Companies sometimes gripe that social media is useless as a branding tool.
For marketers, converting messages into transactions is the Holy Grail, but if they don’t quickly materialize through new media outlets, that’s no reason to throw in the towel. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other outlets are constantly evolving and experimentation is necessary to find success.
Once we accept that “social” does not equal “transactional” we’ll all be a lot more adept at using it in 2012.
Three trends and tools to watch in the coming year:
From Checking In To Cashing In: Geo-Gaming
Geo-location has been an important marketing tool for a few years, but in 2012 it will become more personal and more transactional, especially in social-media marketing. This is a game-changer for retailers because it enables them to put potential consumers in the context of time and place and more effectively influence purchase intent.
This type of influence is a reason I see social media as a bridge to commerce because it’s where marketers build a relationship with customers.
The context of the offline world is crucial for marketers so they know what kind of message to deliver and how to interact with a customer at any given time. Is my potential customer in front of a store or on the couch? Is that person with people or alone?
Yes, geo-location has been around a while because the technology exists, but marketers have not yet taken advantage of it. To date, geo-location has been all about the “check-in.” Nobody really understands the value of the check-in yet, but if you think about it, the check-in is a social transaction, but soon will become a monetary one.
How will that work? Look for marketers to motivate and change behavior through geo-location tools and social gaming.
Starwood was one of the first brands to see the check-in as a bridge. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members could connect their SPG accounts directly to Foursquare. Anytime they checked into a Starwood property combined with a confirmed reservation they got points. There’s a reciprocal relationship between the check-in and the reward, which is what game dynamics are about–rewarding behavior through real and virtual currency.
Let’s say Starwood has a million fans, a small sub-set of whom checks in on Foursquare. Now let’s add a layer of social gaming so that whatever those fans do online they do through Facebook. I post to my page saying, “I just came back from Paris, ate at this restaurant, and it’s amazing,” and that is shared with the Starwood community of a million people through a gaming experience. Starwood could reward me for that because I’m selling travel to Paris where Starwood has properties.
I don’t think there’s a place in social marketing to have offers, promotions, coupons and transactional items as a part of the social eco-system and social story telling. Where I do think there is a time and place for coupons, offers, promotions is through mobile and geo-location and how those two talk to each other.
These are ways for brands to say, “Believe in us, be part of our community, and when you engage with us, we notice.” It’s that acknowledgement that creates loyalty, advocacy and drives earned-media value.
Facebook: Gateway To The Web
Would it surprise anyone to think Facebook will become the overlay of the Internet experience? It may not happen in 2012 but it certainly will in our lifetimes. Facebook is what Ma Bell once was, a utility with which few people could conduct their daily lives. It’s almost impossible to not use the web these days, and it’s becoming less possible to use it without Facebook.
As marketers build the bridge to commerce through online communities, it is imperative that they do not cannibalize them for the sake of transactions. Microsoft and Zynga got it wrong with their partnership.
Back in early 2010, Zynga moved beyond making its popular games available on social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace and began making some titles, especially the wildly popular Farmville, available on Microsoft properties like MSN Games and Windows Media Player. More than 200 million players had interacted with friends and acquaintances through these games every month. But Zynga wanted to expand its reach even further, hence the Microsoft partnership.
It was a great move for MSN’s gaming portal, which was steadily losing traffic, but what did Zynga gain? It already had enviable reach. What it really did was cannibalize Zynga’s passionate and original gaming community by adding all those MSN gamers.
Imagine being at a party with people you know and feel comfortable with, and then suddenly, an outside group of revelers crashes your bash. It’s not the same party anymore. You don’t want to be there. You aren’t going to stick around.
Microsoft spent a tremendous amount of time, dollars and effort cultivating a community, and they threw it out the window with the Zynga deal just to boost its fan base.
Starbucks got it wrong — and then got it very right. The coffee bar behemoth woke up one day and noticed it had completely alienated its consumers. Instead of selling them coffee in an ambient setting, Starbucks installed mega coffee machines to serve people faster. They took the artisanal aspect from the process and then realized they moved away from their core brand attributes. The company was smart and sincere enough to ask its community for help by launching Mystarbucksidea.com, listening to the people who were very attached to their brand. It was like the return of the Prodigal Son.
Starbucks also devised Pastry Thursday, creating a regular event on Facebook where people could register and check-in to get a free pastry. On Election Day, they gave away free coffee.
Starbucks is one of the few advertisers that know it will lose [Facebook] friends if all it does is talk about itself. If I had a friend who, whenever we’re together, tries to sell me something, we wouldn’t be friends for very long. Starbucks knows it has to care about what their customers have to say.
Mystarbucksidea.com was an example of perhaps the first time that a brand had to act like a person. The company recognized that relationships are personal and that for a relationship to thrive, some base-line principles must be observed.
Perpetuating The Personal
Brands in 2012 must create a social world of personalization.
Facebook has built a model for this. Its “pages” function enables brands to engage customers on a virtual island and have a theme party of their choosing. If the guests are into Huggies, the page can be about potty training. Amex’s page/party theme can be about small business.
Then you have Facebook’s “social ads,” through which brands can deliver targeted messages to fans and followers. Any marketer that knows something about its core fan base, derived from the insights gathered on its Facebook page, can create and deliver custom messages to sub-sets of that population.
The third prong is Facebook’s “sponsored stories,” which are about leveraging the friends of fans. If you become a fan of my page, this generates a News Feed story that your friends might see. Sponsored Stories increase visibility of this story by highlighting it for my friends in the right column.
The brand has delivered a story to someone on Facebook, and that person delivers the story to their Facebook friends.
Let’s say you became a fan of the AMC show “Breaking Bad.” Now your feed reflects that action to your friends, and the next time any of your friends log in, they’re alerted that you just “liked” “Breaking Bad” — and maybe they should check it out. Your friend clicks on that link, which takes them to a “Breaking Bad” page, completing the loop.
The Facebook triad of Pages-Ads-Stories is one example of how to create a loop using paid media dollars to drive earned media. There are many other ways of delivering earned media across social channels. Every brand has different needs, but most importantly, every brand has a different personality – it’s crafting and delivering that personality that ultimately drives the kind of earned media that you don’t need write checks for.
The best kind of media is organic earned media. In 2012, social media as a bridge to commerce may seem obvious, but the journey will be much more interesting–and lucrative.