even get here, you need to ask 'do I really need social media?'

Strategic Alignment
My Managing Director has a simple technique to test the solutions we develop in the creative studio. He responds to everything with a 'So what?'. Sounds horrible ... but it's amazingly effective. What's the reason for recommending social media to a client? Does it align with their business goals? Some reasons that may resonate with clients typically include:
• Crowdsourcing ideas (think Dell's IdeaStorm and Starbucks My Idea)
• Increased visibility with a younger crowd
• Improved market relevance (typically as part of a brand refresh)
• Consumer behavior analysis
• Promoted perception of business transparency
• Real-time customer service (think Zappos)
• Brand dialogue channels
• Location based monitoring
• And more ...

Social media by itself is not an answer. It is, however, a powerful compliment to your primary marketing and branding activities.

So your client agrees that they need to build a social media presence. Now comes the really hard part; even when people find your brand online ... the challenge is giving them a reason to stay. Unless you're a hacker and able to trap them with multiple pop-ups and fraudulent redirection tactics (generally not encouraged), brands need to provide consumer incentives to promote return visits and advocacy to others.

In the 2009 Razorfish Feed Report they conducted a study on the primary reasons consumers follow a brand online. The main results were:
• 43.5% exclusive deals or offers
• 23.5% current customers
• 22.7% interesting or entertaining content

Brands that are successfully leveraging social media for business gain like Starbucks and Dell have tapped into consumers incentives. The appeal of a location based service like FourSquare is that brands are able to reward loyal customers with special offers and an increased personal profile. I just recently had a colleague excitedly show me her new 'Crunked' badge with pride. I mean, who doesn't want to be the mayor of ... well, anywhere.

I love stats. So much I'm expecting an intervention from colleagues soon 'Quick! Hold him down! He's trying to measure our time spent on facebook during work hours! Get that graph off him!'. It was discussing monitoring of brand sentiment that resulted in the client presentation story I promised earlier:

'Has everyone seen the Superman movies? (a few positive nods). Well, do you remember when Louis Lane has been kidnapped and Superman flies up above the earth and listens to every conversation in the world for a single mention of her name? (more nods). Imagine we could do the same and listen in to every conversation that mentions your brand, see who is speaking, see what they're saying and even zoom down to talk to them. Well, we can. Here's how ...'

Someone then asked if flying was involved, but unfortunately I couldn't promise anything beyond a flying fox. Tight fitting costumes aside, the other reason I love metrics is because it's relatively easy to measure the short term impact of social media activities. You can assess whether you're increasing your follower count, flag popular and contagious content, assess shared/retweeted posts and count increases in consumer conversations.

More advanced tools also allow you to check not only your brand's online reputation but more real-time behavior:
• brand sentiment (are people talking about your brand positively and negatively)
• influencer identification (when these people speak, the crowd listens)
• content tagging and flagging (what are the most common keywords used in association with your brand)
• demographic information (age, gender, location, referral data, bounce rates, visit times and more are often available)

With so many free tools available, there's really no reason not be participating on even an intermediate level.

Time is not on your side
I've heard a few clients say 'Yeah, we will get to that, it's in next years activity list'. But the reality is that to stay market relevant you need to catch the wave and ride it, not surf in flat water behind it. Plus, that's typically where the sharks wait. The typical long term development of a brand is a debating point but I'm more and more convinced that brands need to update every 2-3 years. The outdated concept of building a 5-10 year lifespan is dead and buried. The market changes so quickly that to avoid regular brand evolution is to fall behind. Whilst a brand's core positioning may stay the same, successful companies like Nike and Apple have proven that it's best to outdate yourself before the competition catches up.

Digital brand experiences can create some of your most powerful brand advocates. If you're not playing in the space now, it's time to change.

Christian Teniswood