Social media: challenges and opportunities
Social networks are at the centre of a heated debate on Irish newspapers these days – and Hugh Linehan’s article on The Irish Times is just an example.
Without going into the specifics of that debate, here I would like to talk about social media from a marketing perspective, trying to touch a few points on what they represent today for brands and marketers.
In social the traditional categories of media channels (owned, paid, earned) somehow intersect with each other.
On one hand, free services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be seen as owned media where brands can shape their message in their own voice without a direct cost to third parties, on the other hand though big social media players have been increasingly building up their business models on advertising and advanced features provided through paid services.
Most importantly though, social media have a very strong role in the context of earned media, where brands can engage with consumers and let them be the channel through word of mouth, buzz and – when the magic happens – through the “viral” effect.
However, if the benefits of earned media include credibility, transparency and durability, the flipside consists in challenges such as lack of control, potential for negativity, as well as the fact that measurement is difficult for this type of media.
Many companies have been quite reluctant to have a social media presence (Bank of Ireland is an example). Many still are.
Bad PR cases are far from infrequent – quite famous is the case of a McDonalds twitter promotion gone horribly wrong (or should I say “epic fail”?).
The important thing for companies is to implement a consistent and thought-through strategy behind their social media presence.
For example, it is important to have a consistent voice, but a “personal” voice as well, which means providing consistency of message but avoiding dull, standardized, non-compelling language.
Another important thing for brands – even for those with minimal active engagement in social media – is to be able to “listen”.
There are many tools available for what is often called “social media listening” or “social media monitoring”.
Social media “listening” tools allow organizations and individuals to monitor what is being said about them throughout the web and more specifically through social media channels.
Sources such as social media, blogs, news sites, forums, message boards and many other web 2.0 platforms with user generated content are tracked and analyzed in order to determine the volume and sentiment of online conversation about a specific entity (brand, company, organization, individual) or a specific topic.
This has become increasingly important for companies and brands, not only to be alert to potential risks of bad PR, but also in order not to miss good business opportunities and improve customer service and satisfaction.
I have mentioned how measurement is one of the main challenges when it comes to earned media. Measuring “buzz” is not straightforward.
There are many tools and services through which help with processing social media information.
Another important and challenging aspect is measuring influence and identifying key influencers in your industry or niche, for example authoritative bloggers providing relevant and high-quality information, with significant volume of page-views and high PageRank (reputation for Google Search).
For Twitter, reputation is also an important element.
Public information such as number of followers, who you are following, the number of lists you are on, as well as the names and categories of those lists can be relevant signals to establish your authoritativeness on a particular topic or in a particular niche.
Twitter lists, for example, can be considered a measurement of influence on Twitter: the more lists you have been placed on, the greater your reputation among peers and followers. Obviously, since not everyone uses Twitter lists, this data can be somewhat flawed and is not necessarily to be taken as an absolute indicator.
There are many tools that attempt to measure Twitter reputation, such as:
In the attempt to identify authoritative influencers in a given niche, another big challenge is integrating the information across different social networks, products and channels.
In other words, there’s still no handy one-size-fits-all “PageRank for people”.