We all agree that social media has revolutionized marketing. Content is now fully democratized, created by and for consumers with little control or input from major media companies or brands. If your brand has any value at all, someone has said so. They've written a blog post or created a video about how much or how little your brand added value to their life.
Additionally, good marketers know that consumer recommendations and endorsements are the most powerful drivers of intent. Brands seek to use this kind of content in their ads because consumers recognize and appreciate authenticity. The challenge is this content can be hard to find, and even more difficult to activate. When so much is being said about so many topics, how do you find what you need and quickly turn it into an ad message that can be delivered at scale? This may be the biggest problem facing brands in today's social landscape.
To solve this issue, a lot of work has been done on discovering content, but very little on understanding and activating the content. Each day, consumers are commenting on your brand across the web, but brands are blind to it. Companies like Radian6 are collating info on social chatter and content, but what does a brand do with it? If I know that Mary in Montana hates me, what do I do? It would be incredibly powerful if you could harness this knowledge, learn from it, and gain insight. Making social content actionable means brands can motivate tens of thousands of people to respond in an hour and can collate information in real-time. There is no comparing the power of this and, say, a year-long research test in Tulsa.
The problem that needs solving is the ability to activate social content at scale. Brands have invested heavily on listening, and while many exhibit a faith in social, they don't know how to manage and distribute content at scale around those conversations. Marketers need a solution to study all of the content created by consumers. Marketers need a taxonomy of consumer-created content, which they can use to power their marketing campaigns. They need a vehicle to redistribute that content at scale.
The word "scale" may be overused, but only foolish brands understate its importance. When a brand spends $3 million on a social media effort that is seen by just 12,000 people, the inability to scale translates to brand suffering. Big investments demand big audiences. What brands and agencies need is a social media stream that creates amplification across millions of people.
Consider this: A major CPG brand learned that for four days during this year's Democratic National Convention, the words most commonly associated with the word "beauty" on blogs and social media were "Michelle Obama." Regardless of one's politics, a maker of beauty products would find that information very useful. A week later, the popular conversation had moved on. But what if you could have acted on that info in real time? What if you could have posted content related to both Michelle Obama and your brand in just the right places that week? You could have taken advantage of a popular wave just as it crested.
The social nature of today's internet is not news. What marketers have yet to learn is how to capitalize on all of these social conversations quickly, taking advantage of the ebbs and flows of popularity by delivering messages to their audiences at just the right times. Everyone in digital these days talks about real-time bidding, and that's cool too. But the ability to harness a social stream, understand its components, and act on them before the wave moves on will give us real-time marketing. That's when things will get really fun.
There is hope for the industry, and top brands are awakening to the opportunity. I've admired GE's approach, under Linda Boff, where the social aim is all about connecting with people in an accessible and human way. GE smartly leverages and extends its social efforts throughout its digital marketing. AOL has been an early advocate of amplifying social conversations, and the Huffington Post was an early leader in social amplification as well. It's time for marketers to follow their lead and learn how social amplification can drive business. I believe in social amplification so much that I decided to join Kontera's board after seeing how well it worked on the company's content activation platform.
Andrew Swinand, former president of Starcom MediaVest, is a partner at Abundant Venture Partners.
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