Reaching the social consumer

New media guru Brian Solis has filed this excellent article on what some are predicting to be branding’s next key customer: the social consumer. Based on research from attendees at The Pivot Conference, there are a number of key out-takes:

Social media has a strong in-house bias and is the biggest responsibility for marketing/advertising teams. But while marketing dominates social media responsibility right now, Solis’ view is that “social media will extend the capacity of any business unit or division affected by outside behavio[u]r.” So expect to see social media making its presence felt in PR, sales, customer service, even investor relations …

If Solis is right – and there’s no reason to doubt him – that means companies will need to hard-wire social media into their lead and sales generation processes and into their customer and stakeholder response systems. My view is that some functions will find this easier than others. The significant benefits of course are timeliness and efficiency. But based on research I’ve seen in the investor relations’ space for example, this could take a while. I do agree though that it’s inevitable.

The Pivot Conference research also found that while marketers plan to significantly increase their use of social media, with the majority of participants identifying it as a component of an effective customer relations programme, only 35% of those polled actually saw social media as fundamentally different from other media. I was also interested in the fact that while 73 percent said their social media programmes were successful, only 16% identified them as very successful. A whopping 57% identified them as somewhat successful.

Three key out-takes for me here.

Firstly, it looks like the majority of marketers probably aren’t using social media that differently from the way they use other forms of marketing yet. In other words, they recognise it as a channel, but either can’t, or don’t, regard it as a discipline in its own right. This may change of course as social media becomes more integrated into outward-facing corporate functions and more and more parts of the enterprise start to recognise ways to use it to improve their work.

Secondly, the size and vagueness of the response around returns suggests people are still relatively hazy on what they get out of their social media investment, and that a sizeable number are still trying to reconcile buzz and bucks. For now, most it seems will continue to throw money at it. At first glance, the problem is not dissimilar to the ways corporates first used the internet. As organisations have discovered wider and wider uses for online, and the technology has expanded to accommodate those, the understanding of the value of the internet has also broadened, and what was once the preserve of the IT department has become a way of working that permeates more and more of the business model. In other words, I think the monetisation model for social media – the return factor – is more strictly defined right now than it will be in the years ahead.

Finally, while the majority of those polled seem to have defined the social consumer as someone who is reached and engaged by social media, my own view is that such a definition is too restrictive. To me, the “social” aspect has the potential to be much broader, incorporating a number of other key trends including corporate social responsibility. An opportunity for example, at least in the medium term, lies in how companies and brands link consumers with what they are doing via their CSR in  order to generate product preference, and how they might use social media to do that. Let’s talk more about that another time.


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