A new report has revealed that brands are still unsure of how best to leverage the large communities on social networking sites such as Facebook. Tim Hoang reports.
Despite the clamour by the marketing industry to affix 2.0 to all things vaguely Internet-related, it would appear that marketers are still struggling to fully utilise social networks as a channel of communication. A report by JupiterResearch has highlighted how half of all advertiser branded social network pages in Europe have fewer than 1,000 friends with the average branded social networking page having 'only' 6,494 friends.
Failing to engage
The report, Branded Social Networking Pages: Best Practices for Successfully Engaging Users finds that most brands are failing to properly engage with consumers. Social networking sites allow businesses to communicate to consumers on an unprecedented level, yet many are simply broadcasting information with little in the way of interaction. Marketers, it would appear, are sticking closely to their traditional methods of pushing out information, with social networking pages being little more than microsites.
There has been talk in the marketing industry for years about how Web 2.0 technologies could revolutionise business communications. However, it would seem that this is so far not the case. While poster-child examples such as Borkowski's Bring Back Wispa continue to be cited, there appears to be a lack of successful case studies in the social media space.
Increasing spend wasted
This is surprising especially considering the increasing spend by marketers on social media sites. eMarketer recently predicted that by 2012, £285 million will be spent advertising on sites such as MySpace and Bebo. The popularity of social networking sites continues to be strong with around one-third of the total number of Internet users in the UK accessing them last year.
In the report, JupiterResearch underlines how difficult it can be for marketers to fully embrace social networks. However, it has made a series of recommendations in order to get the most out of social networks:
- • Marketers should promote their pages with paid adverts rather than relying on viral marketing to get the message out. The vast majority of marketers attempting to generate viral buzz don't succeed in getting users to pass along their messages.
- • Advertisers need to engage users on the page. Even simple forms of engagement, such as contests, on average doubled the number of friends acquired by each branded page.
- • Marketers must appeal to social networkers' love of multimedia to get noticed. Social Networkers are twice as likely to visit a branded page focused on media content than a branded page focused on products.
Nate Elliot, research director at JupiterResearch and lead author on the report said: "Most advertisers simply don't know how to market properly within social networks. Too many marketers create dull, non-interactive pages inside social networks and wait for a viral marketing effect to bring users to their door. But our research clearly shows that ongoing promotion and advertising, as well as the use of even relatively simple forms of engagement, are vital to the success of branded social networking pages."
Opportunity for listeners
According to David Schatsky, president of JupiterResearch, Web 2.0 technologies present a fantastic opportunity for marketers to promote their respective brands.
"As online advertisers make increasingly large investments in social marketing and Web 2.0, it's vital that they get the most for their money. By following the examples of what's worked for other marketers and listening to what consumers want-such as original and entertaining multimedia content-advertisers can greatly improve the effectiveness of their social marketing efforts," said Schatsky.
Mat Morrison, Digital Planning Director, Porter Novelli says that the marketing industry needs to readdress how it sees the social media space before they can utilise it to its full potential.
"The biggest problem is that many marketers still treat people as 'media'. These are people, and people will always resist strongly our attempts to use them as channels through which to sell our shampoo and toothpaste products," said Morrison.
"Nearly everything we do in the dominant marketing world is based on asking questions like 'how do we talk to as few people as possible to have as big an impact as possible?' In the dominant model, those few people are journalists, ad sales team, retailers, special interest groups, and politicians. Now in the emergent marketing world, we're asking questions like, 'who are the most influential bloggers?' and 'who are the trend setters among this group of schoolchildren?'
"What do both these have in common? I think they are both asking: 'who do I have to talk to get something done around here?' In both the dominant and the emergent worlds we're assuming that we - the marketers, the brands, the companies - are the subject of the sentence. It's all about us, and what 'we' want to do. This is the biggest mistake. We can't buy people like we can buy media space. We can't come to an understanding with them like we do with editorial teams."
However, Morrison was keen to highlight that he believed there was an opportunity for marketers, and brands, who practiced what they preached.
"If we stop seeing this thing we're calling "social media" as a channel through which we can talk to audiences, and understand that they're channels through which we can hear our audiences talking about us, we're about three quarters of the way to coping with the emerging marketing landscape," continued Morrison.
"Broadcast advertising is so expensive that planners have to think in terms of short bursts of activity; all of our best thinking for the past few decades has been about how to optimise these short bursts. Campaigns are 'oldthink' - they're a function of these finite marketing budgets. Today we need to think about long term, sustained activities and programmes, laid down one layer at a time. It's going to be as much, if not more about what we do, as it is about what we say," he commented.