The 3 stages of social media engagement
This post is provided by our partner the Future Foundation, the leading consumer futures business.
When we look at examples of successful social media engagement, we can identify several distinct stages through which a campaign tends to move – a trajectory which will be of obvious relevance for any marketers hoping to optimise their strategies in this area.
Step 1: Socialising promotional activity
Word of mouth is a tremendously potent force when it comes to spreading information about promotional activity; as our chart demonstrates, the majority of consumers in the UK freely admit that they enjoy talking to friends and family members about particularly good deals or discounts they’ve managed to obtain (nVision Research).
So often, the most successful social media campaigns revolve around incentive and reward schemes and, in a previous post, we saw this in action with the case of IKEA opening a new store in Malmö. Realistically, nobody wants to “friend” the manager of a furniture store unless they are incentivised to do so – and this was indeed what the furniture chain managed to achieve. The creative execution of this campaign certainly helped accelerate the speed at which the message was transmitted across the network but, without that incentive at the heart of it, I dare say the marketers involved would have struggled somewhat to engage so many users about the opening of a new retail space.
The difference between social media marketing and traditional marketing is that, whereas the latter is all about a big message, the former requires building a conservation over time. Many of us, I’m sure, will have “friended” or “followed” a brand in order to enter a competition or access a discount voucher – only to sever our ties a few weeks later when the campaign has ended. The interesting aspect of this for me, however, is that I never do so immediately after I get the voucher simply because I am not that engaged with the list of people that I am following. In fact, it’s only after the brand has put out a few banal “so what’s everyone doing with their weekend?” updates that I am finally reminded to cut them off – and I imagine many of you will have done likewise.
What’s important is the critical gap in-between: the period which follows the end of the promotion but precedes the “defriending”. If I may use cricket as a metaphor, more important than the incredible ball which the batsman can’t play is the next delivery the bowler makes. For us, then, the transition period between these phases is arguably more vital than the short-term wins delivered by the initial promotional activity. Only in this intermediary phase can we can start building sustainable relationships with consumers.
Step 2: Converting the conversation
Step two requires marketers to build the promotion-based message into one that can be sustained as a conversation over time. This, of course, is the step which is the most difficult and, sadly, there are no magic formulae to guarantee continued engagement. There are, however, several points to keep in mind when building a strategy – not an exhaustive list but a set of essentials which should always be considered. We’d love to hear your personal essentials in the comments.
1. Understand their needs. In so many aspects of business, success is intrinsically linked to how well we understand our customers’ needs. This is why insight is crucial but too often we see the link to insight being under-utilised in social media situations. And that baffles me: understanding the motivation for consumers to “friend” or “follow” your brand in the first place is absolutely critical to knowing how you can turn short-term excitement driven by promotional activity into a long-term conversation.
2. Be transparent. It is so important here that any communication comes directly and transparently from the brand in an authentic tone that resonates with fans’ expectations. Remember, this is a space owned by the consumer so simply broadcasting messages at them will encourage them to click that “unfollow” button.
3. Look to convert your customers into fans. If we think about the types of pages we tend to like on Facebook, as well as which accounts we follow on Twitter, they very often belong to those individuals or organisations of whom we would consider ourselves fans (be they bands, teams, artists etc). The perfect example here is Coca-Cola – a brand with over 34 million fans on Facebook, despite the fact they didn’t even create the page on the social networking site themselves. For decades their marketing has been focused on building a brand that their customers connect with at a deep level that is reminiscent of a sports team rather than a soft drink. It’s an illustration of how, if your wider marketing strategies are focused on building a fan base rather than a customer base, engaging people on an ongoing basis can become much simpler and allows you to start building brand equity. Social media must be part of that strategy too of course but without the additional drive across other channels, the challenge is made that much more difficult.
Step 3: Harness the community
So, you have excited your customers with a socialised promotion and, by progressing your understanding of what they need, you’ve successfully converted this into a conversation that is proving sustainable. What next?
Now we enter the most powerful stage of social media engagement: the construction of a community where conversations happen from consumer to consumer rather than between brand and consumer. For me, this represents the holy grail of social media marketing; once a community has been built, we can step back and allow customers/members/fans to share their experiences with each other. It is at this point that we can begin to see the real fruits of our labour and explore ways to harness that community to help the brand move forward. One of the purest expressions of this is co-creation.
While hardly a new phenomenon, the ability to have your new product development, branding or strategy informed by the very people who love your product is a powerful goal to keep in mind while developing your social media programmes. I believe this is what we should always aim for and, as we discovered during a research project that we undertook on behalf of Google last year – looking at the future of work – businesses around the globe are already capitalising on it.
Once again, though, it’s vital to think about what motivates consumers to get involved. For a hardcore niche – your hardened fanbase, as it were – the chance to shape the future of the brand will be sufficient. For the vast majority, however, incentives will prove much more effective. In our 2011 research, we asked consumers if they would be interested in contributing ideas for the creation of a brand’s new products, advertising or marketing campaign in the future. And while just 1 in 8 answered with a firm yes, a further two thirds said they would if they were rewarded for doing so.
So, there we have it: three key steps that we believe represent the trajectory of a successful social media strategy. Needless to say, it is a difficult journey and requires a serious commitment to insight and to truly knowing your customers. But the benefits of converting these customers into fans and providing them with the opportunity to connect and share their experiences is worth the effort. Indeed, this decade will prove that the ultimate expression of a brand’s social media presence is not about creating and sharing content with your customers but allowing them the opportunity to build that content alongside you.
Matt Taylor is Head of Innovation at the Future Foundation, the leading international consumer futures business. Since our launch in 1996, we have worked to meet the strategic needs of businesses through the application of insight. We identify, measure and examine trends, attitudes and behaviours through the rigorous analysis of quantitative and qualitative research. Our robust programme of research provides businesses with the grounding and confidence to anticipate the likely impact of the evolving consumer environment and identify new market and revenue opportunities. Let us assist your thinking, guide your decisions and drive your profits.
For further information visit www.futurefoundation.net