Social Media – Picking Your Battles

Social Media is seen by many as the solution to all market share, engagement and per capita woes but that many are not exactly sure why. To be simplistic and to cut past the marketing lingo,  to many its like any other campaign with a lot less work and resources – just get a Facebook community together, tell them what you are offering and they will come in their droves to purchase your very special [insert product/service]. The problem is everyone else had the same idea, offer similar or better products/services and the initial idea is not necessarily a good one.

People will engage with brands for only three real [or influential] reasons.

1) for KNOWLEDGE (learning) of the products specifications and quality

2) to see whether the product fits their PERSONALITY (interest causing desire) by evoking an emotion in them in technical, cultural  and self-image branding and

3) to PURCHASE (behavioural action) the product.

These are the only actions of any importance to most consumer products or services, only differing with B2B products by the personality facet being based on office culture and solution-based decision-making and in charity by the knowledge/awareness facet causing  empathy rather than desire.

Irrespective of the mission the end-goal is a person parting with their hard earned and increasingly diminishing cash, so tough economic climates sort the marketing-men from the administrative-boys!

So the strategic aim is to find a point of optimum yield, somewhere between awareness and the hard sell.  An audience will take free products and look at fun and quirky flash art but that engagement, clicking like buttons and entertainment may not lead to anything more than some great impression figures and some positive comments. Turning this into action is not only a skill its a continual Hail Mary pass with your budget.

Pepsi’s Refresh Project is a great example of this. This quote from Bob Hoffman, taken from an interesting article on a similar subject  from The Agency Collaboration Blog, hit the nail on the head.

“The Refresh Project accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.

It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.”

So with a massive consumer giant like Pepsi shovelling millions into Refresh and it going so wrong, and with them probably having minds at work that would make most marketing departments look like a bunch of remedial students, it draws into question the validity of a campaign centred or focused on attracting social media engagement.

In Pepsi’s case its a tough sell, they have nothing new to bring to the table – if you don’t like the taste of Pepsi there’s no graphic, philanthropic campaign or sponsorship that will change your taste and preference. With services it differs greatly and I think this is where social media can really shine. However, there are a couple of fundamental questions that must be addressed:

1) Who you talkin’ to?

And don’t say people. People don’t care about you – that’s the truth. You need to be very specific about which people care already. Segmentation should be the marketers favourite word, its the art of placing everyone with the same ideas and passions in one little group and formulating a specific message for them.  Therefore, the message and campaign becomes very focused even if your audience is diverse.  Tonally and in the offering, communications should be implicitly geared to a specific segment who are seeking specific goals. those outside that segment can either join that cultural stance or take from it what applies to them. Don’t be scared, you can always spread segments across the product/service offering allowing for diverse but associative messaging. This is where likes, joining fan pages and groups and data sourcing is profitable – when you can start segmenting messaging. Yeah, not so easy now, is it?

2) What do you want?

And don’t say their attention. Attention means squat! Attention without a value-proposition, i.e a concrete and valuable offer, will destroy the trust a consumer can have for your service. A great example is the ebuyer.com fiasco this week. A friend of mine told me of the £1 clearance sale (excellent word of mouth opportunity) that started at 11am and would be updated on the hour. Great! Fantastic! Electronics at prices that even I could get behind. However, the influx of users caused their server to crash during the cyber stampede of equally cheap yet engaged people. They wanted attention and they got it but for all the wrong reasons. I don’t use ebuyer usually…and I won’t in the future, sticking to the quieter and solution-centric Ebay, Pixmania and Amazon sites. Ebuyer gave no REAL value-proposition, they gave a hyper-reality of basically free merchandise but no real reason to consider switching to them as a provider that offers value for money. In my opinion they would have been better off offering substantial discounts within a niche, for example the gaming or Indy filmmaker community. In taking a smaller yet manageable SEGMENT they may have got a larger, manageable,engaged and consistently loyal audience.

3) How long can you keep this up?

And don’t say X months of a campaign. Marketing is all about conditioning, about establishing a product, a cultural perspective, picking an audience and sticking to it and them.  Dead are the days of the isolated disconnected seasonal campaigns. Now the campaign is the customer life cycle with the brand. Everything you do must come back to your core brand promise, service expectation and your line of profit. So don’t go for the hard sale. A massive campaign hitting everyone is wasteful and unproductive. Consider making small inroads, choosing specific segments of your target audience to focus in on specifically and channel specific offers based on their interaction with you. Again, if Ebuyer had started some sort of loyalty card system 6 months earlier and then offered that £1 discount to card holders, I would be more inclined to consider switching as that would be a value proposition that includes me in the life cycle service offering rather than a 30 minute social media inclusion with the ultimate flash mob approach which dissipates with little lasting effect.

Last Words

So there are no solutions here for anyone to take away, no universal fixes for a business. Marketing is a relationship between a product/service and segments of consumers and in any relationship you can only satisfy a persons needs when you have some idea of who they are. So understanding the preferences of your target through dedicated research is the first port of call. From here you should construct a social media approach (not campaign) based on a focused value-proposition with a strong and perpetual means-end narrative. This allows you to make periodic contact with an audience that will realise that you are not just talking to get something and attention from anyone who may be listening,  you are  talking to them about something they have already considered and with a voice unique to your brand.

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