Social Media: Joining the Conversation


UK Social Media: Joining the ConversationeMarketer have released a new report, “UK Social Media: Joining the Conversation” which is a useful compendium of the latest stats on social media usage in the UK, along with some spot-on commentary and advice from the author of the report, Karin von Abrams:

No commercial enterprise can afford to ignore social media

As part of her research for the report, Karin conducted an interview with me which she’s been kind enough to let me publish here:

Founded in June 2008, We Are Social, a London-based agency, helps individuals and companies to engage with consumers and create positive word-of-mouth for brands through online reputation management, corporate blogs, influencer campaigns, community building and other social applications.

With clients throughout Europe, We Are Social’s roster includes Skype, Ford Motor Co., Remington, Barclaycard and the actor, writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry.

Robin Grant has his own blog and maintains an active presence on Twitter and other social channels. He is a member of the Social Media Council at Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB UK), a founding member of the Governing Council at WOM UK and a regular conference speaker on social media.

Mr. Grant spoke with eMarketer about his company’s approach to social media marketing and his take on current trends in social media.

eMarketer: Tell us about your company.

Robin Grant: We call ourselves a “conversation” agency. We help brands to listen, understand and engage in conversations in social media.

It starts with listening. There are lots of third-party tools, both free and paid-for. The paid-for ones tend to take a very algorithmic approach to mining all the conversations that are happening out there on blogs, forums, Facebook, YouTube, and so on. They give clients dashboard views of those conversations. We’re not trying to replicate that kind of service or enter that established marketplace. The value we add to third-party technologies is detailed knowledge of the relevant online communities and which solution is right for which client.

But a marketing director doesn’t really get much value out of a dashboard with some graphs on it. We provide the analysis and insight on top of the data, in terms of understanding who the influencers are, who is driving those conversations and what the underlying issues and sentiments are. And we really help clients understand what actions they should take as a result.

The value of monitoring conversations lies in truly listening — “reading” what people are saying in a deeper sense. As a brand or a company, if you want to act on what people are saying about you, you need someone who really understands the marketplace and the meaning of those exchanges.

eMarketer: So it’s more about quality than quantity at that point.

Mr. Grant: Absolutely. The algorithms, the dashboard statistics are about quantity, and the understanding is about quality. That includes listening in real time.

In terms of concrete results: Several academic papers have been published that document the relationship between the level of online conversation and sales. Evidence is building that social media marketing does yield results. Often more important, though, is to solve problems and counter negative word-of-mouth in real time. What we’ve also discovered — which was a bit of a surprise to us, because it’s slightly counterintuitive — is that the level of surprise and delight on a consumer’s part when you address a complaint or answer a question translates into tremendous positive word-of-mouth. For example, Skype is one of our clients, and there may be someone on Twitter asking, “How do I adjust my Skype window to do x or y?” And PeteratSkype is on Twitter and responds telling them how to do it and they think, “Wow — that’s really cool!” The best thing ever. And they tell people.

eMarketer: So quick solutions to consumers’ problems have a big impact.

Mr. Grant: Yes, and that’s the essence of listening and responding.

The next step, for the client, is starting conversations where they didn’t exist before. To be honest, those can be quite disconnected from the existing conversation. If you’re Orange, for example, the mobile phone company, you have a large conversation already going on in social media, but that’s chiefly about customer-service failings. You need to deal with that, as we’ve discussed, but if you’re launching a new product, or a new campaign, you want to start a new conversation in social media involving the target audience for that new product or service.

With Ford, for example, we’ve done two Pan-European campaigns to help launch the new Ford Fiesta and the Ford Ka. The Ford Fiesta campaign was all about reaching a younger audience, in their early 20s to early 30s, who don’t read the motoring press, even online. They’re not going to be reading the automotive blogs, and they’re not particularly interested in cars.

The above-the-line creative was done by Ogilvy, based on the theme, “This is Now.” One of Ford’s digital agencies had already had the idea of getting people to submit their own definitions of “now” — the zeitgeist, the moment — to a Flickr group.

We came up with the idea of a blog and outreach, talking to the types of influencers who could reach our target audience. Those included people in art, design, fashion and photography. More recently, we’ve extended the campaign to include film and music. The campaign was planned to run in all five major European markets. That was quite extensive work for us, identifying all those influencers and rating them all for reach and quality of influence.

Then when we got the go-ahead, we asked all the influencers to contribute and to ask their readers to contribute.

We also set up a campaign blog, which is still running. That contains the best submissions. We also have a Facebook page for the campaign, and we’re being quite conversational on Twitter. That’s working really well.

In the second round, we’ve gone back to the influencers, to ask them to guest-edit the blog, and to remind their readers about their contributions and taking part. That’s driving traffic and driving engagement. In the end, we had about 10,000 submissions to the Flickr group.

eMarketer: What was the expectation or outcome, in terms of people buying or taking a test-drive or expressing
interest in the Fiesta?

Mr. Grant: The client was targeting quite a hard-to-reach audience — in fact, it’s mostly women in that age group. It was really all about brand engagement, and trying to change people’s perception not just of the Fiesta, but of Ford as a brand, because it’s not a sexy brand in Europe. Had we been trying to increase test-drives, we would still have used social media, but we would have run a very different campaign.

eMarketer: Tell us about a packaged-goods client.

Mr. Grant: We did a campaign for Remington to help them launch a new range of hair straighteners and hair driers. In that case, we approached female hair and beauty bloggers, and then some of the more influential general female bloggers who weren’t focused on hair and beauty but might blog about the products. And we gave them the products themselves to try.

In that case, we had some of the results we expected, but we also found — I hate the term user-generated content, but we had a lot of nontext comments. One blogger in particular was extraordinary; we had 25,000 views of just one video she did.

If the product is good, this is a great approach. I have to say that, with this kind of campaign in particular, if the company has a bad product, we have to turn them away. We can’t help them, because people are going to tell the truth about their experience of the product. Word-of-mouth is extremely powerful when you’ve got a good product, but if not…

eMarketer: The company will save a lot of time and money if you tell them first. To judge by some campaign results, and press coverage, it seems that blogging, and the use of Twitter, are being seen as some sort of breakthrough for advertisers in social media. Social networks have been difficult for marketers — whether they are trying to set up Facebook pages, upload branded content to YouTube, or whatever.

There have been some big successes marketing TV shows, music, and films, but for many brands it’s been less rewarding. Whereas Twitter seems to lend itself more to commercial messages, perhaps. For consumers, Twitter seems to be more about short exposures, and the experience is less intense. Is that atmosphere easier for companies to get involved in?

Mr. Grant: Considering the difference between Twitter and Facebook, I do agree. It’s a cultural thing. All of these areas of social media have their own culture — very strong cultures in many cases. Twitter has always been a very interesting mix between the personal and professional, whereas Facebook was always personal and LinkedIn always professional. So is Twitter a social network? It is, in a way, because you’ve got friends, but really it’s a microblog. That’s a better description.

It’s certainly easier to have conversations in the more open world of blogs than in the relatively closed worlds of social networks. If you’re a member of Facebook, the site guides you to certain things, and it’s difficult for brands to break in or to be at home there. Whereas with a blog, if you target carefully and you know you’re reaching 500,000 engaged readers, it’s perfect.

Twitter has a less skeptical audience than other social media. I have to say, though, that like anything the press treats as the next big thing, it’s completely overhyped. On Twitter, it’s pretty obvious how many people you’re reaching, because that’s the number of people following you, and it’s not large numbers. It’s not like a blog outreach, where you really can reach millions of people. And on Twitter, even if they’re following you, they may not be listening to you, and if they are listening, you might find they’re not following when you’re tweeting.

We do find Twitter an extremely useful part of our campaigns. From a listening and responding point of view, dealing with issues and problems in real time, it’s fantastic. Twitter is especially good for getting to the influencers we’re trying to reach, but a company can’t simply set up a Twitter account and generate loads more sales. It’s not likely to make a big impact on a company’s bottom line.

Dell had promotions advertise through Twitter, and there was a headline figure of $1 million published for sales promoted through Twitter. But I’d guess that that’s less than 1%, or less than 0.1%, of their revenue.

eMarketer: Tell us about some mistakes people make.

Mr. Grant: Some of the bigger media agencies are just treating social network inventory like a normal media buy, and that’s why it’s not doing brilliantly. They say, “Let’s buy some Facebook ads targeting 18-to-21-year-old girls,” rather than targeting 22-year-old girls in Norwich with a specific message for them, which is what the network is really good at.

eMarketer: Are there any general steps you advise clients to take, across the board?

Mr. Grant: One piece of advice I always give our clients, no matter what their brief to us, is that they should have a corporate blog. That really is essential. The main reason we recommend it is that it forces businesses to go through a microcosm of the changes that are taking place in the larger social media space. For example, they’re thinking, “Gosh, we’ve got to respond to all these comments! But what are we going to say?” The process forces them to deal with all those issues, in this small, contained space. It’s a good learning experience for them, one that they have to go through anyway. And I do think that Facebook, with the changes they introduced last week, is going to force all companies to do that pretty quickly, because your brand will have a Facebook page. You may not have created it yourself — it may be the work of a brand fan — but you’ll have one.

eMarketer: What demographic groups are using social media?

Mr. Grant: There are different levels of participation in social media across different age ranges. When you look at the latest statistics, though, it shows much more recent growth of social media use among old people than in other groups.

And we should remember that people use social media in different ways. For everyone leaving a blog post, there may be a hundred reading the post. People also forget that users of all ages are interacting with social media just by reading search results. Invariably, if you Google anything, probably three or four of the top search results will be links to social media. So people are interacting with social media in one respect by reading those links, even if they don’t follow them.

And from a marketing perspective you can always reach those audiences. You can’t reach 100% of those audiences, but you can get messages through, you can talk to influencers, you can develop outreach for any demographic. Some of the social networks launched for people 50 and older have done very well.