If I had any doubts about whether social media is here to stay, they were well and truly dispelled when I caught in passing a segment on ABC’s Landline rural issues program. Farmers and graziers are concerned about the disconnection between city and country and, at the Beef Australia 2012 expo in Rockhampton, Meat and Livestock Australia was running seminars on social media. Weathered men and women in dusty jeans, RM Williams boots and big hats were walked through the basics of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Last year, Australia’s beef industry learned the hard way about the power of social media. After Four Corners showed the brutal treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, animal rights groups used social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to pressure the Federal Government. The problem is, by focusing just on the channels, the farmers are missing the point. While the campaign was relentless and it worked, it wasn’t the social media that caused the problem – it was the idea that the brutal mistreatment of animals is wrong that connected with people emotionally. This idea could then be spread rapidly across various social media platforms.

The lesson for your business is that if you are to derive value for your brands through social media, then you need to start thinking about ideas that are inherently social in nature. Ideas that will engage on a social level. You also need to understand the roles of the different channels and what they offer over traditional media. Finally, you need to be able to stay up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in the social ecosystem. For example, in the last couple of years I have lost count of the changes to the Facebook platform alone.

So how do you create ideas that are social in nature for your brand? Start by thinking about the role your brand plays in your customers’ lives. What is the human purpose of your brand that makes their lives better? Then think how you can legitimately play a role within their social network – be it friends or colleagues.

Another key ingredient is to understand how people can then engage with these social ideas. We like to think about three key elements and endeavour to get a balance between them in our campaigns. These elements are ‘play’, ‘share’ and ‘buy’. How is the idea you are creating enabling people to engage with it – does it make them laugh or does it make their lives easier? What mechanisms have you included to get people to share the idea? How do you enable the desire to show off this thing your customers have found and liked? Third, and critically, how are we linking the idea to actual purchase of the item. None of us are going to derive any value from social media unless we include this too.

Luckily, few of us will be unfortunate enough to face a challenge to our industry’s very existence like the farmers, but there are strong trends out there that firmly suggest social engagement will become a new trading currency. Indeed, it is already evident that media (online and offline) is increasingly being based on social engagement and influence as opposed to just eyeballs. Media agencies are now even relooking at the media planning and buying based on the social currency of programming or content.

The reason for this is quite simply technology; it’s increasingly becoming a world of three screens (TV, PC, smartphone/tablet) and continuous partial attention. Technology has put the consumer in control. Just think of what you do when an advertisement comes on TV. I watch them out of professional interest, but most people channel surf, go to the bathroom, make a cup of tea, check Facebook or Twitter on their tablet or smartphone, or fast forward through it. If TiVo and the like didn’t have the ad skip function disabled, I’m sure most people would skip the ads. The challenges to print and radio are no less threatening.

On top of declining effectiveness, all the old channels are expensive to buy compared to social media. Creating a profile on one of the hundreds of social media sites costs absolutely nothing; however, developing and maintaining a site does cost an organisation time. Our clients are increasingly recognising the value of social media with some of the smaller ones investing between six and 11 hours per week in maintaining their social channels. The biggest clients have multiple staff dedicated full-time. But, just as there is nothing lamer than a website that hasn’t been updated for over a year, social media requires the discipline of regular, engaging updates. So, like managing any marketing campaign, social media will take time and you will pay for it whether you do it yourself or hire someone else. With social media, at least you won’t be paying for the advertising channel itself.

The final area to look at in deriving value is the ever-changing nature of digital channels. It is increasingly difficult for brand managers, marketing managers and the like to keep across the constantly evolving social and digital landscape. For that reason it’s surprising that more companies aren’t outsourcing. According to IBM’s ‘Australian Business Process Outsourcing Research 2012′, the number of businesses outsourcing traditional marketing functions is expected to jump over the next 12 to 24 months from nine percent currently to 21 percent. What is most interesting is the report rates traditional marketing as the fourth most outsourced business process, ahead of digital marketing, which is currently outsourced by a surprisingly low six percent of businesses.

Given that it is difficult to stay up-to-date with social media – and it’s easy to make a wrong bet, Second Life or MySpace anyone? – I’m surprised so few companies outsource their social media to companies that are tooled and skilled up to handle it. Companies whose very existence is built on the need to stay up-to-date with these changes.

 

Josh Grace
BY Josh Grace ON 2 August 2012
Chief operating officer, Leo Burnett Sydney