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How to Create a Real Social Strategy to Help Guide Your Business

Advertising Agency
Chicago, USA
Ema Linaker, Leo Burnett / Holler’s Middle East Regional Director, on why brands need to to stop merely focusing on social as a technology to reach audiences

The time has come for socially powered strategies to really show business what they’re capable of.

Over the past 10 years, the web has become ‘social’. What was once a web of content is now a web of relationships that mirrors everyday life. This has led to an explosion of rich psychographic data – the kind of data (people’s opinions, attitudes, and habits) that, in the past, was difficult to obtain. Today, however, such data is key to understanding a person’s true preferences.

At the end of March, I had the pleasure of going to the Digital Media Forum in Dubai and I was struck by something that we have been preaching for a while now: marketers need to stop focusing on vanity metrics in social and start focusing on business value.

We all need to build on the understanding that ‘social’ is not about technology – it’s about social science and behaviour. As such, we are not just counting the number of likes that a post has. We are actually building a semantic database that helps us to understand what people say and don’t say, their relationships, and the meaningful actions between them. We are learning about what they share, how they discover and make decisions, who influences them, and who they influence. As a result of this, we now have at our disposal a blueprint for engagement. And we can use it to create social segments (influencers, authorities, contributors, etc.) and personalise content, paths and channels. Ultimately, the aim is to optimize every aspect of a user’s experience.

What You Need To Consider:

- How do you derive insight about your business? It is about knowing who your most valuable customers are – not by how much they spend, but by how much spend they drive to you.

- How do you stimulate action? You need to respond to each prospect at the right time with personalised content, navigation, offers or useful information that motivates audiences to do what they already want to do. This drives loyalty, retention, and new sales.

- And finally – how does your social strategy drive profit? By understanding the relationships between people, you can discover the hidden interests that consumers have in your product or service; this means that you can decrease your media spend to reach the same number of ‘interested’ people. From there, you can personalise their engagement (as described above) to deliver higher profits, and improved Lifetime Value.

It’s worth noting that this is not as easy as deploying campaigns and landing pages. The click path, the outcomes, and the stated value need to be optimised, efficient, and worthy of sharing. The solutions that you deliver must create real value to your users, and either result in a transaction or customers forming habits around your brand.

There are three areas where businesses can look to social to help drive impact and build social principles into their core offering.

Social As Media/Marketing

Sadly for us working and championing social here in the Middle East, we are battling against the longstanding legacy of media companies that have used social media to drive reach through paid campaigns. This is not really the best use of social platforms and is the main reason why clients are not seeing the business value of investing in this medium.

When you want to drive scale and reach into your marketing activities, you still need to start with the basics. Just like P&G did with #LikeAGirl (cl) or Johnnie Walker did with ‘Keep Walking Lebanon, Keep Your Flame Alive” (cl).

Both these campaigns use social as part of their marketing mix to drive word of mouth at huge scale. They start with powerful consumer insights and see where the brand and that data intersect. They assess how the brand can be relevant to its target audience and how it can become part of these people’s DNA or story. That is what makes you participate and engage with branded content. It touches you because great stories that speak to you are ultimately what help drive purchase decisions in store – where you have a huge amount of choice and very little time to make a decision.

Getting Closer To The Customer – Social Reputation/Insights

Smart brands are starting to see the power of really ‘listening’ to their customers on the social web. People talk a lot about how they feel about brands, about their lives, and about each other. Brands that understand the benefit of showing consumers that they are listening to what they are saying are starting to adopt an ‘always on’ social listening strategy designed to deliver true ‘social marketing’. While there aren’t that many examples of this in this region, some brand marketers are definitely starting to protect and elevate their social currency through active listening and smart creative strategies.

For example, Coca-Cola’s World Cup competition featuring Wael Gomaa last year was truly inspiring. It took the huge amount of social conversation, dialogue, and debate surrounding Egypt’s failure to defeat Ghana in the World Cup and turned it into a really effective campaign showing that it was very much a community’s shared experience – not just one man’s experience. Check it out here:

Where Coca-Cola is starting to get really smart is that it has realized that it has built scale over the past four years of ‘doing social media’ here in the region. It has a huge and active community. However, it is now time to think about cultivating meaningful and fruitful relationships with those fans to deliver business value. You can only do that by engaging with them on relevant and entertaining or useful topics and, over time, doing less talking – but in a more considered manner.

Social As Part Of YOUR Core Business/Product

Companies that can go back to basics and stop thinking ‘business’ and focus more on quality relationships – whether inside or outside their organization – will really drive huge shareholder value moving forward in 2015. If you look at any of the most recent success stories of the past five years – Uber, Facebook, Whatsapp, Airbnb, Soup, and Tesla, for example – they all have one thing in common: they are ‘social by design’. Their core mission is to solve a real problem that real people were having. They made their business about solving that problem using simple mechanisms that were powered by people’s behavior and engagement. This led to enormous growth, opened their doors to collaborations and partnerships, helped them ensure loyal customers, and facilitated savings to the consumer either in time, money or status.

In short, smart social strategies should power the entire DNA of your organization, from how you communicate across function and geography to how you collaborate and crowdsource talent, skills and knowledge across the enterprise. The end goal is to deliver a ‘socially’ powered product or service that addresses real business problems through a consumer lens.

If you can’t make such a radical transformation, start with baby steps. Begin by listening to your customers to derive customer insights and understanding. Drive reach and impact through social marketing campaigns that really connect with the individual on an emotional level. Most importantly, whatever you do, please stop thinking that ‘social’ is about the size of your fan base, your number of posts, and the level of activity that you push out on your social channels. Because time will tell that it certainly isn’t. 

Ema Linaker is Leo Burnett / Holler’s Middle East Regional Director

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