Twitter or TV?

At the iMedia conference in Brighton this week there was a good deal of discussion about social media and how best to measure it.

Oddly though, there was little consideration of the fact that different verticals will be able to benefit from social media in very different ways.

One way of looking at verticals is to place them on a grid where one axis runs from low to high emotional importance and the other axis runs from low to high rational importance. Verticals with high emotional importance contain products that we buy because they “say” something about us. Verticals with high rational importance contain products that we buy because we need them.

Using the emotional-rational grid we can divide verticals into four sectors:

High rational, high emotional (HRHE) verticals like travel, motor cars and electrical devices. These are verticals where the functionality needs to be right, where we are risking relatively large amounts of money, and where part of why we buy is because we feel comfortable with the brand

Low rational, high emotional (LRHE) verticals like fashion, print media and charity. These are verticals where we are not risking a great deal, where we don’t really need the products but where we do feel emotional engagement because the products we buy “say” a lot about us

High rational, low emotional (HRLE) verticals like banking, retail and utilities. These are verticals where the functionality needs to be right, where we are risking relatively large amounts of money, but where we are not emotionally engaged with the brand

Low rational, low emotional (LRLE) verticals like washing powder and petrol. These are verticals where we are not taking great risks and where there is no emotional involvement with the brands. While products in these verticals are important the functionality they deliver is generally simple.

HRHE verticals can use social media very creatively. As well as using social media to research the marketplace by listening to conversations and to manage their reputation they can actively “campaign” messages through social media.

LRHE verticals are in a similar position – able to exploit their emotional connection with consumers through social media, although they may need to work harder as there is little they can say about rational benefits.

HRLE verticals however will find it far harder to exploit social media for campaigning. They have little emotional connection with their consumers and proactive use of social media platforms will frequently be considered intrusive – who wants to hear from their bank on Facebook? They can however use social media for market research and importantly for managing their reputations. For instance few people are likely to praise a bank’s service to their friends but many will criticise it if something goes wrong.

LRLE verticals are the Cinderellas of social media. No one is interested in them: why would you blog about washing powder or review a cleaning fluid? For brands in these verticals social media are far less important. While they should monitor conversations just in case a big issue starts to brew, they need to do little more than that.

Both HRLEs and LRLEs need to employ advertising techniques to add a layer of emotional connection to their brands. But for HRHEs and LRHEs that are considerable opportunities to enhance their brands through social media.

The lesson here is that brands should consider whether they are in a vertical that can usefully use social media for active campaigning or merely for research and for more reactive communication. A failure to understand this can result in wasted budgets and in losing the opportunities that more powerful media activities can deliver.

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Social media. Hype or reality?

Of course social media is (are?) at the top of the agenda for a lot of businesses. But is this all hype or should we be taking it seriously?

Unfortunately a lot of the noise around social media marketing is enthusiastic hot air. “Everyone’s doing it!”, “You can get a dialogue going with all your consumers!”, “It’s replacing advertising!” Etcetera. Etcetera.

None of these are real reasons for investing in social media.

But there are a number of extremely strong strategic business benefits that social media can deliver. They won’t all be relevant for all businesses. But the chance is that at least one or two will be relevant for your business.

Let’s start with marketing. Social media can help with acquisition. At its simplest you can use social media to inform and enhance SEO and paid search campaigns. And you can also use it to contribute to advertising campaigns by seeding discussions. It’s an important PR tool as well which you can use for monitoring and managing your brand’s reputation. All with the aim of getting new customers.

Probably best not to be too overt about direct marketing though (unless you are talking to a group of very strong fans who want to be sold to.)

And you can use it for retention as well. Establish a dialogue with consumers and you can tell them about new products and special offers as well as identifying (and addressing) areas of unhappiness.

As part of this you can also use social media for delivering customer service where it can help retention and also deliver cost savings, by enabling your customers to help one another. and by enabling a common problem to be addressed on a one-to-many basis.

 You can also use social media to affect product evolution and to guide new product development. Listen to what your consumers are saying about your products and you will have a good idea as to where your product set should be heading.

Undertake some competitor analysis using social media and you will have an even better idea about your marketplace.

Combining competitor and customer analysis will help guide investment decisons in staff, marketing and production (is your customer service up to scratch, are you wasting your advertising budget, are your products built robustly enough…)

Then there is recruitment: social media is increasingly used in this function, as a way of delivering marketplace intelligence, locating and evaluating candidates (with or without the help of recruitment agencies), and enabling candidates to find and develop positive feelings about your business. Don’t forget your current staff either. Social media can powerfully develop feelings of team and increase staff morale.

And finally one should not forget The City. Social media can be used very effectively for financial PR which can positively affect share price and business stability.

The noise surrounding social media is clearly not just hype. But that doesn’t mean social media campaigns are always delivered well. Far from it! But a structured and commonsense approach, combined with a willingness to experiment (and sometimes fail) will take your business a long way on the road to benefiting from these exciting new opportunities.