Social media is finally being understood as just another channel to market, and not an entirely new beast that marketers have to deal with. Brainstorm tried to find out just how well it’s understood, asking the industry: is social media a valuable weapon in the marketing arsenal or just another toy for the kids?* Social media is one of the most powerful weapons in today’s marketing mix, a fundamental shift in the way we behave and communicate, transforming the way we live and do business. Traditionally, marketers controlled the conversation with consumers – a monologue with the consumer through mainstream media. Marketers now have dialogues with consumers who interact with your brand/product or service and give you insights in real time. Every marketer should be using social media to engage with consumers, building sincere, trusting relationships and monitoring conversations to gain insight into consumer needs. This critical marketing tool is no toy.
Michelle Branco, executive head: marketing, Vodacom Business
* One of the reasons many brands have become disillusioned with social media is that they are not leveraging it correctly. Social media is a channel for strategic customer relationship management. Yet many businesses have outsourced social networking interactions to a public relations agency or junior member of staff, who is not empowered from either a messaging or knowledge perspective. Organisations should be treating it more strategically and aligning it closely with their other marketing and customer service channels. That doesn’t mean they should over-invest in social media, but should manage it as a part of their marketing strategy.
Richard Mullins, director, Acceleration
* Social media can play a key role in the marketing mix of some companies and be totally unnecessary for others. It’s no longer about the technology as much as it is about the communication itself. The words ‘engagement’ and ‘conversation’ are thrown about like they are new terms. It’s back to the old-fashioned, over-the-counter conversation, where the greengrocer knows your needs. The only difference now is technology has enabled the virtual conversation to include a much larger audience. Authenticity is the trick; we all want to feel like we matter.
Ingrid Lotze, MD, Puruma Business Communications
* Given that many consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth when they advertise their products or services, and that the majority of consumers say they trust the recommendation of other consumers above advertising, social media has to watch its step as a marketing tool.
As with all other tools, the messages social media conveys must be relevant and – because only ten percent of the world’s consumers are active consumers of social media – unbiased, transparent and trustworthy for, if it fails to make an impression on those ten percent, it ends up missing the target completely.
The trick to utilising social media successfully as a marketing tool is to understand what the target market is looking for and where, and then using social media to address these needs in an appropriate manner. If sufficient thought and planning isn’t put into a brand’s, product’s or service’s social media strategy, it will simply remain a communication stream for those consumers – children, really – who are ‘native’ to the social media era and spot you a mile off.
Prakash Patel, head of Digital/Interactive, Draftfcb Johannesburg
* Wrong question. It’s clearly a valuable marketing weapon. The real question is: is social media a valuable tool for my kind of business? The answer is sometimes, ‘No’. The companies that can really make mileage out of it have close links between the social media team and senior management, where complaints, problems, comments and suggestions thrown out by people using social media channels can and will result in positive change, meaningful reaction or problem-resolution. If it’s just lip-service, there’s a good chance your social media platform will become a conversation forum for the people who are angry with you and want the world to know.
Roger Hislop, strategist, Sentient Communications