Welcome to Part 4 in our series on “How to be Social.” Part 1 covered the basic rules of social interaction for brands. Part 1.5 looked at a recent incident where a brand didn’t follow the rules, and the consequences of that decision. Part 2 was an intro to Twitter. Part 3 was a primer on Facebook. The final part of this series is on word-of-mouth marketing.
“Word-of-mouth is the best medium of all” – Bill Bernbach, founder, DDB
First there was print, in which potential customers could read about your product. Then there was radio, where you could tell customers about your brand. Television allowed brands to show their products to customers. Then the Internet allowed customers to interact with brands. All of these channels have been used to communicate a brand’s strengths to customers directly. Word-of-mouth has always been a by-product of two things: advertising and the customer’s experience with the brand. Word-of-mouth has always been the most successful, though most intangible, advertising channel.
In the article “Studies show effectiveness of word-of-mouth” James Pethokoukis reports that “76% of United Kingdom consumers in 2004 said a friend’s recommendation made them feel most comfortable about a product and service versus 15% who said advertising.”
In “TV Ad Effectiveness Much Less by 2010” Marketing Vox online reports that, according to McKinsey & Company research, “real ad spending on prime-time broadcast TV has increased over the last decade by about 40 percent even as viewers have dropped almost 50 percent. But a drop in teen viewing is a major reason the future looks bleak. Teens spend less than half as much time watching TV as typical adults do. Teens also spend 600 percent more time online.”
Bill Bernbach was onto something with this whole word-of-mouth thing. But what does that have to do with social media? Social media, as a platform, is the word-of-mouth media. Social media is a channel where you can not only tell, show, and interact, but you can facilitate word-of-mouth conversations on a mass scale. But social media is only effective when used properly. Our own Dave Hamilton writes in reference to a drop in consumer’s trust of friend’s opinions on brands:
“There are several we can speculate about: economic doom and gloom, a proliferation of empty “fan grab” programs on Facebook, the devolution (in many people’s minds) of FB, Twitter, etc. into mass media, or those suspiciously padded friend lists that number into the thousands.”
Here’s my take on it: As a brand you can not maintain the status quo entering the social media realm. Many brands throw promotions and advertisements into the social space and expect huge returns. Its not going to happen. Simple volleys into the social channel like these will produce similar ROI to standard web ads and interactive initiatives. The key work in social media is social. You can no longer talk at your customers, you have to talk with them, and listen, REALLY listen.
Social Media as customer feedback and service
Good brands do research. They are either trying to improve existing products or services, or trying to create new ones. If a brand has a good social media strategy and structure, then they can leverage feedback from their customer base, while strengthening the relationship between them and their brand stewards. By creating a real communication line between the customers in your social media space to the decision making mechanisms of the brand, they show their stewards a genuine desire to engage with them.
Zappos has long been heralded as an online retailer with the best customer service, period. Just a trip to Zappos.com shows they have earned a Stella Service Elite Award, Business Week’s 2009 Customer Service Champ Award, and many others. Social media is their primary tool for customer service, and has generated their entire customer service policy. Here are some other social policies as reported by Mashable.
Every point counts
This segues nicely to my next point, which is every point of customer interaction is/should be part of your social media strategy. Social media, being the word-of-mouth channel, does not negate the other ways customers and stewards share their experiences with other customers. If a customer gets on the phone with a customer service representative and has a great experience, they are going to tell someone. If they go to a store and have a brilliant experience with a sales representative, they are going to tell somebody. If they have a Twitter account, or a Facebook account, they will tell many people, possibly thousands. This unprompted brand evangelism from regular customers and stewards will have a much higher efficacy rate than social engagement generated by promotion.
The whole brand can be social
In the current socio-economic environment, it is easy for the average consumer to see corporations as faceless, ruthless, even moral-less. What should be an easy sell is reminding customers that every brand and company is made up of everyday people. But parading around one or two employees in front of a camera for a commercial is not enough. Give many employees and departments the responsibility to engage in the social space.
Here at Grip, we encourage every employee to write for Big Orange Slide, regardless of how long they have been here, or what their opinion is. The only rule is that it needs to in some way tie back to the industry. We did not set out to have some utopian work environment, nor were we trying to convince potential clients and colleagues that we are truly a collective of smart individuals working together. It is merely a by-product. But people are noticing that we do practice what we preach, and that Grip truly is a collaborative environment. We couldn’t fake this level of genuineness or passionate debate… right Jim ;) ?
Imagine if at Best Buy, all people on the floor, regardless of whether they were sales people, customer service, or stock people, were encouraged to share anecdotes of their experiences with customers (positive obviously) on Facebook or Twitter? Customers of Best Buy would be able to empathize with the staff and realize that they are people too. In turn, the staff at Best Buy would feel more connected with their jobs, and the people they service, as the customers contribute and share their experiences in return.
Every brand has a slew of opportunities like this. It is up to the brand and its advertising agencies to identify these opportunities and capitalize on them.
The reality of transparency
“Digital will fuck you up” – Mark Comerford. In the age of information, everything about a brand is public knowledge. How you treat your customers, where you source you raw materials, and how you treat your employees, are all available at the click of a button. Zappos again is a company that embraces this fact, as should all other brands. Does that mean a brand needs to change all of its practices immediately? Well, that might be unrealistic. But know that every practice that your company and brand has is well documented, both good and bad. Have a plan on how transparency is going to affect your brand, and the relationships with your customers and stewards. Figure out which practices are problematic, and have a plan on how to resolve them. If your customers bring up a practice that they find undesirable, then open the issue up to discussion and figure out an action plan. Do not shut down the conversation.
Mobilization and ROI
So here are the answers to two things that people have asked me to talk about. There is no secret. How you use the medium is how you mobilize. In other words, if you follow the advice in this series, specifically about open, and genuine dialogue with your customers, they will mobilize themselves. Everyone wants to be a part of something, everyone organizes themselves by what they believe, who they know, and what they buy. “I’m a Bud drinker,” “I like Fords,” “Hey, I like Fords too!” If you create a strategy in which your customers love your product, love the way they are treated, and love they way they can interact with you, they will spread the word without any prompts. So how do you measure the ROI of that?
This series was a primer. An intro to social media, social networking and brands. I hope it helps people to start moving in the right direction to bring their brand to the social media landscape.
I would be disingenuous if I signed the series off. Social media, social networking, and other convergence of technologies, and time tested business practices are happening so rapidly, that new developments, and techniques will become evident with time. Even Facebook has changed since Part 3 was published not 3 weeks ago. You no longer become a fan of a brand, you like a brand. This may seem like a subtle change, but is already having effects on how we approach our social media strategy.
This is a change in the way we as human beings communicate with each other, and therefore is bigger and more volatile than any marketing or advertising trend. It would be like trying to predict how society was going to change when the radio was invented, let alone how advertising was going to change. So there will likely be more articles to come from me on social media, and social networking.