In social media, engagement is golden, and building consumer relationships through online communities is the way to get it. It's a simple system, in theory: marketers establish a social media presence, monitor online conversations and chatter about their brand, identify potential customers, and connect with an eye toward generating conversions.
In reality, however, this simple system is a complicated, time-intensive process that few businesses have the resources to handle. Social media monitoring requires a real-time response; without it, leads go stale and opportunities fizzle out fast. Many businesses are plagued with sub-par social media campaigns for no greater reason than a lack of manpower (most would admit that they could also benefit from some expert advice).
As we explored last week, social networks and services provide an opportunity to deliver branded messages in the context of a user's location, but marketers must ensure it isn't at the expense of brand experience. Because of the inherent challenges involved in social media monitoring, this remains a tenuous method for recruiting local customers. And yet, the importance of harnessing the "need medium" and hitching consumers to brands remains.
One Canadian company has saddled itself with the responsibility of taking businesses' social media monitoring efforts in hand, and adding something even more elusive: social media lead generation. Praized Media launched Needium in beta last summer and has been quietly operating in a test market since. The fruit of its labors is a social media monitoring alternative for digital marketers – client-side brand managers and media buyers alike – that allows them to sidestep the challenges and go straight to benefiting from the results.
Caroline Desmarais, media sales director with Praized Media, Inc., explains that Needium monitors the needs expressed by social site users and answers them on behalf of local businesses. "Consumers are always asking for recommendations from people in their communities, and we know word of mouth is really valuable and big in social media," she says. "(We) put consumers in touch with the businesses who want to reach them."
Needium uses an in-house automated technology to scan and filter social sites for messages that qualify for interaction on two levels: they are sent from a local user, and they signal the need for a service. Consider how the process might work for a Montreal-based restaurant: in a real-life example, Needium's technology located a tweet that read, "Going to Montreal Sat-Sun. Never been. What should I see/do/where should I drink?" Once the user's need was identified, a community manager took over and immediately tweeted a suggestion to check out the restaurant, on behalf of the restaurant itself and through the restaurant's own Twitter account.
Such replies are carefully crafted to remain both authentic and non-intrusive (one might read, "We're in Old Montreal if you're looking for a bite to eat! Maybe try a Poutine or some Montreal smoked meat?"). If the user responds, the community manager engages with them further, but avoids resorting to the hard sell and boasting specials or coupons. The result, Desmarais says, is a meaningful interaction that can lead to a positive conversation and, thus, a geo-targeted conversion.
Currently, the Montreal-based company is monitoring Canadian cities as well as San Francisco, LA, Boston, Phoenix, Atlanta, Washington, and Austin, with more locations underway. In addition to working directly with advertisers, it offers Needium as a white-labeled social media monitoring and lead generation solution for marketing agencies. Marketers working directly with Praized Media pay a monthly fee that includes campaign management and reporting based on such colloquial metrics as opportunities, replies sent, meaningful conversations (receiving a response from a consumer that indicates interest or a plan to visit the business), and the number of times a business is mentioned on social sites overall.
In terms of leveraging social media, both for local business and for consumer engagement, I'd venture to say that Needium represents a new generation of geo-specific social media marketing. Already social media is the ideal avenue for identifying consumers' needs, whether they come in the form of subtle bids for information or direct requests for immediate gratification. Couple the ability to isolate these needs with the resources to address them, and you have yourself a social media solution with staying power. There's nothing complicated about that.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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