Social media may have begun, as its namesake implies, as a tool intended purely for social engagement, but the commercial value soon became apparent and it has become the marketer’s new best friend too. As social media use now far outweighs traffic, circulation, audience reach for all traditional media channels, marketers have had to seriously alter their game plan to take this shift in the media landscape into account. The industry is finding that conventional strategies have had to be re-written and the basic structure of any campaign transformed. How is it that a platform once devoid of any commercial content has had such a significant impact on the marketing industry?
A marketers craft has always been to grab the attention of the consumer, however fleeting that might be. The extent to which people have embraced new media and technologies such as smart phones has given marketers the opportunity to reach consumers in a 24/7 capacity through a variety of mediums, significantly increasing the chances of messaging being seen. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to create a campaign that stands out, not only because of the enormously competitive market but also as the rise of social media has begun to completely overshadow more traditional approaches.
The problem lies with the change in the consumer mindset. Social media has led to a culture of constant communication, active engagement and the expectation of immediate access to anyone and anything. This is of course something that the traditional advert or piece of marketing material could not ever achieve. However, a Facebook page, Twitter feed or social mobile/location activity on platforms such as Four Square can directly address the new increasingly demanding expectations of consumers. In addition to this initial engagement, social media activity is also likely to be sustained as attention is kept over a period of time rather than for just a few quick moments. As a result, we are increasingly seeing television adverts sign off with a plea for consumers to visit their Facebook or Twitter page with the promise of an exciting online experience, fun incentives and a sense of community that people actually want to get involved with. Consumers ultimately use Facebook and other social media for fun and it makes no difference to them whether they are joining, for example, an unbranded or branded game. However, the more successful the creative the more likely consumers are going to develop a sense of loyalty to the hosting brand.
There have been numerous campaigns that have taken advantage of the medium and successfully propelled a brand to the media spotlight. A particularly good example of the past year is the Old Spice ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ YouTube campaign that was a viral hit. Not only has this currently got 350,030,581 views on YouTube, easily making it one of the most successful brand campaigns ever, but it has completely transformed the image of a brand that had previously been deemed old fashioned and out of place in the contemporary market. The brand now has a Facebook page, featuring videos, spin off games, challenges and of course links to their retails pages. The site attracts thousands of consumers, all eager to join in and play along with this clever marketing game.
Beyond creating an appealing consumer experience, social platforms offer customers a direct line to the brand. Subsequently, the role of the marketer is changing even further. Added to their already expanding job role is the position of customer services adviser. Branches of the industry are becoming blurred and perhaps what might once have been the territory of the PR agency, has now been infiltrated by the ad exec or marketer. So when people use social networks to voice their enquiries, grievances and praise to a brand it is often marketers who are designated to deal with it. This is proving an excellent opportunity for the industry to gain a thorough and accurate insight into the public’s perception of a company or product, allowing them to both expand on well received aspects and work on those less popular. Crucially, as feedback can be viewed in real time this gives brands the chance to react and address any issues immediately.
Of course with every silver lining, there usually comes a cloud. The problem with this level of immediacy is that it leaves less time for carefully thought out responses or strategy. The haste with which comments and tweets are posted can and has often infamously led to some marketing disasters that can damage both the client and their agencies reputation. There is also the risk of over-doing it and littering users’ streams with branded messaging that is out of place in their social environment. The minute a customer finds a brand’s social networking activity intrusive or annoying, then is a customer lost. There are also many cases of brands trying to abuse the system through fake comments or a few irresponsible employees tweeting inappropriate comments. As marketers are no longer lurking behind the scenes, but are instead on the front line dealing directly with the public, they have become much more accountable for the brand.
Despite the potential fallbacks of social media, it is easy to see why it is increasingly overtaking traditional forms of marketing. Take television commercials for example, they can cost millions; are poorly targeted and do not enable data capture. However, online virals promoted through social media cost next to nothing; reach a far greater targeted audience and allow for much more engagement opportunities. Therefore it is easy to see why social media is marketer’s new best friend.
Social media has completely overhauled the marketing sector and there is no turning back. The divide between marketers and consumers has been revolutionised. The era of catchy punch lines and striking images is no longer the be all and end all; it is about a continual dialogue, building trust and interacting with the right audience in the right way, as fast as possible.