AFG Venture Group Dispatches

Corporate advisory and consultancy in Australia, South East Asia and India.

Socialising The Brand

by Angus M. Robinson, Managing Partner, Leisure Solutions®

The use and application of ‘social media’ has been the subject of much recent mainstream media comment with its fair share of hype and perhaps unrealised expectations.

However, the use of social media is massive. Experian, a leading global information services company, has reported that in September 2010, social networks and forums accounted for 11.5% of all UK internet visits to web sites – more than the combined visits to the main search engines of Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Experian predicts that worldwide some US$4.3 billion will be spent on social networks in 2011.
In Australia, a Nielsen 2010 Social Media Report released earlier this year has indicated that:

  • Australians spend more time on social media sites than any other country in the world, with around 8 million users on Facebook.
  • 40% of online Australians now interact with companies via social networks.
  • 86% of Australian internet users are looking to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands.
  • Australians’ engagement with online ‘word of mouth’ communication is going to increase in coming years as social media plays an increasingly important role in consumer decision making.
  • 14 percent of online Australians ‘follow’ companies or organisations via Twitter.

But a recent survey from the Council of Small Business of Australia and Optus showing 56% of small and medium businesses have no intention of using social media in their companies, despite the fact that the same survey, based on interviews with 340 SMEs, shows 28% of SMEs are currently using social media, with the accommodation and catering, marketing and media, and cultural and recreational services sectors among the biggest users.

In this environment, what does all of this mean for small enterprises, particularly of the microenterprise variety, which are competing in a very crowded internet space to gain recognition for their brands and to generate sufficient revenue from new products so as to achieve a higher ROI than from other more traditional channels to market?

The first realisation is that to achieve iconic status for new brands in a channel increasingly being dominated by social media drivers, they need to be carefully designed, have ‘personality’, and be protected by trademarks. The reality is that ‘cyberspace’ is a very open and exposed market place.

The second realisation is that the marketer needs to understand that the strength and intensity of presence of an emerging brand on the internet is achieved not only from search engine optimisation, but from diverse entry points and connections to new and changing offered content. The introduction of social media into this mix greatly enhances this dynamic.

The third realisation is that to maximise the benefits and ROI on the use of social media, the marketer needs to devote far more time to monitoring, on a daily basis (because the technology enables this), and being prepared to making changes as necessary in response to real-time feedback, than what is the usual practice for traditional media i.e. designing and placing content, and then sitting back to await whether or not the selected campaign generates inquiries and sales!

Because of the additional time commitment, judicious and strategic selection of a basket of social media tools is essential. For example, my business (new product development in the tourism industry)

uses Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare and YouTube out of a very large field of available social media sites. Currently, I see no strategic advantage for my business, or for me personally, to use Twitter – currently another high ranked and used social media site. Quite frankly I don’t have the time available to do justice to the value of this tool, but that simply is just a personal choice based on my current needs. However, for large organisations e.g. Telstra, it is noted that Twitter is emerging as a very important customer service tool.

For the ‘traveler’ customer, the engagement with the internet is becoming increasingly holistic – during the planning, research and booking stage, the actual travel experience itself, and the sharing of experiences following the trip, and the whole engagement with the product with a customer can take place over quite an extended period.

In different ways, Facebook and YouTube both provide a means of facilitating this consumer engagement with my particular ‘product’ brand. LinkedIn and the affiliated media of SlideShare underpins the need to be connected professionally with business peers and underscores the need for positioning as a ‘personal’ brand (i.e Me Inc). It is important to me that my business and my product development activities are linked to my persona as a professional operating in an increasingly global environment.

For the small player in the tourism industry, flexibility and speed can prove highly effective!

As a case in point, in May this year, my business used Facebook Ads to target a selected group of Facebook users (with selected interests) located in the Brisbane area to coincide with a targeted Brisbane metro TV campaign being undertaken by the regional tourism organisation in the area which my new product is located. The commensurate increase in brochure downloads from the business web site clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach. Also checking the web site statistics daily provided a means of monitoring progress of this campaign.

The use of both Facebook Ads (as well as Google Ads) by my business has now provided full control of my advertising budget; offering far more flexibility (also with changing content) as well as daily measurement of outcomes. These facilities are becoming increasingly important components of the overall marketing mix.

It is worth noting that social media tools such as Facebook also offer the potential to be used for ‘dip stick’ market research. For example, Facebook Ads provides a means of testing a defined market segment in a geographic area with an advertisement and to test the response by visits to the product website. LinkedIn DirectAds also provide a similar facility. For small enterprises with limited budgets, this approach might have some appeal, given the cost and time constraints of committing to undertaking more traditional forms of market research.

Facebook also enables customers to post comments about their tourism experience, thus further socialising the reputation of the brand. In a recent survey, Experian CheetahMail has reported that the top two reasons consumers followed brands through social media was to find out about special offers and to see consumer reviews. In regard to the consumer reviews, the survey confirmed that ‘word of mouth advertising and personal recommendations are extremely powerful tools in advertising because people instinctively trust the recommendations of real consumers rather than the marketing slogans of a company.’ The report also purported that ‘social networks provide an avenue for consumers to voice their opinions about a product, but crucially for the business to take onboard their praise and where necessary answer their criticisms.’

Social media tools also serve in another important respect – i.e. in improving the speed of interpersonal inter-communication by email. Correspondents are often more likely to be contacted quicker through their social media message addresses than they are through their regular corporate email addresses.

Facebook already understands this dynamic and has just unveiled a new messages platform, with all 500 million users to receive an email address as part of a new system which incorporates traditional email, instant messaging and SMS communication. Facebook claims that the new platform is a type of ‘modern messaging system’, saying that the future of communication will surpass email and incorporate different types of messaging systems i.e. email, Facebook message, instant messaging and SMS messages.

Professional networking ‘social networking’ sites such as LinkedIn, Plaxo and XING genuinely offer the opportunity to identify commercial opportunities and to keep regularly in contact with colleagues with whom a professional association is enjoyed. Properly managed and strategically developed, a professional networking facility can complement standard communication tools.

These professional networking sites are brilliantly designed for born networkers. At their base level, they provide a highly effective means of dynamically maintaining a business card filing system. At their higher level, with excellent content and contact details, they provide a means of building a strong online personal brand. To be used effectively for networking purposes, they must enable effective sharing of two way information and contact sharing, having regard to providing some minimum level of privacy protection for the user. People will want to be connected to users who are seen to be open and effective knowledge and network hubs. To join these sites, the best advice that can be given is that if a decision is made to participate, do it properly and professionally, and work to build a credible and growing network!

SlideShare enables professionals to freely upload and share presentation content with others; the tool also offers a capability for lead generation on a ‘fee for service’ basis.

It can therefore be seen that the strategic use of social media tools enables marketers to readily achieve ‘fame’ for both product and personal brands. Social media tools are underpinned by rapidly evolving information and communication technologies which are increasingly ubiquitous, pervasive and transforming all aspects of our economy and society.

About the Author

Angus M. Robinson is the Managing Partner of Leisure Solutions®, a business which is engaged in new product development in the area of ecotourism and geotourism. In 1994, Angus M Robinson joined a leading technology diffusion centre, The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at The University of Sydney as General Manager. Over the ensuing years, Angus has held leadership roles at Australia’s first major technology park, and with an industry association which represented Australian companies in the electrical manufacturing, electronics and ICT industries. Contact: angus@leisuresolutions.com.au