The Evolution Of Social Marketing
Every year closes with summaries of the top stories as well the predictions for the year ahead. Heading into Twenty-Ten, I contributed to several prediction roundups including Junta42, ContactCenterWorld, ZDNet, among others. What I didn’t do however, is write about the endless predictions for the future of marketing, media, business, et al. While there were many excellent contributions, I focused on other writing priorities.
When I received an end of year 2009 report on the Top Social Computing Predictions for 2010 from Forrester Research, my attention shifted. Fueled by a timely post by Forrester’s newly appointed social analyst Augie Ray, “The Year that Marketing Dies,” I was compelled to read and share what I learned.
As Ray observes in his post:
The role of the new marketer will (edited):
– Focus on outbound messaging in addition to consult with sales, customer service, and human resources on how the brand must be communicated in every consumer interaction, every tweet, and every touchpoint
– Fashion programs that are seamless with the actual product and service experience beyond the imagination of creative messages
– Respond to and be part of the ever-changing dialog with consumers, not plan bursts of communication on a yearlong calendar
– Look beyond the quantity of friends, page visits, eyeballs, readers, and viewers to measure changes in consumer attitude and intent
– Listen to and engage customers one to one
– Build relationships and not campaigns
– Create experiences not impressions
– Earn media and not buy it
Augie’s post about the death and rebirth of marketing coincides with the release of the new Forrester report, but doesn’t represent nor summarize it officially.
Forrester’s Top Social Computing Predictions for 2010, written by Emily Riley, Nate Elliott, Josh Bernoff, Sean Corcoran, Augie Ray, and Emily Bowen, envision the rise of social computing this year, gaining credibility and accountability in the process.
To set the stage, Forrester’s use of “social computing” may seem confusing to those who usually associate the term with workflow, collaboration, and productivity. In this case however, social computing is reflective of social media marketing. As such, in 2009 Forrester observed an increase of social media adoption by interactive marketers which was reflected in pilot programs and entry-level engagement and community-building strategies last year. In 2010, marketers will evolve beyond testing to contribute to the maturation of social media marketing resulting in the establishment of formal, not borrowed, budgets and the creation of an official workflow for listening and measurement.
As I believe, Social Media is not owned by any one department. The entire company will eventually socialize represented by each division that warrants an outward and participatory voice. Conversations always map to the activity that exists across multiple networks, spanning a multitude of subjects and potential outcomes. What’s important to realize is that the nucleus of every conversation represents the beginning of something independently important to the person voicing it as well as the theme it embodies.
Social Emerges as a Business Channel
Forrester Research predicts that interactive marketers will prove the value of social media marketing in 2010, leading with insight at the C-level and pushing deep metrics and relevant data into other departments. The goal is to establish long-term strategies, budgets, and measurement practices.
New Media Advisory Boards/Social Councils
In 2010, companies will officially establish social councils, or what I call New Media Advisory Boards, to attain budgets and power. While Forrester observed the creation of these advisory boards in 2009, this year, cross-functional teams will become pervasive, sharing ideas and exploring opportunities for social media. Although councils will emerge as an internal resource, their stature within most organizations will continue to be informal, thus relying on the budgets and capabilities of its members. However, their role is no less critical to the success of creating, deploying, managing, and measuring social media programming as well as governing the processes that bind them.
Over the years, I have participated in the creation of many Advisory Boards, internal and external, within small businesses and Fortune 500 companies as a way of facilitating collaboration, minimizing control debates and corresponding politics, securing buy-in across the organization, pooling budgets, and fortifying governance and accountability. Members should include representatives from each division that requires a social presence as well as those who ensure that participating employees are denoted.
Making the Case
In 2010, we will move from a “ready, fire, aim” approach to social media to one of strategy and meaning. Marketers will now have to justify social marketing plans with actual business cases to obtain the resources necessary to execute effectively. Using a map such as The Conversation Prism will help brands discover and weigh relevant online interaction and their potential for formal response and programming.
From Information to Intelligence
Businesses that explored the social landscape in 2009 most likely employed one of the many listening tools available in order to monitor and document activity in popular social networks and blogs. Forrester believes that we will move from an era of listening to one of data mining, trend analysis, and ultimately action. Listening and observation will impact other departments including customer service, PR, among others in order to foster collaboration and cooperation between departments.
According to the report:
Product development, customer service, and upper management will begin to align with marketing and customer intelligence to create customer feedback councils as they focus on giving customers what they want, rather than what the company thinks they want.
I believe that in 2010, the valuable insight that emerges from a formal research program will also channel through to affected divisions, persons of interest, and decision makers to evolve the company into a fully adaptive entity that lives and breathes awareness in order to earn relevance.
Metrics will encompass greater significance beyond the number of friends, followers, views, and clickthroughs. Forrester reveals that marketers don’t “think” they’re very good at measuring social media today, rating their own efforts at 4.5 out of 10. As the need for accountability rises in conjunction with the creation and employment of more strategic initiatives, measurement is the connection between present and future activity.
Forrester notes that a silver bullet does not yet exist, nor should it. Social Media is a dynamic medium and the mold that’s currently employed by businesses including the creation of a Facebook Fan Page, profiles on Twitter, etc, quickly emerged as standards without first assessing why their initial creation was necessary.
Metrics are elusive without first exploring the objectives and matching social programming and engagement to help deliver against them. Forrester recommends a systematic approach in order to identify the right metrics for their social media initiatives. They should tie to businesses objectives as well without emulating the traditional sales and top-down marketing voices of old.
Take caution however, when determining if out-of-the-box formulas or “scores” will help measure success or progress.
This is why I implore all brand managers and interactive marketers to STOP reviewing existing case studies and social media success stories because many of them were forged and cultivated without the definition of strategic business- and industry-specific metrics including increased revenue, customer loyalty, advocacy, and market share. Measuring sentiment analysis, would-be referrals, and increases in share of voice are entry-level techniques that do not necessarily capture the potential of socialized media channels. Tie metrics to that of action and trackable activity. For example, it’s not about “would you recommend this product or brand” it’s about driving and assessing whether or not someone “did recommend this…” and if so, what happened next.
We must focus beyond positive and negative horizons. We grow by enlivening the neutral and the negative commentary through analysis. Reading the commentary to feel the true state of the market and surface opportunities to incite measurable activity towards a desired direction. Business metrics and key performance indicators are also worthy of integration into new media. Dell continues to serve as an exemplary model.
Forrester gazes into the crystal ball and sees one of two outcomes for Twitter by the end of 2010, either it will become profitable and/or it will get acquired. Perhaps the report was published prior to the release of financial information concerning the Bing and Google search deals, but the economics of Twitter actually proved beneficial for the company’s bottom line. At the end of 2009, Twitter reportedly earned a profit and is expected to do so again in 2010 with the release of commercial products and services in addition to an official advertising channel.
Is Twitter an acquisition target? With a $1 billion valuation, potential suitors are finite. Remember, at the height of its boom, MySpace sold for $580 million. In another example, YouTube sold to Google for $1.65 billion. As Twitter is a cultural and social phenomenon unlike any network before it, perhaps Twitter’s best play is to start making strategic business decisions to remove itself from the targets of would be acquirers in order to grow the Twitter ecosystem, along with its loyal user base, organically. Don’t get me wrong however. In 2010, money will get thrown at Ev, Biz, Jack and team out of our view…but how, when and why will have yet to be seen.
Privacy concerns continue to plague Facebook and Forrester sees this as an ongoing challenge. As such, Facebook is expected to protect its own interests by helping users protect theirs as well through the release of new tools that offer more intuitive ways to limit the visibility of their photos, updates, and data to different sets of followers.
As a user, I’m not sure where I stand on Facebook privacy. In general, I view online media equally. Therefore I employ a sweeping rule, assume that anything shared online, even if it’s through email, becomes discoverable when, where, and how you least expect it. Knowing this, proceed to shape and cultivate your online persona, your way.
Stowe Boyd suggests we embrace an era of “publicy” while Erick Schonfeld and Andrew Keen believe, “Instead of making the private public, we will make the public private.” When public is the default, you deliberately select what to keep private instead of the other way around.”
Forrester suggests that new privacy controls and tools make users elusive and difficult to target. It’s absolutely true. As a marketer, Facebook is indeed a silo and its limited interaction potential for brands also impedes genuine engagement across the network. While widgets, apps, groups, live video, and Fan Pages provide the ability for brands to attract friends and fans, Facebook does not facilitate the ability for a brand to maintain a profile or benefit from the advantages inherent in profiles within the network today. While yes, a brand can host a fan page, it cannot interact with users as the brand outside of the page. Unfortunately, in order to do so, fan page admins would need to interact using their personal accounts, which blurs the line between personal and professional engagement and ultimately dilutes the personal social graph.
While this isn’t a prediction, it is a public request for fan pages to resemble “profiles,” providing brands with the ability to truly interact in and outside the page as a branded entity and with the potential to earn more than “5,000″ friends (note: not fans).
As real-time search becomes pervasive, Facebook will need to carefully ensure that content appears in dedicated search engines. Many experts will testify that Twitter gained rapid adoption when Twitter search provided a lens into the activity and conversations of its users. Prior to the New Year, real-time Web search engine Collecta introduced the ability to search conversations and content in MySpace – for the first time. Perhaps this move will actually help MySpace matter once again.
Whether it’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, et al, the 2010 prediction report could benefit from specific insight and updates into an overdue move towards an open Web. Facebook’s hiring of David Recordan and Google’s hiring of Joseph Smarr represent hope and peak curiosity. Forrester does state however, that incompatible mobile devices and siloed social applications will shatter the social experience.
While the move towards Data Portability, OAuth and Open Social are promising, the reality is that users maintain multiple profiles across an exhaustive list of social networks today. And individual portfolios of social presences expand and contract with the demise, acquisition or introduction of services.
Our attention span is thinning and the “dream” of a common identity is not, according to Forrester, expected to materialize in 2010. Forrester predicts that our social graphs will in fact grow in distance as mobile social networking becomes increasingly pervasive.
As a result, Forrester emphasizes the need for brands to focus resources and budgets:
Marketers, already bamboozled by social media and with limited budgets, will be forced to make choices. Staff a Twitter feed or focus on Facebook? Having done so, they’ll then have to worry about how those choices squeeze through the tiny interface of a mobile device — and about testing and maintaining multiple device experiences. Look for marketers to pick a set of tools — say Twitter and iPhones — and spend 2010 looking carefully at other platforms to ensure they haven’t chosen poorly.
Brands don’t need to be everywhere, only where customers and influencers communicate and seek information today and tomorrow. It’s how we compete for current market share as well as improve our faculty to compete for the future.
In late 2009, I actively explored the ideas of the Golden Triangle and Three Screens, which represent the fusion of social, real-time and mobile as they connected portable devices, desktops, mobile phones, and ultimately TVs.
With the proliferation of smart devices lead by the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Palm Pre, users will find their interaction with existing and new location-based social networks (Loopt, FourSquare, Gowalla) and their respective social graphs increasingly mobile. As such, interaction becomes further distributed… And brands are already taking notice.
However, geo-local social networking and augmented reality are strangely missing from Forrester’s 2010 social computing predictions.
2010 represents a market for intelligent mobile marketing in addition to the incredible opportunity rife within appstores dedicated to each platform.
As Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt, recently stated in the San Francisco Chronicle, We [Loopt] want to use location to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world. That’s where…the technology is the most powerful.”
Geo-local networking represents the connection between online and offline, bringing people and businesses together based on location and interests.
Whether it’s through reviews, mobile coupons, free or discounted products and services, the opportunities for consumers, marketers and advertisers are abundant.
We’re already realizing the power of connecting people to nearby friends, restaurants, bars, stores, events, and now special offers. And, when combined with augmented reality, we can literally see the bridge between the virtual and real world.
Yelp’s Monocle is an early, but exceptional example…
Augmented Reality will benefit mobile and desktop users alike, providing brands with a platform to engage consumers through immersive activity. For example, Rayban’s augmented reality application (click virtual mirror) allows customers to virtually try on sunglasses before making a purchase decision.
Additional marketing examples of Augmented Reality applications are viewable on Mashable.
About the Author: Brian Solis is principal at FutureWorks PR, an award-winning PR and Social Media agency founded in 1999. FW PR bridges the communications gap between companies and their customers, and between products and their specific benefits for their target markets. Solis blogs at PR2.0, http://www.briansolis.com, and regularly contributes to many industry trades. He is also frequently quoted in articles relating to technology trends and Marketing/PR strategies.