Having watched a report on TV the night before about how effective marketing through social networks can be, the CEO of a forklift truck supplies business sends an email to her executives stating “We need to be on Twitter and Facebook.” Accounts for both are created, but it quickly becomes apparent that no one seems to be interested in them (apart from the company’s own employees), no sales are being generated through them, and maintaining the Twitter profile and Facebook page takes far more effort than originally anticipated. A mere few weeks later, the initial enthusiasm wanes and the accounts lie untouched.
The above example may be fictitious, but the scenario is not. More and more, businesses worldwide are adopting social media as a marketing tool, only to end up using it in wholly ineffective, or, worse, inappropriate ways.
Social networks are now littered with thousands of accounts set up for marketing purposes, and most of these accounts are effectively junk; now lying dormant after the initial rush of excitement gave way to a realization that social media marketing wouldn’t achieve the results — product sales or brand awareness — originally hoped for.
Businesses make a lot of assumptions about social media. Foremost among these is the incorrect idea that all companies need to be using it in the first place. But there are others, too, like those recently highlighted by Georgina Laidlaw in a post for WebWorkerDaily, including thinking that any one social network is “better” than all the others, or that social media marketing is some kind of magic marketing bullet.
One major incorrect assumption companies make is that using social networks is a cheap form of marketing. Setting up a profile for a business on Facebook or Twitter may be free, but promoting and maintaining that account requires an initial time investment, and then needs ongoing effort — social media marketing is not a “set it and forget it” exercise. One of the reasons social media marketing can be effective is because it allows businesses to develop a close relationship with their customers (for example, Intel has an active presence on its Facebook page), but that relationship requires nurturing and ongoing expenditure (in the form of paying someone to keep the network updated) if it is to flourish.
There’s no doubting that social media marketing can be tremendously powerful. There have been numerous examples of successful, high-profile campaigns — a good example is Avatar’s Facebook campaign, which even included a webcast carried by the social network — which is why there’s so much pressure for businesses to be “on Facebook” or “on Twitter” now.
The key to a successful social media marketing campaign, however, is knowing when — and how — to use the medium.
Marketing on Facebook
Facebook provides an avenue to market goods, services and brands on the network through its “Pages” feature. On a Page, a business can post updates and information about a product, brand or service and, through that, curate a community of “fans.” The fact that a user is a fan of a particular Page is advertised to their Facebook friends, which can then create a viral effect. Well-known charitable campaigns seem to leverage this concept particularly well — good examples include (RED) and Livestrong, as they’re popular campaigns that people like to be seen by their friends as supporting. Novelty also works well. Burger King’s recent “Whopper Sacrifice” campaign, which allowed users to “sacrifice” 10 friends in exchange for a free sandwich, was very successful until Facebook disabled it for breaking the network’s Terms of Service. Though the campaign could ultimately be described as a failure because it was effectively shut down by Facebook, its novelty made it an undeniable viral success during its short lifespan.
A major failing of businesses that attempt to market through Facebook Pages is that they are often marketing products and services that the majority of people will not want to become fans of — what WebWorkerDaily’s Aliza Sherman calls “non-fannable stuff.” Products or brands which are non-fannable include those that don’t appeal to consumers. Maybe they’re B2B or simply brands that don’t excite the average consumer, like First Great Western (a train operator), Nail & Hammer Building Supplies or Custom Mix Concrete, Inc.
In these cases, rather than expend energy and resources building a Facebook Page and trying to promote it, marketing efforts may be better directed elsewhere, like towards display advertising or by concentrating on more targeted niche social networks. For example, a business that sells knitting supplies (yarn, needles) might find that promoting its products through a site like Ravelry (a niche but highly successful knitting community) could prove more effective than a campaign on Facebook. Similarly, a high-end clothing company may gain more consumer interest by marketing through a fashion-specific network like Polyvore.
Marketing on Twitter
Many businesses now have a presence on Twitter. Getting started is as simple and straightforward as picking a username, uploading an avatar and starting to post updates. If users want to subscribe to the posted updates, they will follow the account. Contests, as an example, can work well on Twitter and provide a viral effect, as with last year’s Moonfruit campaign, where users could win a Macbook Pro for adding the hashtag #moonfruit to their tweets.
Marketing campaigns, however, can fail on Twitter for many reasons. Two major ones are that no one is interested in the updates (the content is not interesting or compelling in any way, which is often because companies find it hard to work with the limited character space afforded in a tweet) or that the account is not publicized, so no one knows about it. An example might be Kiva’s failed attempt to grow its followers using a “Follow Friday”- style campaign.
Twitter campaigns can also backfire quite spectacularly when what probably seemed like good viral campaign idea beforehand doesn’t end up working out as planned. A good example was the Skittles Twitter campaign, where users could modify the Skittles homepage with their own tweets, which led to the page effectively being vandalized until the feature was eventually dropped.
Social Media Marketing — Recommendations
If your business is considering a social media marketing campaign, here are some common-sense tips:
- Think before you act. A poorly thought out presence could actually damage your credibility; if your campaign is perceived as “spammy” or otherwise irritating by the users of a social network, not only will you damage your brand, but you’ll also make it much harder for subsequent campaigns to succeed.
- Consider where best to promote your product or brand. Does the demographic of the social network you’re targeting match your product? If not, consider promoting on another network or using other marketing strategies.
- Consider how you can best use the medium. Burger King’s Whooper Sacrifice campaign was a viral success because it was novel and because it actually utilized Facebook, but if you don’t want your campaign shut down, make sure you’re working with the network’s Terms of Service and avoiding any behavior that might annoy or threaten its users.
- Coordinate your social media marketing with other marketing efforts. Ensure your accounts are promoted so that people know they exist. Add Twitter and Facebook account details to other marketing collateral, such as radio and television advertising, billboards and product packaging — anywhere a URL might also be promoted.
- Ensure you have resources in place to update and maintain your social media presence. You’ll not only need to provide interesting updates (no one will follow the account if there is no content), but also to respond to customer communications. If customers come to your profile only to find out that it hasn’t been updated in months, or, worse, that it’s littered with comments from angry customers that you haven’t responded to, they won’t sign up to follow the account.