National brands that market their products through local sales channels (e.g., dealers, franchisees, agents, etc.) are missing a big opportunity if they do not engage in social media. Research from the fourth wave of my firm’s Local Search Usage Study, conducted by comScore, shows that 69 percent of consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social networking site.
Clearly national brands have begun to understand the power of having dialogues with customers via social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., as evidenced by the explosion of corporate pages, profiles, and an increasing amount of engagement through ratings and reviews. However, it appears that the very audience best positioned to engage in the conversation (agents, dealers, or franchisees) has been underserved, and in many cases, blocked from engaging with the local audience. Let’s examine the facts on why this is important:
Consumers looking for local business information on social networks are looking to contact a business:
Not only that; the majority of consumers looking to contact a business online are more likely to do so after a social network search:
Finally, 67 percent of consumers looking for local business information on social networks went on to make a purchase:
This is significant because, on average, only 54 percent of consumers go on to make a purchase across all online and mobile platforms.
The reasons are compelling for why brands should allow their local outlets to engage in social media. However, like everything worth doing, there needs to be a well-defined strategy and detailed rules of engagement in order for a local-social program to accurately build a brand.
The Devil Is in the Details
Much has been written about how to architect a successful social media strategy. ClickZ contributing columnist, Dave Evans, author of “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day,” has some great insights which can be found here, so I won’t go over the basics again. However, there are areas that require special focus when integrating in the local sales channel that include:
- Sales channel education
Sales channel education. It sounds simple enough, but this is the largest challenge to developing an effective and integrated local-social program. Knowledge of how social media platforms work and how best to leverage them vary dramatically by individual and local organization.
- Survey the sales channel to measure their understanding and develop teaching materials (webinars, skill building aids, etc.) to address their unique needs.
- Using this exercise, break down the sales channel into three groups: pros (those well-versed in social media tactics), interested but not active, and those that are not interested at all.
- Then, tailor curriculum to each group. The pros require more of a focus on brand policy and advance communication technique. The other two groups, those lacking interest or not active at all, require more reasoning behind why social media engagement is valuable, accompanied with basic communication interaction and techniques.
- Finally, all components need to coach acceptable forms of engagement along with detailing the policy and consequences for unacceptable communications. This is why a well-thought-out policy is integral for success.
Coordination. A number of tools in the marketplace can greatly assist with the sales channel adoption of social media platforms and aid in coordinated messaging. The best tools have a CMS (content management system) to manage the roll-out of what can be thousands of individual social media profiles and pages that contain unified brand imagery and content. Atop the CMS, brands can then develop content farms of approved messaging that the dealers leverage and adopt in their individual communications. Often times, this greatly increases participation from the “interested but not active” group; as it lowers the barriers of creating content which is often the reason many dealers/agents/franchisees abandon after they initially start. While the marketplace for social CMS tools keeps evolving, three providers that my firm has reviewed and experienced are:
Measurement. Here is a mixture of proven methodologies that can be applied.
- First, any response channels need to be discreetly measured. With the largest portion of response (see first chart above) coming from walk-ins, recent purchaser surveys are probably the best method for understanding lift from this group.
- Second, with 17 percent utilizing the telephone as their chosen response channel, it is vital to use call tracking lines to best understand the volume of activity from online social media efforts. The online portion, also 17 percent, is probably the easiest to quantify as you can apply tracking tags and site-side analytics to uncover traffic and response activity.
- Finally, you’ll want to utilize social media monitoring to understand what consumers are saying and the relative sentiment surrounding their dialogue.
As social media continues to become part of consumers’ everyday lives (and increasingly important in how they choose local merchants and brands to do business with), now is the time to adopt a brand social media strategy and execution to enlist the support of the channel that can help a brand gain the most traction – the local sales channel.