Social mindset must change for Irish marketers

The pace of change on the web is absolute and unrestrained, meaning sometimes you forget where you’ve come from.

Last week, while sifting through a dusty old pile of documents, I came across my undergrad dissertation. A ticking time bomb, smugly sitting there patiently waiting to embarrass me.

As a topic, I had chosen to examine ‘Web 2.0’, it being the mid to late point of the last decade.

My ‘analysis’ consisted of profuse praise. I predicted the new ‘social’ web would drag us out of the post dotcom bust, creating new, dialogue friendly, free tools for us all to use.

While I wasn’t completely off the mark, flicking through the pages, the ridiculous optimism and antiquity of some of my theories resonated.

Unfortunately, my utopian vision of ‘Facebook commerce’, social becoming an important conversion sales channel and free tools that offered ‘viral’ word of mouth opportunities for all, never came true.

And yet, this ugly bound book, that I cursed so many times, that’s increasingly outdated, could be seamlessly substituted for the marketing ‘playbook’ of many brand managers in Ireland today. That’s a problem.

No matter what Mr. Zuckerberg might repeat about a vision of creating a more ‘open society’, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram all have stakeholders to appease, targets to hit and users to monetise. Let’s get this straight, social isn’t free. It’s another opportunity that requires a constant budget to build a community, smart campaigns to drive interaction and a community team and designer to create great content.

In March, Facebook reach dropped below 6% for many large brand pages, meaning a further need to pay for sponsored posts. In the crowded, ephemeral newsfeed of major social sites, advertising is fast becoming the best way to build traction quickly. Those who still think of social as a free, or very low cost tool, need to change their frame of reference.

Since I penned my masterpiece, it’s also become clear that social definitively isn’t a sales channel. ‘F Commerce’, brands creating e-commerce applications on their Facebook brand page, despite early promise, was an unmitigated failure. Users are active on these channels to be entertained, to gossip, to procrastinate, but not to purchase.

If it hasn’t already, the measurement of social needs to shift to softer, top of the funnel outcomes, a focus on longer-term thinking and away from too many dispersed, tactical, short-term wins.

Gaining traction with social for a brand needs time, strategy, content, a strong brand voice and most importantly paid media. Yet, the overriding focus from some marketers is still quick vanity metrics like ‘virality’ and hollow follower increases, or unobtainable goals like an increase in direct sales without any real thought into why they’re using the channels.

That’s not to say that social is useless for the sales process. As consumers, our path to purchase is more fragmented than ever before and research by the IAB has illustrated how the social touch point can have a positive impact on this.

It’s particularly effective in positively impacting on areas like sentiment, recommendation, propensity to trial and brand loyalty but not at hard sales tactics or ultimate conversion. Research has also shown that consumers who are exposed to a brand’s social media are increasingly loyal and more stable because of it.

So the ROI is tangible, it’s just that the value is at a higher point up the purchase funnel. Knowing where to look for it and understanding what your ultimate outcomes are is vital.

It’s sometimes said that re-visiting your past can offer you a glimpse at a clearer future. While I never want to open that forsaken thesis again, it would be a worthwhile exercise for all brand managers to step back, re-visit their social strategy, examine their desired results and ultimately reframe their way of thinking. As consumers, social media users and marketers, such an exercise would benefit us all.