If you manage your company’s social media accounts today, it is no longer sufficient to send a fun tweet here or a cheeky Facebook post there. Social has become a key benchmark of customer experience; a treasure trove of data ready to be mined. Yet it can also be a living nightmare if you get on the wrong side of Random Internet Strangers.
So what’s a marketing manager to do in the spare time they have from juggling a zillion other plates? An engaging panel at the Digital Marketing World Forum in London last week explored this topic in detail, from authenticity, to influencers, and everything in between.
An authentic voice doesn’t happen overnight
Mistake number one on social: don’t be what you’re not. Don’t be innocent enough to think that your brand can be like Innocent Drinks, for instance. Cristy Garratt, head of digital video and social media at CNBC International, made sure the news organisation did not go down that route. “There were a lot of cautionary tales about jumping into the conversation and joining the cool kids – and you shouldn’t be there,” she told attendees.
There are a couple of theories around how to get the great viral post. It’s not a failsafe of course, as if we knew how to do it every time we’d do it every time, and whoever copyrighted the method first would now be a picture of idyll on the island they had just bought in the Bahamas from the profits. There is the scattergun mud and wall theory; if you throw enough of the former at the latter then eventually something will stick. But do you ultimately need to go viral?
CNBC’s story is therefore an interesting case study all round. Garratt admitted it had been a ‘long process’, but the result is ‘fierce loyalty’ to the brand. The publisher expects at least one video per week to hit six figures in views, and on average viewers get almost three quarters through each video – practically unheard of in the click now, think later mindset. “It’s a slow process, but we took that moment to stop and think ‘okay, what are we on digital?’, and it helped make the voice that came out much more authentic,” said Garratt.
Authentic, ironic or plain old insincere, it doesn’t hurt to give your posts a little boost now and then. Paid versus organic: where should you pin your colours? William Bonaddio, director at Will B Social, has McDonald’s as his number one client. He told delegates that nothing the fast food giant did on social was organic. Every post is A/B tested with multiple variations; put £5 on each horse and see which comes in first.
All very sensible; but not everything is planned to the last detail. Bonaddio noted a campaign from 2016 where McDonald’s suggested customers dip their fries into milkshakes. The Metro summed it up at the time. “Loads of people do it,” the paper wrote breathlessly, “but it’s always been considered an underground McDonald’s trick. Now your favourite gross eating habit has been McDonald’s approved.”
The reality; it was behaviour spotted in the McDonald’s social channels, and the company made a quick win out of it. Nothing underground in the slightest. Grad Conn, CXMO at Sprinklr, whose session followed the panel, would have been an interested spectator. As Conn explained to MarketingTech last month, McDonald’s uses Sprinklr to, well, spot behaviour on its social channels going back years. The company launched afternoon pancakes on the back of this hidden data.
Paid gives you potential – but don’t let it become a crutch
For others however, it’s about getting the right mix between paid and organic. “Paid is great because it gives you the potential to expand outside your existing audience – but the cautionary tale is to not let it become a crutch,” argued Garrett. Victoria Miller, VP of global communications and content at Brandwatch, also advocated a bit of both. “I wouldn’t say one is better than the other – it is very much [getting] the right mix,” she said.
Insurer LV= uses organic as a barometer, and then puts all its chips on red if anything does particularly well, as social media manager Alvin Gunputh explained. “We use organic posts as an indicator,” he said. “We do evergreen content but if we get traction – ‘this has done better than we thought’ – then we’ve got a bit of budget for evergreen campaigns.
“It is pay to play these days – it’s like shouting into an empty room,” he added.
As far as using influencers was concerned, the experience across the panel varied markedly. Chris Thomas, global social intelligence lead at accountancy software provider Sage, jokingly challenged the other participants to name up to three influencers in the UK accounting space. The company has subsequently gone down the route of employee advocacy to create a strong voice on social. As before, it’s all about not being distracted by something you’re not. TikTok may be the sexiest platform right now, but is it worth using if it is not of direct benefit to your audience and prospects?
Miller emphasised the importance of doing the groundwork in understanding one’s audience, getting the tone and relevance right. “It takes time to find that,” she explained. “It’s not going to be a quick fix.”
Do your research – but with a twist
Speaking to MarketingTech after the session, Miller cited the example of a healthcare brand which was getting it right by doing two things; doing their research and thinking outside the box. “I was really impressed,” she said. “They were doing a big health campaign and they were looking to really slice and dice the customer base.
“We understood the interest – with health you’re looking to meet very specific needs – and they were actually using search data, social data, and weather data, in relation to this particular health condition. They were bringing things out of the platform, they were slicing and dicing, really clever analysis work.
“For me it’s all about understanding and getting your research done well and early – it’s essential.”
Many who attended the panel, as well as many who are reading this now, will be acutely aware of the struggle to get budget for something as potentially ephemeral as a social campaign. How creative can you be whilst still guaranteeing ROI? The strategy LV= deploys is testament to how to get the best of both worlds. Yet you can make further inroads without breaking the bank.
Brandwatch’s recent acquisition of SaaS market research platform Qriously is a case in point. Miller argues that traditional market research can be a boon for the most cutting-edge of social campaigns. “Don’t be afraid to be a bit creative with what you’re doing with data,” she said. “Test assumptions, but also build, for example using traditional research methods. Social can be really good at helping you to design that research more effectively so it has more impact.”
Ultimately, Miller argued, it’s all about being ‘clever’ with social data. The future of social is therefore no different from the present or the past. You can have conversations about budget, authenticity and influencers, but a sparkling piece of marketing will always shine through – regardless of where it is placed.
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