By adaptive - May 25th, 2012

[W]ith ad spaces now available on all the major social media networks, do we know whether an ad on Facebook is more valuable than one on Google. Or even how do the social media ad spaces compare to...

With ad spaces now available on all the major social media networks, do we know whether an ad on Facebook is more valuable than one on Google. Or even how do the social media ad spaces compare to traditional display ads and their counterparts in print and on TV?

Social media – these two words have become a marketing buzzword, a giddy delight for agencies looking to add value to their marketing propositions. However, there are still questions about its effectiveness and how social media compares to other marketing channels.

Social media marketing can create global awareness instantly and the diverse array of virtual marketing platforms can be used to start conversations with consumers that traditional methods cannot match, certainly not at such speed. It can also be more cost-effective, if managed correctly. However, it is not as easy to measure the effectiveness and reach of a specific social campaign, and understanding the impact is not as straightforward as with traditional marketing channels.

Some social media campaigns have been so extraordinarily successful that everyone is straining for their moment to shine. They all want that pot of gold at the end of the social media rainbow, but businesses are still learning the ropes and there are factors to consider when implementing a social media strategy that traditional channels do not have.

The value of conversations

Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRMLarry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, explains, “The customer now controls the conversation, not you. What he or she says about your business can have a dramatic impact. The good news is that social media allows you to participate in these conversations and to help steer them, but your influence is limited.”

Ian Dickson, business coach and entrepreneur adds, “As most of the social media marketing platforms are an open arena for anyone to see, it is therefore difficult to publish or promote information for specific groups or targeted prospects. This allows uninterested parties, and even competitors, to be exposed to marketing activity that was not intended for them.”

Ian DicksonOne advantage of the traditional marketing channel is that it can be a more focused arrow in the marketing bow, and it can be aimed more precisely at the target market.  These channels have been around for quite a bit longer and organisations are used to the way they work, and how they interact with their customer base.

“Social media is not a direct response, direct selling platform,” says Dickson, “It’s more about awareness than straightforward advertising of a product or service. If your campaign is about direct response and the selling of your product, then traditional routes to market would be advised.”

Social significance

The modern marketing approach has evolved to take on social media channels and many still see these as “new”, in spite of the fact that they have been around for quite some time. Businesses are still learning the ropes and mistakes that could have been avoided have had unexpected, and often unpleasant, consequences.

Julie Sweet business manager for CertificatesOnlineJulie Sweet, business manager for CertificatesOnline, believes that misinterpretation is a common social media pitfall, “I think because there is no tone, this can sometimes result in negativity or incorrect assumptions. There is no face-to-face contact and with that you can lose clear communication. Doing your homework and being aware is key.”

Social media channels need planning and strategy. They change quickly and content can easily be lost in the noise of a thousand voices clamouring for attention.  Businesses need to implement a solution that is flexible, dynamic and intelligent. In contrast, traditional channels do not have such rapid and noisy competition but this is also where social media marketing channels have an added value that most traditional forms do not – interaction.

“Customers are already talking about your company in social media leaving you with two options: continue to ignore those conversations, or join in and contribute,” says Larry Augustin, “Customers now have the expectation that your business will behave as a peer and engage with them in social media. By doing so you send the message that you are willing to communicate with them via their preferred channels.”

A look at a recent NHS campaign to promote organ donation shows how social media can be used to great effect. It captured the attention of a broad range of age groups and gave people the opportunity to interact with the brand.

“Social media is a type of word of mouth, it is more about human beings conversing on different levels where information and knowledge can be shared,” says Sweet, “Along the way you can gain contacts that you may have never come across had it not been for social media."

Channel differentiation

Dickson points out that social media channels also give organisations and consumers the opportunity to see how their competitors are faring, “Coca Cola have over 41 million Likes on Facebook. This provides a linked network of people that can communicate with the brand itself. In contrast Pepsi has only eight million Likes. This number alone provides the consumer with information about the popularity of competing brands.”

Social media may be a dynamic, interactive and fast-paced marketing environment but it is still on a learning curve. It can have an instantaneous impact on a corporate reputation – for good or ill – and mistakes made by one are learned by the many. However, it is also open to experimentation, to exploration, and it actively encourages new levels of marketing creativity.

The changes that social media marketing is bringing to the mix are still being tested and both consumers and businesses are learning to understand how it works, and why. While there are clearly differences between social media and traditional marketing channels, the relative value comparison is tricky to make.

On one hand the dynamic and interactive world of social media cannot be competed with on a traditional level, but on the other, the latter channels are more tried and tested and have more concise strategies, guidelines and proven results.  The core objective is to build networks, grow a community and compliment your other traditional marketing activities and to do this, a sound social media marketing strategy is essential.

“Just as communication channels are changing, the tools customers use to reach those channels are changing as well,” concludes Augustin, “Your customers are unlikely to interact with you strictly from their technology so you need to consider mobility in your sales, marketing and service strategies.”

The modern business cannot afford to ignore social media, as it is clearly here to stay, but to eke out the maximum value it should be created alongside traditional channels so that the brand messaging is cohesive, active and clear. The more these channels work together to communicate with consumers, the more value they will both deliver.

To find out more about how large companies use social media for better crisis response and reputation management, check out our flagship conference, The Corporate Social Media Summit. Featuring over 30 senior marketing and social media executives from companies like Dell, Citi, Mercedes, KLM, McDonald’s and many more, this is the learning and networking opportunity of 2012 for those working in social media for big brands. Find out more

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