A can of worms
Social networking looks like a great way to generate buzz. But as a medium, it holds a number of challenges with regard to metrics and regulation. Kim Benjamin investigates.
Few digital marketers can be in any doubt about the impact social media can have on their campaigns. The growth in the past year of social networks such as Facebook and Bebo, the increasing numbers of bloggers and forums worldwide and the proliferation of social web tools such as Twitter are forcing more and more marketers to consider investing in this area.
As digital marketers get increasingly drawn towards social media, questions about its effectiveness follow. Yet measuring social media and making it accountable and regulated appears to be an area where marketers are on shaky ground. The ability to engage with consumers and influence them lies at the heart of social media, making any measurement of its techniques a challenging prospect for any brand, while any overt attempt to exert control over content risks being met by a negative response from those being targeted. With social media, the old ways of brand management can no longer be applied.
There are many ways that social media can be made accountable, largely based on the metrics applied to traditional forms of digital marketing, such as number of views and clickthroughs, and tools in this area are increasing all the time. YouTube, for example, recently announced the launch of YouTube Insight, a tool that enables anyone with a YouTube account to view detailed statistics about the videos they upload to the site. It will show how often videos are viewed in different geographic regions and how they compare with other videos in the same sector over a given period. On the blog side, blog-tracking services such as Blogpulse and Technorati provides analysis on blog content, with Technorati claiming to track 112.8 million blogs and more than 250 million pieces of tagged social media.
Monitor the buzz
While these tools give brands some indication of how well their social media techniques might be performing, do they go far enough? Jed Murphy, digital director at agency Carlson Marketing, says new metrics and means of measurement need to be considered for a brand to make the most of social media. "There are a number of 'buzz monitor' tools that are mapping out how brands are being discussed and represented within social media, determining what is important and influential," he says.
According to Jamie Riddell, director of innovation at digital marketing agency Cheeze, what brands can track and account for in terms of social media depends very much on their campaign objectives and type of social media used. "For conversational channels such as blogs and forums, there are various tools, such as Nielsen Blogpulse, that can track what is being said, where and by whom," he says. "With additional analysis, this can be used to define campaign performance. An easy test would be to check www.blogpulse.com for references to your brand or product before and after a campaign starts. It's a simplistic form of measurement, but works as a clear demonstration of what can be done."
With fragmentation of social media sites on the increase, it's vital for brands to not only target spaces where their ideal demographic resides, but also to ensure they connect with their audience on their terms, by providing relevant content and applications. "The rise of more niche and tailored social media and sites means there will be a greater requirement for brands to seek communities that will embrace brand messaging, in order to influence opinion formers and trendsetters," says Rachel Hawkes, account director at media consultancy Elemental Communications. "It is these groups that have the potential to make or break a campaign within social environments."
STA Travel has invested in a number of social media techniques such as widgets, blogs, Facebook applications and RSS to reach its target audience. Its director of marketing, Celia Pronto, says the travel operator has looked at the potential relevance of each technique, in terms of how compelling it would be for the end user and where it was positioned. "When we developed our widgets, for example, we looked at the spaces people were likely to use them in, such as Facebook," she says. "We also looked at developing something that would be interesting and engaging enough for users to want to download and keep."
The key, though, for any brand looking to make their use of social media more accountable is the ability to take the rough with the smooth, taking criticism as well as positive comments on board. "With social media, brands have to focus on building emotional connections with their audience and turning them into brand advocates," says Paul Dawson, head of interactive at technology consultancy Conchango. "If they get something wrong, be it in product, service or message, they also have to listen to those same voices, and be prepared to make changes."
According to Dawson, making social media accountable is a delicate balancing act for brands - identifying negative and positive comments is a step in the right direction, but applying a score to quantify these comments is yet another challenge that brands face. "Make it too accountable and you won't get an honest, thriving community - users will feel they are simply being edited and censored. Make it not accountable enough and the peer audience will feel that it is a place that has no credibility and is just a platform for extreme views."
There's also the danger that the more social networks try to become accountable, the more users will become wary of using them. Murphy points to the recent controversy surrounding Facebook's use of its members' data and profiles as an example.
Monitoring user behaviour, therefore, will also become increasingly important - brands can't predict what users will want next, but they can see what they have done already or how they have reacted to certain content, and tailor further messages in line with this. This is particularly important for those brands using social media for display advertising purposes.
"Monitor and track engagement - not just awareness, because this is where the real value lies," says Jimmy Maymann, chief executive at viral marketing agency Go Viral. "The push for social media to be more accountable and in turn successful will be closely tied to the time and money brands invest in the content and their ability to build a strategy that they can measure."
With the challenges involved in making social media accountable, it's little wonder that many in the industry believe that creating a regulated environment around it will be an uphill struggle. Efforts to regulate might also be hampered by the pace at which social media evolves and develops. For the moment, at least, the power to regulate is in the hands of the user.
"Users regulate their own networks effectively. If Facebook introduces an ad system that users see as invading their privacy the complaints will be loud and clear," says Antony Mayfield, head of content and media at digital marketing company iCrossing. "If people build poor content in social media environments, it will be overlooked and, if brands are dishonest, they will be ignored or shunned."
Mark Iremonger, head of digital at agency Proximity London, adds that social networking sites such as YouTube have a very clear approach as to how content on their site is regulated. "Generally, social media is self-regulated by users. YouTube for example will very quickly remove content if people object to it," he says.
Some in the industry believe, however, that it's only a matter of time before regulatory bodies try to impose measurement standards for social media, along the same lines as those being laid out for search. "Somewhere along the line, standards will emerge, because they offer benefits in terms of planning and accountability," says Maymann.
While the future of social media accountability and regulation remains a grey area, the overriding message is clear. Brands that do not demand proper and proven key performance indicators in their use of social media risk wasting their budgets, and worse still, alienating potential and existing customers.
MATCH.COM TARGETS USERS ON MYSPACE
Social media has been a key part of online dating site Match.com's marketing mix. At the end of last year, it launched Little Black Book, an application on Facebook that allows consumers to use Match.com's dating services directly through the social networking site. The application, which can be downloaded for free, enables users to create a profile, including details such as age and location.
Match.com has also been experimenting with digital advertising campaigns on MySpace. Activity was initially rolled out in the US, and has since been extended to the UK, with plans to roll out in Europe in the next few months. Jason Stockwood, international managing director of Match.com, says social media has allowed the brand to pinpoint its demographic with specific advertising creatives.
The latest MySpace campaign involves a series of interactive ads designed and targeted by age, sex, and relationship status. One of the current UK creatives on MySpace, for example, shows a single person on a webcam browsing Match.com. "We're advertising on various formats including MPUs, half-page ads and leaderboards," he says. " In the US, social media is one of the most successful ways for us to generate new registrations and we expect similar benefits in the UK."
Results are still being gathered for the Facebook campaign. MySpace activity has been running for just over a month in the UK and, while Stockwood acknowledges that it is still early days, he says it is already one of the best-performing campaigns on MySpace. It is currently optimising the campaign further to increase levels of performance, as well as rolling out similar activity across Europe.
"The entertaining look and feel of the creative has been crucial to the success of the campaign, together with a strong call to action," says Stockwood. "The targeting has enabled us to show specific creative based on age, gender and relationship, which has helped to increase clickthroughs and conversion rates."
SCHWARZKOPF TALKS TO WOMEN ON FACEBOOK
Haircare brand Schwarzkopf used Facebook to promote the launch of a website for its Live Colour XXL hair colourant and increase levels of loyalty. The target market was women aged between 16 and 30 years old, who like to explore new products and who use the internet on a regular basis.
The decision to use social media as part of the campaign was based on the fact that Schwarzkopf perceived that people talk a lot about colouring their hair before they do it, gathering advice from friends, family and colleagues.
Agency Tribal DDB London created a Facebook application that women could download to manage their 'online irresistibility'. It enables women to collect points by inviting men to sign up as studs and be part of their 'studbook', and getting them to perform certain listed tasks at their request, such as sending flowers. The virtual actions available depend on the hair colour and personality type that the woman has chosen when she installs the application.
Schwarzkopf used Facebook's proprietary tracking to measure the activity, as well as a qualitative study to contrast the performance of the application versus the website.
According to Matt Redman, media group head at Tribal DDB London, the site has attracted 16,000 unique users, while 7,000 people have installed the application so far and 47,000 tasks have been performed.
"Facebook provides Schwarzkopf with a powerful and relevant space to gather a hard-to-reach audience, giving them an opportunity to build their own community and talk to like-minded women," says Redman.
According to Julie Sainter, Schwarzkopf's marketing director, the Facebook application has enabled its target audience to talk about their appearance in a light-hearted way. She says the brand wanted to recognise and develop a community and dialogue around the product, choosing the most relevant medium to target its customers.
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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