The value lies in relationships

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The real business value of social media strategies lies in building meaningful relationships with the customers. This is a view expressed by Mike Saunders, CEO of DigiLab.

Speaking to delegates at the ITWeb Social Media Summit 2014 in Bryantson, Johannesburg, this morning, Saunders noted that businesses have to find innovative ways of leveraging off the data made available to them through various social media platforms.

"Social media has become a defining factor in how people use the Internet, this world of connection presents huge opportunities for businesses," he said. "Companies need to find ways of engaging people in a useful way, that's how you gain the competitive edge."

In most cases, remarked Saunders, consumers trust information that comes from the relationship they have with a brand, way before the advertising kicks in.

"People are often told to espouse advocacy, approachability, respect and relevancy in how they present their brands on social media platforms. This is the approach that everyone has adopted and you start operating in a space where everyone is practically doing the same thing. Today, brands have to fight for their place in the same way as fighting to put up a billboard at a prime location."

To stand out, Saunders believes companies have to embody excellence, which means being original, speaking to consumers' hearts, consistency, being humorous and, more importantly, being the first to take advantage of a situation at any given moment.

He illustrated his point by referring to how, following Uruguayan footballer Luiz Suarez biting an Italian opponent in a FIFA Soccer World Cup game, McDonald's Uruguay seized the opportunity on Twitter, tweeting "Hi Luis Suarez, if you wanted to quench your hunger we would have given you a nibble of a Big Mac."

"The difficult thing with excellence is that when you do it the first time, it becomes expected value. Your competitors try to keep up with you and copy what you've done, meaning you need to branch into a new space. Excellence is a never-ending, moving target."

After this, every other fast food outlet jumped on the bandwagon with @Whataburger tweeting "If only Suarez had Whataburger before the game he wouldn't be so hungry", @ListerinGlobal's weighed in with "We recommend a good swish after grabbing a bite of Italian. #WorldCup #PowerToYourMouth."

The most popular one came from candy bar company @SNICKERS, who placed the words "When you feel like Italian" on a poster accompanied by #luissaurez. The company also sent out a tweet "Hey @luis16suarez. Next time you're hungry just grab a Snickers." The tweet garnered over 30 000 retweets, and more than 12 000 favourites. Saunders believes this is due to the company using the basics of visual language, accompanied by an element of humour.

Another social media campaign Saunders believes was timeous, original and achieved its target was sandwich cookies company Oreo. During the third quarter of 2013 Super Bowl when a power outage at the Superdome caused some of the lights to go out for 34 minutes, the company's social media team jumped on the cultural moment, tweeting an ad that read "Power Out? No problem" with a starkly-lit image of a solitary Oreo and the caption "You can still dunk in the dark."

The message caught on almost immediately, getting nearly 15 000 retweets immediately and more than 20 000 likes on Facebook. The ad was also posted on Tumblr with the note "Oreo won the Super Bowl blackout."

Another way of building relationships, according to Saunders, is by being useful to consumer's life.

"Hilton hotels have their concierge staff scan areas where the hotels are located for leisure places that people can visit, then disseminating this information to existing and potential customers on social platforms. This is helpful, useful and creating engagement with their customers on many levels."

"The world does not need any more data, we need taste makers, editors, people that can take this data and make it meaningful to our daily lives," concluded Saunders.

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