Social traction

Social media marketing is shaking things up. If the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed, why is there so much confusion surrounding this new frontier?
1 November 2011
photo: Suzanne GellMarketing guru Andy Rice says with social media, it is imperative that marketers understand the people they are talking to.

It’s amazing how services as simple as Facebook and Twitter have caused so much disruption. As the experts will tell you, the fundamentals of communication haven’t changed – social networks are just more platforms on which to communicate. So why the confusion? And is there a value in marketing on these platforms that has escaped other online avenues? The focus, when it comes to social network marketing, is on Twitter and Facebook as the two most prominent services in the space. But LinkedIn recently launched its advertising platform and is hinting at massive revenues that will no doubt add to its explosive growth since listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Facebook has offered targeted advertising for some time and Twitter recently introduced its own model, where companies can pay to have tweets promoted to the top of search and trend results. These are referred to as ‘sponsored tweets’.

Another option is to have a ‘promoted account’ that will be recommended to Twitter users as someone they should follow.

Unlike in the case of Google’s Adwords and Facebook advertising, where advertisers can set up and run their own campaigns, to advertise officially with Twitter, one must engage with a third-party agent.

Speak to strangers

In South Africa, the first company to offer Twitter advertising services is Primedia Online. Newly appointed head of the firm, Tanja Lategan, says the promoted tweets and accounts are made available via a bidding model, as is the case with Google Adwords.

Advertisers set a budget for how much they would like to spend in a period of time and are willing to pay to appear with a particular search query, for example.

But there are other strategies for marketing on Twitter. One could use a service like Klout, for example, to identify key influencers in a particular field and then approach those people directly. This happens more than most people would guess. And it plays on our sense of trust.

“Seventy-six percent of people say they do not believe what advertisers tell them,” says Lategan.

“But 50 percent of people would actually believe a stranger’s online review, rather than believe a company. 

“That percentage becomes even higher if it’s a friend reading that review. Then it becomes closer to 80 percent. So you would obviously see the value there in the ‘Like’ button on Facebook, for example,” she says. 

Radio jock Gareth Cliff is the most followed local celebrity on Twitter.

It also follows that a Twitter user will trust a message posted by 5FM breakfast host Gareth Cliff more than they will a sponsored tweet from a corporate.

Cliff is an interesting example. He is the most followed local person in South Africa and while his numbers may pale in comparison to Hollywood celebrities like Ashton Kutcher – who has 7.8 million followers, in case you were wondering – Cliff’s 180 000 followers make him the man in Mzansi.

A recent article on social media news website Memeburn revealed that one could buy tweets and Facebook updates from Gareth Cliff. This caused some controversy, as it was asserted that Cliff does not make it clear when he is tweeting an advert. Some claimed that this was misleading.

Cliff, however, sees it as an obvious progression of what he does on radio.

When asked for comment, Cliff said that he was grateful to Memeburn for running the article. Nobody knew they could buy tweets from him before, whereas he is now bombarded with requests.

“We’ve had very big companies and smaller ones asking us if we have rate cards and how they can get involved … there’s a huge amount of interest out there,” he says.

“I give credit to those people who have come to us with this because I think they’re the front-line. They’re the thinkers who realise you have to go to where the market is. You don’t have to be a genius to work out that that’s where everything’s headed.”

The question of trust

It’s early days, but figuring out that having Cliff tweet about your product would be good for it isn’t exactly rocket science. What surprises him is that anyone should see it as problematic.

“This is experimental. And I imagine, in radio terms, 20 or 30 years ago, if you could buy a live read, people would’ve reacted in the same way. Now live reads are commonplace,” he says.

At the core of the argument is how credible one considers a personality like Cliff to be. He says that his integrity is paramount, and the protection of his credibility is more important than advertising revenue.

The audience aren’t stupid, says Cliff, and will ‘unfollow’ him if they don’t like what he’s saying. So far, that hasn’t happened.

“People will follow me for as long as I manage to entertain them. I certainly don’t take them for fools,” he says.

Marketing guru Andy Rice says there is value in social media marketing.

“The answer depends on how well it is done,” he says.

“One must always keep in mind that the content and understanding of the audience is more important than the medium. You will only be effective when you understand the people you are talking to.”

The point has already been made that Twitter and Facebook are just new channels. They’re not that special, really. And Rice says specialist agencies should remember this.

“I think agencies that set themselves up as digital agencies are adopting a short-term approach and are almost exploiting people’s understanding of how things work,” he says.

“I don’t understand why we need digital agencies if we don’t need print or TV agencies. The fact is that we need consumer-understanding agencies. Agencies are best geared when they integrate social media with other media – any other approach is naive.”

In the case of celebrities tweeting, Rice says that disclosure is vital. He uses the example of blogger Sarah Britten, who was chosen as an ambassador in the launch campaign for the Range Rover Evoque.

“… the quid pro quo is that Land Rover gave her a vehicle for a year and requested that she make references to her experience on Twitter. Her first tweet was to disclose her relationship with Land Rover. With regards to the storm about Gareth Cliff and the question of whether he was paid to tweet for Playboy – if Playboy  did, in fact, pay him and tried to keep it quiet, then the only reputational change will be negative.”

As with traditional marketing, building trust with an audience is paramount. But where social media is different is that there’s no hiding. You can’t market your way against a product problem, for example. All you can do is fix the product. You sure as hell aren’t going to fix perceptions about it.