The real benefits of Social Media

Is social media the great equaliser for today’s marketers?

Anyone who has studied a marketing degree (or degree with a marketing component) will tell you of the importance and value of understanding consumer behaviour, more specifically, your potential consumers’ decision making process that leads them to purchase behaviour. Tapping into this decision making criteria is somewhat of a holy grail of marketing and as such it eludes most who seek it out.

Consumer research is a costly exercise. Most of the time budget can limit the amount of research a marketer can embark on, making the findings less precise and valuable. Segmenting potential buyers by various elements so that you can group and label them (and ultimately devise a cunning marketing message designed to evoke the emotions or logic necessary for them to decide to buy) requires intensive group discussions, panel tests, questionnaires and statistical data work.

Having studied a Business Administration and Marketing Management degree (and being in the top 10% of my year for strategic marketing) I began to wonder if social media and Twitter more specifically, can level the playing field for marketers looking for the golden insight into their customers that could make or break a marketing campaign.

So here’s a list of 5 reasons why social media networks can offer more than a marketing gimmick for marketers.

1 – Social Media is Free*

Granted, most marketers are using various social media channels in a bouquet of marketing tools. Compared with traditional marketing tactics joining social media networks like Twitter doesn’t cost a thing (other than the hourly rate or your time). This means that engaging with your target audience is possible to every marketer willing to invest their time in social media. However, Twitter is not just about having a cost effective marketing channel at your fingertips; it’s so much more…

2 –Social Media Networks can help you ‘find’ your customers

With the latest buzz about FaceBook’s Graph Search being released in the not too distant future, I got thinking; although Twitter doesn’t let me search for members who like bratwurst and leather boots (some of the searches I’ve seen have been very humorous), it does allow you to search for any member talking about a certain topic, or member who has something relevant to your search in their profile. Using your # search in the correct way can open up the entire Twitter-verse relevant to your sector, brand, product or event. This allows you to find out what your average customer thinks about 24/7 – mighty close to the ‘holy grail’ of marketing.

A few weeks ago I heard the most amazing thing over the PA system of my daily commute from Clapham Junction to Twickenham. The delays to some services into and out of Waterloo had been caused by… a helicopter crash!!! I searched for tweets with ‘helicopter crash London’ and only 8 minutes after the event there was already an entire timeline of pictures, comments and a # that was trending in London by mid-day.

The same applies for anyone looking for avid sports fans, new mothers, the elderly or those susceptible teens. Who is your typical customer?

3 –Social Media provides real insight, not just gimmicks and buzz

We recently used our amazingly intelligent marketing team to collect data from various social media networks to predict the outcome of the SuperBowl from a social media perspective. Comparing football teams from around the US and their social followings and engagement levels, we were able to generate a massive amount of data and knowledge about the social media reach of the various teams and players. We correctly predicted the Ravens would beat the 49er’s in the SEO-uper Bowl but more interestingly noticed a sharp increase in twitter and Facebook followers for the Ravens. It looks like people gravitate around success (in terms of sports anyway) which is an amazing insight that might have required months and months of consumer research to realise.

Pull this into your particular sector. How valuable would it be to track the impact of certain events on your typical customer…

4 – Social Media is still ‘undiscovered’

As the previous example illustrates, the potential for real value and insight from social media networks is game changing. However, most marketers still use Facebook and Twitter and a broadcast-only medium. During the social media explosion (which is still on-going) most companies jumped on the bandwagon of getting on social networks in fear of being left behind. This might explain why most companies battle to quantify the ROI from content creation or hiring a social media exec to ‘maintain their network pages’. It might also explain why some SMEs are asking their SEO agencies to include social media metrics in their monthly traffic and conversion reports – as if that quantifies a successful campaign or use of the network.

I propose that gaining a consumer insight is far more valuable than increasing the number of followers or re-tweets.

5 – Social media is (for good or bad) unbiased and real

I can recall my consumer behaviour lecturer listing the many ways consumer research can go wrong, and more specifically how results can be skewed or biased by respondent, questions set or the facilitator. Basically, anything from ‘someone has a bad day’ to a simple misunderstanding of tone can affect the answer given by a panel member. This is a major problem for marketers spending massive portions of their budget to find out if their typical consumer is likely to prefer bubble-gum or banana flavoured crunchy cereal.

The key element to understand is that many factors can affect answers from customers. In a restaurant some clients will complain, some like me would rather begrudgingly pay and add the restaurant to my list of places I won’t return to.

Social media seems to separate customers from the brand / event / topic they want to comment on. This seems to create an environment where people tell the truth. The litmus test is that even me (the real life conflict avoider) is willing to openly complain and use a sarcastic # to make my feelings known.

If you’re able to get the REAL perception of your product / brand / service you can engage constructively with consumers. Good or bad, real feedback is always better than masked compliments or subdued complaints.

So, as marketers endeavour to find meaning in their social media pages whilst being ever watchful for the ‘next big thing’, maybe we should be asking ourselves if we’re actually using social media networks in the best way. Keep an eye out on the next in our series of sports brands and social media infographics, and start thinking about the insights your business could actually benefit from.

By: Sean Hearn

photo credit: Matt Hamm via photopin cc

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