With social media — the catchphrase for online sites ranging from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and LinkedIn to the ratings sites like Yelp and the local pages on Yahoo and Google — now widely accepted as the new frontier for marketing products and ideas, businesses are still figuring out how to use it wisely.
Will those online avenues of promoting a brand or a product work well for businesses with marketing money to spend? If it’s done right, yes, social media experts say.
“It doesn’t matter where the greatest technology is, it matters where your customers are,” said Becky Carroll, new media marketing instructor at the University of California San Diego Extension and social media correspondent for NBC. “It’s important to have an overall marketing strategy that fits and making sure social media is integrated into the overall marketing strategy.”
Using social media is now widely accepted as a standard part of marketing.
“Two years ago, our clients would ask why should I, and now it’s assumed that they’ll include social media,” said Reid Carr, president and chief executive officer of Red Door Interactive Inc. “It’s an ever-expanding world with a lot of tools.”
In the past few months, Google has started integrating social media signals into search results — a Twitter tweet being re-tweeted for example, or a widely-viewed YouTube video posted by a business or a fan — even parodies of marketing videos go viral thanks to rankings and Google searches.
The Smell of Success
The man your man should smell like is a great example, says Tom Siebert, vice president of communications for the downtown-based Digitaria Interactive Inc. The first ad for Old Spice Body Wash appeared on television in February 2010, with hunky star Isaiah Mustafa. Old Spice also posted bits of video to YouTube — as did dozens of people making parodies of the spot.
By Feb. 11, 2011, the YouTube videos hit 30 million views, and parodies by everyone from Alaskan senatorial candidates to “Sesame Street” (starring Grover) prompted millions of additional views. More important to the advertiser and ad agency behind the campaign, the once sleepy sales of Old Spice Body Wash sales more than doubled.
Well-executed campaigns that catch the public’s eye with just the right tone can hit big. But they don’t always.
“The predictability around social media is low,” said Andreas Roell, chairman and chief executive officer of Geary Interactive. “You have to rely on commonly accepted social media practices. The attractiveness and the buzz for what social media could do are very high — there are situations where somebody with a low budget can create a high level of interaction and buzz.”
But making them work starts with knowing your customers.
“You start by listening, using social media tools to understand how consumers are using your product, their lifestyles around the product, what they are saying about it and how your competitors are using the space,” Carr said. “It’s a tremendous vehicle for customer service, for solving customer problems in a very visible and transparent way. No one believes there will never be problems and it builds confidence when a business addresses them openly and well.”
For example, a Comcast employee named William Gerth created tweets for customer service through a Twitter account called “ComcastBill” that has more than 50,000 followers.
“The Comcast guy was so authentic that he had a huge following,” Roell said, using one of the medium’s key buzzwords: “authentic.”
“One of the base premises is that social media is an authentic platform,” he said. “If you fake it, someone will pierce it eventually. But an authentic voice creates brand equity.”
Authenticity comes first from understanding your customers and potential customers — and from understanding how they see your brand.
“Jack in the Box is a great example of using social media well. They are still doing their traditional media, and then they gave Jack a life beyond it, so Jack becomes more personal,” Carr said.
Picking platforms is important, but the point of choice is who’s already there, the experts say.
“The technology and the choices change all the time,” said Roell, of Geary Interactive. “The rate of innovation increases all the time as well as the rate of confusion over which approaches to take.
“I advise clients to try to base their social media strategy on the best use for results, rather than the newest technology.”
Businesses should focus on using social media to build relationships, and think of their efforts as relationships, not a campaign, Carroll said.
“Social media is joining a conversation,” she added. “I tell my students to do two things: listen to what people are saying about the space and what people are saying about your brand and your product.”
There are notorious examples of things that don’t work in social media. The promptly terminated staffer at Chrysler’s new media agency recently lost her job and contract after she tweeted a scathing, profane critique of Detroit’s drivers that began with “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motor City and yet …”
Chrysler turned to social media — blogging — to apologize for the tweet.
Meanwhile, there’s now an agency to match celebrities with products for tweeting purposes. So, while coarse comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his paying gig as the voice of Aflac Inc. goose over tasteless tsunami jokes he tweeted, Charlie Sheen set new records for gaining a million Twitter followers overnight — then hit them with a tweet promoting the Interns.com Web site.
Marty Graham is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.