How Brands Can Take a Small Step Into Social Media

Marketers are just beginning to understand how social media can be used for branding and direct response marketing. According to the Direct Marketing Association in the United States, only 65 percent of marketers even monitor what’s being said about themselves in the blogosphere, let alone proactively use the medium as a marketing tool; and most polls have marketing spend as a percent of total in the single digits or less. This is despite the fact that worldwide social media sites are now dominating not just Internet media consumption, but overall media consumption.

Of course, it was a similar story 10 years ago regarding Internet advertising (now it’s into double digits of the media mix percent-wise in many parts of the world), and cable advertising 10 years before that. The fact of the matter is consumers lead, advertisers (slowly) follow.

One challenge of digital marketing was that it was tough to categorize as either branding or direct response. Social media brings a new ‘two-way conversation’ paradigm: Is it earned media, better serviced by your PR and communications agency? Is it paid media? Or is it an extension of a marketer’s own customer service? The answer of course is it’s all three wrapped into one, and marketers who get this the quickest will win.

In North America and Europe, there are great examples of marketers that do ‘get it’, including Coca-Cola and Diageo. Less traditional examples are Lady Gaga and President Obama’s campaign. Closer to home, Tourism Queensland’s “Best Job in the World” campaign has been noted as the “best social media campaign” in the world. Other Asian marketers include Air Asia – now boasting over 500,000 followers on Facebook. According to one source, offers put up on the Air Asia Facebook page are more effective than any other channel – email, travel agents, advertising, or otherwise. There are a few articles out there already on its success, and certainly the company has turned these Facebook followers into a huge advantage.

A key factor that Air Asia has also embraced social media is the fact that there will be complaints and unpleasant issues posted on its page, and have in place ways to manage and respond to these complaints appropriately. Complaints are certainly part of the fabric of the travel industry. TripAdvisor has over 40 million reviews on 450,000 hotels, and trains hotel owners both online and in person on how to manage and respond to negative reviews appropriately.

According to one major hotel chain, one in four guests has some complaint or issue that they need to report during their hotel stay. Not surprising. What is surprising is that the guests who are satisfied with the way that their complaint was handled are five times more likely to return to the hotel again than those three out of four that had no complaints! Guests expect that something might go wrong during their visit/trip. Seeing how a brand manages its complaints in the public eye allows consumers to better understand and trust the brand.

A suggestion for those marketers who just want to dip their toes into the social media water and don’t want to hire and train a whole customer service team to respond to complaints, and hire full-time staff to constantly update the site and monitor for spam posts – or an agency for that matter. Start with a Facebook page and blog without too much controversy. The best example is a Facebook page (or Orkut, Cyworld, or Sina blog, depending on your country) that highlights and is devoted to your company’s corporate social responsibility, stressing the donations given, the volunteer work, and the effect the work is having on people’s lives, or the environment, etc. Employees that volunteer for the events can post their own pictures and videos, and there could be a few different tabs on various topics and themes. There should not be too much complaining about that social media option – either internally or externally – and will ‘test’ the various components that will need to contribute and be involved, including your marketing and PR teams, your agency, employees, customers, and senior management, and also return analytics on the success of these programs.

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