Marketers are rushing to engage with their customers via social media. When they get into those networks, however, they may find individuals are not always open to a conversation. Colin Bradshaw, managing director, RAPP explains how to get talked about the right way.
Social media marketing - makes perfect sense right? A medium where people give away their most valuable information and details for nothing and just about anybody can say anything about any subject they like. It’s all-pervasive and fast-growing, there are lots of people out there to talk to and, best of all, the cost of entry is close to zero! It is a great place to promote your brand or product and to talk about how great your relationship is and what compelling offers you have on this week.
Sadly, there are some downsides to this apparent Utopia - social media is exactly that: a media which is owned and controlled by the people who use it, who may - or usually may not - desire to have a dialogue with your corporate brand. Moreover, brands can no longer direct how their messages are perceived and built upon in a social media space where they have no editorial control. And, of course, there is a growing recognition within the public of the fact that, like it or not, each one of us leaves a data trail after us wherever we go and this will only continue to grow.
As a recent McKinsey report noted, the “Era of Big Data” has arrived. Sooner than expected. No-one is as ready as they should be, but those that are recognising the potential (and mitigating against the risks) will be those that will win out over competitors that are slower on the uptake.
Social media presents enormous opportunities for enterprises to develop relationships with consumers. But, as with any relationship, it’s a good deal more complex than just saying, “I am your friend. Trust me”. Why should anyone let you, as a brand, into their circle of trust?
There is a growing awareness among the users/creators of social media (indeed, across all forms of media) of the questions around privacy, purpose and permissions which are trending nowadays. Consumers are ever more cynical, quick to assassinate brands that are perceived to be overstepping the line when it comes to intrusive marketing, particularly in the social space.
Which brings us to the issue of privacy and a compromise that the consumer and the corporate will both have to grapple with. This compromise is likely to vary according to the perceived value exchange: the data I am prepared to divulge for the purchase of a song on iTunes may be different to the data I’ll part with for the purchase of a new car. And then I may part with yet more personal data to the automotive brand which offers me a discount or an upgrade to a better model than I am prepared to offer its competitor...
There are also critical questions of authenticity - not a new concept, but one which is key for gaining traction in the social media space. Authenticity is characterised by who has the authority and permission (and not just in the strict legal sense) to participate in a social media conversation. Most businesses are not going to have sufficient buy-in or authority to go out and address audiences directly. Those that do need to be very sure of their message and their audience or risk being shot down in flames.
These are the issues that businesses will need to face in the future, and need to be preparing for now. Crucially, it’s the data that holds the key. The ability to gather, analyse and interpret consumer data from social networks will be what allows brands to build relationships and engagement with a sensitive and savvy audience. The real winners here will be the brands that understand the nature of that value exchange and where they sit on the scale. Those that will lose out will be the ones who transgress the invisible privacy line and, by doing so, create antipathy and suspicion.
RAPP did some very informative work in this area with Cancer Research UK around its Race for Life women-only fundraising event. Having built the web site and email engagement tools, social media was leveraged to get traction with the audience.
It started in 2008 when one Race for Life employee spent all summer building 50 regional variants of a single email campaign. Each version needed creative and a data import, quality assurance and scheduling. Race participant data was supplied two weeks before deployment - anybody who signed up to take part between data supply and deployment missed out on the email.
Getting dynamic and automated
So in 2009, RAPP took that campaign and from 50 templates built just one. Into the email tool, 250 sets of race details were loaded, assigning content to customers on the fly using data flags. This enabled the creation of automatically-tailored emails using customer data to set the tone of the message.
The result was improved efficiency and robustness, better targeting (2,000 message combinations versus 50) and increased engagement, from 21 per cent to 81 per cent click:open rates.
For 2010, this approach was applied to every campaign in the customer journey. More content was introduced by taking a feed from the Race for Life content management system which automatically updated email content before a campaign was deployed. The new content included details of previously-entered and nearby races to encourage sign-up, and in addition to this, the tone of the message was tailored according to the participant’s motivation for taking part.
Although the goal is the same (sign-up), the reason for doing so - and therefore the type of message delivered - is very different for somebody who is doing it for fun than for someone who has lost their mother to cancer. This approach beat the control on conversions by over 200 per cent.
Race for Life is a highly social event, with people actively talking about it online in social spaces as well as participating in the event itself. Cancer Research UK was keen to explore the social aspect of the campaign, so RAPP created social share links built entirely around the participant in real time. The personalised email to the participant contained a variety of options designed to help them share their Race for Life plans: a pre-populated link for Twitter, a dynamically-created HTML template for email, and a tailored webpage for Facebook.
This is remarkable for three reasons:
This carried a level of sincerity and authenticity that no brand could hope to replicate in mass communications. The more friends got involved, the deeper the brand relationship became. It was only possible by using established practice to make messages more relevant, to make relevance more efficient, and by adapting these practices to create automated, one-to-one social connections.
Adoption into the circle of trust
What Cancer Research had effectively achieved here was to move from outside the circle of trust, with a voice that had limited authenticity, to within the circle, with positive brand messages being generated directly from an authentic and trusted voice to other, like-minded individuals.
The next natural step is to do the same thing on mobile, outdoor, multi-media…anywhere where people congregate and share opinions and conversations. By connecting with people at their most engaged and providing them with the tools to do something with that engagement, brands can move from a “gather, then share” marketing approach to a “share, then gather” approach. With real-life brand advocates driving the gathering.