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How are marketers really using social media?

How are marketers really using social media? Dan Neely

Today, all marketers in their role as brand stewards are considering the best ways to leverage the social media activity of consumers in order to drive business growth. Where once conferences and trade shows were the dominant venue for intellectual exchanges, marketers now also rely on social media to discuss social media. As a result, digital marketing professionals are creating, sharing, and exchanging information that reveals both successful, and failed, strategies and tactics.

Because social media is now the chosen medium of expression, we are presented with the opportunity to listen more closely than ever before. To take advantage of this, we're using my company's analytical listening platform, SocialSense, to scour the web for expert discussions and determine what impact they're having on the future of digital marketing.

This is the first article in a series designed to uncover the issues and opportunities talked about most by digital marketers. In this fast-moving industry, key topics explode suddenly and sometimes drop off the radar even faster. Rather than focusing on individual comments, we'll identify the most common topics and relevant discussions to get a broad sense of what matters, and why.

These four questions recently surfaced:

  • Which social networking sites are attracting the most attention?

  • How should we use social networking sites for our brands and businesses?

  • Where do the most valuable conversations take place?

  • What are the concerns about the use of social media in brand planning?

The which
It should come as no surprise that the most-discussed social networking sites are Facebook and Twitter. What is interesting, though, is the way marketers are trying to figure out how these platforms can be used to drive brand engagement and site visits.

A growing number of discussions were focused around the best ways to devise and execute Twitter strategies that do more than just drop brand mentions. The commentary, however, was divided because while many social media leaders consider Twitter a core tool for digital branding and customer relations, many still question the true quality of experience possible in a platform with a 140-character limit. In fact, out of all of the platforms in this report, Twitter had the highest potential of being viewed as spam. A typical comment summed up this concern:

"There are too many marketers on twitter and people are starting to get fed up."

Unlike Twitter, discussions about marketing possibilities on Facebook were overwhelmingly positive. The website was lauded for its ability to drive web traffic, brand engagement, and long-term brand relationships. Facebook ads also received considerable discussion as an affordable way to drive "likes" and brand participation.

Next page >>

On the other hand, LinkedIn appears to be growing in potential value. Based on discussions we've seen over the last month, people have applauded it as extremely helpful for B2B awareness (especially with LinkedIn Answers), lead generation, and recruiting.

Gone are the days when LinkedIn was considered purely the haven of job seekers. Instead, because of the platform's relatively limited reach, and prohibition of direct promotion, LinkedIn is considered the best suited for smaller B2B targets. Interestingly, it is these strict community-participation rules that helped LinkedIn receive such high marks from professionals.

"Facebook is good for brand awareness and building, Twitter is a micro blog and can be hard to target your niche and LinkedIn does a lot more than both Facebook and Twitter and is taken a lot more seriously."

But the professional conversations and recommendations didn't stop with just these three websites. YouTube and the idea of business channels generated significant discussion, and social-bookmarking sites had smaller -- but extremely passionate -- followings.

The how
So how are marketers using social media? What business objectives appear to be most important when using social media?

Based on online conversation, most business people were surprisingly unfamiliar with Twitter. People continually asked questions about the basic mechanics of the platform. The new Promoted Tweets product, specifically, drove significant interest.

There was a great deal of discussion about effectively using Twitter for promotions. For example, a report that Major League Baseball teams were reaching out to sell tickets through Twitter resulted in considerable attention.

Twitter brand etiquette was also a popular topic. Many marketers were scrambling to find the best approach to using the platform, debating issues like automated tweets, promotional offers, and the best approaches for gaining followers. Lists were also a fairly popular topic among brand marketers. But most comments were focused on the best ways to communicate company and brand news.

When compared to Twitter, the discussions about YouTube appeared to be broader. Contributors seemed most interested in talking about how to drive more traffic, generate viral video, and increase channel subscribers. But can you create a viral video or is it just luck? This very common question sparked lively conversations wherever it appeared, with some users providing intricate formulas and others answering more sardonically:

"OK here is the exact step by step formula to get 100,000 views to your video
Step 1 - Pray
Step 2 - Rub a Buddha Belly
Step 3 - Break a wishbone and wish for the views
Step 4 - If that does not work, call up 100,000 friends
Rinse and repeat."

Another example:

"Yes, absolutely -- there is a time-tested, mathematical formula for making viral videos. Here it is...

Hot Babe + Skimpy Clothing + Doing Something Really Stupid = Viral Video

See, it's not so difficult."

The where
Marketers believed that the deepest and most insightful discussions occur on blogs. However, we found that the most valuable conversations about brand building occurred as frequently on Facebook. Nevertheless, while Facebook was lauded for its remarkable reach, blogs still appeared to possess a greater depth of engagement. 

As we analyzed the commentary on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, some patterns surfaced:

  • Blogs attract hardcore followings and are effective at delivering messages and engaging heavy users.

  • Facebook has huge reach.

  • YouTube is most attractive to brands searching for viral marketing.

  • Twitter attracts hardcore followings as well as deal hunters.

These are powerful insights helping marketers take a decidedly more strategic approach to social marketing. They now have tool sets to deliver against discrete objectives. 

The what
The most popular interests and worries of marketers revolved around social media measurement, scale, and ROI measurement. Hundreds of marketers asked about whether people were really seeing sales lifts from social, while many others sought advice on the best ways to measure social media effectiveness.

The key theme in these discussions centered on marketers taking a more reasoned and strategic approach to the space. It appears that social media marketing has graduated from reflexive reactions ("We have to do something?!?"). Now, marketers are asking important questions that demonstrate how goal setting is an integral part of the social marketing development process. Comments like this show the change:

"I would suggest that the best way to measure social media ROI is having a strong idea of what success looks like. This will let you determine whether a social campaign delivered or not by comparing expectations to actual results. It also helps to have a good social media monitoring or analytics service to effectively track and analyze activity."

This is a sure sign that social media and digital marketing have grown up, becoming just as strategic and objective-based as traditional marketing.

Now that we've explored which marketing problems each social media outlet is best suited to solve, how do they stack up against each other? We took five of the most-popular social media sites and compared the share of conversation around each one:

Who's doing the talking? It turns out that 35 percent of those buzzing are 45 or older. This means that blogs, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter aren't just for the younger, hipper crowd -- the older demographic is very openly interested in using these tools for business.

Recent hot engagement
We saw a big spike in engagement, mostly in blogs, on July 12.

The topic? The reception problem haunting the iPhone 4. That spike occurred about two weeks after the new phone launched, creating a big PR mess for Apple.

So what can Apple do? From what we've seen, the July 17 press conference held to address this problem and the free "rubber bumpers" fix might not be enough to quell the noise.

Sample verbatims
"You can turn down the volume on it all you want but the fact of the matter is: APPLE HAS RELEASED A PHONE THAT CANNOT BE HELD A CERTAIN WAY. If a consumer has any brain whatsoever (which sometimes isn't the case) they would not buy this phone until the issue is properly resolved. I am glad the mainstream media has picked up on this story."

"Personally, I think Apple escapes valid criticism by many of the tech blogs. People are so enamored by Apple that it often seems to reflect in the reporting and articles in tech blogs. I personally would like to see tech blogs focusing more on cutting through the marketing hype and showing the negative aspects that the manufacturer glosses over in their marketing."

One of the most surprising findings was that there was very little discussion involving AT&T during this period of time. Apple seemed to be the sole whipping boy -- the mess being a hardware blunder rather than the fault of intermittent AT&T signals.

(Data was collected from 6/30/10 to 7/30/10)

Social media is definitely on marketers' minds. Most of the talk is about how to best use social media to drive real business value -- less focus on the tools themselves and more on the results. Compared to the thinking of digital marketers two years ago, this represents a massive change. Is it the economy? Perhaps. But the drivers are bigger than that. This new focus is a function of digital's arrival as a marketing tool, and social as an important and powerful marketing avenue. In short, success breeds interest in more success.

Dan Neely is founder and CEO of Networked Insights.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

<P>Dan Neely serves as Networked Insights&acute; Chief Executive Officer.&nbsp; Dan brings to Networked Insights over 10 years of entrepreneurial, management, operational and with technology, manufacturing and services...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Pravin Gupta

2010, August 26

"social media activity of consumers in order to drive business growth & Facebook were overwhelmingly positive"

It is really grate information. Social networking sites profile truly drive web traffic, brand engagement, and long-term brand relationships in to consumer & customer for product conversation & review.