'Likes' aren't a measure of success

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Too many South African brands embarking on social media marketing campaigns believe that the number of 'friends' or 'likes' they have on Facebook are a measure of the success of their campaigns and the popularity of their brands. This isn't the case, say local social media and marketing experts.

Jarred Cinman, chief inventor at Native, points out that brand 'likes' on Facebook are generally incentivised and do not necessarily indicate brand support. The success of a social media marketing campaign lies in the spread of the message throughout the right networks, the level of engagement that follows, and the positive sentiments this generates, he says.

“In South Africa, we have a very active social media user base that is very engaged. This isn't matched on a brand marketing level. South African businesses tend to be very conservative and stuck in the old paradigm, focusing on broadcast and print media. Brands and companies are not fully exploiting social media to their advantage yet,” he says.

Using social media effectively takes a whole new marketing mindset, the experts say.

Numbers not a metric

Walter Pike, founder and leader of PiKE | New Marketing, says: “We suddenly think about the audience and realise that, although it may be great to have 10 000 Facebook 'likes', it may be better to have 10. The 10 000 could be the lurkers, or not even actually present - they may have clicked the button never to return, while the 10 may be the bridges or the thought leaders.”

Melissa Attree, business development manager at Cerebra, echoes this sentiment: “I'd far rather have an audience of 100 very engaged people in a social network than a thousand 'likes' who only visit the page once,” she says.

Handing over control

What is happening now, thanks to social media, the experts say, is that brands are having to find their voices, customers are becoming the branding agencies, and the conversation is no longer with a customer, but with a chain of that customer's networks, too. Brands can no longer tightly control their messages.

“We start thinking about strategic brand management and we suddenly see that we no longer control the messages, the brand associations nor the media, and realise that we only control the experience with the brand,” says Pike.

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Pike stresses that marketing in the social era is not the same as using social media for digital promotions.

“If I have heard 'What people don't get is that it's just a different channel' once, then I have heard it a thousand times, and then when you dig a bit deeper, it's about 'two-way conversations and engagement' and then everyone nods wisely and glances knowingly to the rest of the people in the room and says 'content is king', you know. 'Social business', that's what this is about.

“Actually, it's not about that at all. What we have done is made assumptions, ignored facts and forced the social era environment to fit our own paradigm, the way we understand business and the way we understand marketing.”

Pike says the predicable response from marketers to social media has been to build more audiences, more Facebook likes, more Twitter followers and then say 'let's craft a message, good content and send to that audience'.

“Even the more sophisticated are only using social networks as customer response tools dealing with social complaints. This is because we are all still stuck in the broadcast era. We still think that the bigger the audience, the better; we still consider only our own communities as an audience and we still think that if we generate content, we will get our message to spread. So we still say 'it's just another channel', and unfortunately, it still works, a little,” says Pike.

Amplified word of mouth

But in reality, in the social era, the most important conversation is not between you and your audience - it's between the person you are talking with and their connections.

“It's really got very little to do with your audience, either because, except for very few brands, people cluster around thoughts and ideas and not around companies at all. Instead of controlling the bulk of the messaging our prospects receive, we only control a small fraction.”

Cinman says: “What social media has done is it's amplified a portion of marketing - word of mouth. People will trust what they hear from friends and contacts more than they will trust a message from a marketer. What friends say make the marketing message almost irrelevant.”

For companies, he says, this means control over the meaning of the brand is suddenly in the hands of the people. “We are seeing over and again that successful social media activation depends on winning the hearts and minds of the community.”

Finding a voice in the crowd

Cinman says marketers need to look for ways to start conversations, create stories and give communities experiences. It's about delivering an experience that will be carried to communities, he says.

This, says Attree, is why it is also critically important to consider the voice of your brand. “Too many brands forget that they should have a voice and a personality.”

In a social media environment, that personality interacts with communities, delivering thought leadership and experiences that get passed on.

“People don't necessarily want to talk to brands,” she adds. “They want to talk about the shared values and interests that certain brands stand for."

This means not only changing the marketing mindset, she says, but also paying close attention to the selection of community managers representing the brand on social networks. “They need to understand what the brand stands for - how it would speak if it were a person,” she says.

“It's not so much about the metrics. It's more about the insights and experiences generated by the people interacting with the communities,” says Attree.

Pike says: “It dawns on us that we are not managing our brands in the way we have for decades; we are delivering experiences. Those experiences are turning into 'ideas' that people are spreading, and we are facilitators, not controllers, of the ideas that are brands.”

Walter Pike, Jarred Cinman and Melissa Attree will be among the industry thought leaders addressing the upcoming ITWeb Social Media Summit, to be held from 14 to 16 August, at The Forum, in Bryanston. For more information, click here.

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