So, everyone is talking about social networking. It seems that if you are a marketing professional, not having a strategy for social media is perceived as admitting failure. This has led to a rush of poorly conceived and often poorly executed attempts to develop brand presence in social networks. Some of the basic principles of marketing go out of the window, as if they no longer apply in this new media environment.

There is another way! Crazy as it may sound, social networks can be part of an advertisers media mix, and planned in the same context. By focusing on the campaign objectives and targets, navigating through social media strategy becomes much more cohesive:

WHERE?

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If you are planning a press campaign, you wouldn’t put an advert for men’s razors in ‘Good Housekeeping’ – Simples. But with social media the boundaries are a little different. Rather than letting media owners take control of you audience targeting, you can do this. Of course, there may be some social networks you are not interested in using, but the likes of Facebook and Twitter are now so mainstream that the issue becomes targeting with networks, rather than between them.

WHAT?

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There are really two elements to deciding what your social media campaigns look like. The first is what band profile you want to create. This will become your own media space – much like a web site, it should be viewed as a digital access point to your brand. Unlike a website, it is not “on your own turf”. It is in peoples social space so careful consideration needs to go into planning the tone of voice you want to take. The second part is like conventional campaign planning. Who will you target, what messages are you trying to communicate, what behaviour do you want to drive and what results do you want to see. There are loads of options for this which makes social media such an exciting place to advertise. You can build fans and followers, develop apps, quizzes, poll’s and games. You can have 1-2-1 dialogue or broadcast to your customers. The sky is the limit!

WHY?

Now here is the rub! According to a recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), only 22% of brands said that social media forms a major part of their advertising strategy. It seems that much of this is down to confusion about the role social media should play in the marketing mix and confusion about who is responsible for it (IT, PR, Research?). We will come onto the ‘who’ question later and answer the ‘why’ question now…

Reason 1: Volume.

“Mainstream” is a word that does not do justice to the leading social networks. The Economist summed it up beautifully in its excellent report on Social Networking “The globes largest online social network boasts over 350 million users – which, were it a nation, would make Facebook the world third most populous after China and India”.

Reason 2: Engagement.

The volume is impressive, but there are plenty of other media that can be used to reach high volumes of the same audience. That social media is ‘social’ is the key. Watching a TV advert or seeing a DPS in a magazine has impact, but very little engagement and interaction with the audience. Market researcher at Nielsen have reported that since February 2009, people are spending more time on social networks than they are on e-mail. In fact, in Britain, the average number of hours per month spent on social networking websites was over 6 hours per user in October 2009 (taken for The Economist, source: Nielsen). Also, because of the user generated nature of the content and the ease of viral communication, once a brand engages one user, it is easy to encourage that to spread round their friends. By signing up fans, a brand can develop a CRM channel that communicated with its audience in their own space. Genius!

Reason 3: Value.

If this was any other media, you would pay through the nose for this sort of access to such a big, highly engaged and easily segment-able audience. On social networks, it is free. This is not to say however that it costs nothing. A strong, cohesive and successful social media strategy takes time to plan, skill to execute and time and resource to manage. Once you start it, it is a living thing and needs to be looked after!

HOW?

Without a hint of bias (well… maybe a hint), the best way to create a successful social media campaign is to find an expert partner to help plan, build and manage your brand presence and campaigns. Giving the job to someone in marketing who already has a job to do, or someone in customer service will not work. It will not create the brand image or user experience that will set you apart and help build your audience. It needs focus to manage, but also engagement from many stakeholders (like IT, PR, Customer Services) if it is to really work.

So that just leaves the WHO?

Our recommendation: Get all the stakeholders together onto a ‘project team’, assign a project lead (probably in marketing) and appoint a digital agency to manage it.

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marketing