Apr 2, 2010

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Social media is now an active reality for marketers. No longer something to consider as an option, marketers are rapidly increasing their budgets in this space and trying to leverage social media to best connect with consumers. Many marketers believe social media is a low risk, high reward channel. However, these 5 pitfalls will increase your risk and lower the reward, leading you down the path to social mediocrity.
Pitfall #1: Forcing traditional metrics on social media
Social media is evolving, is not a one-size-fits-all channel, and allows for unprecedented interaction with consumers. Because of these factors, trying to apply standard metrics typically used for traditional channels to social media is a like putting a square peg in a round hole. Social media requires using evolved metrics: a customized approach to measurement using a mix of non-traditional metrics that are linked to key performance indicators (KPIs). Non-traditional metrics fall into the categories of sentiment, engagement, effectiveness, and brand affinity.

The social media ROI model is different from models for traditional channels, such as television, which have been proven and tested over time. You cannot use the same traditional modeling for social media because such models do not account for changes in the dynamic environment of social media. A smarter approach is to identify KPI's and build a custom dashboard of metrics based on your objectives and goals.

Pitfall #2: Culture clash
The Web created an always on environment where consumers expect to have 24/7 access to brands. Now with social media, consumers want to have 24/7 engagement with brands. Marketers need to foster a culture that aligns with the consumer expectations in this always on world. This means cutting down red tape and having the right people and systems in place to provide faster reaction times, authentic responses, and genuine engagement. If you don't do this, you risk dealing with consumer backlash. And you don't want your brand to end up as another social media fail like Motrin.

United Airlines uses Twitter to connect with customers online and to build a reputation as being customer-centric. The content tweeted includes special fares, trivia, and contest information. However, United fails to consistently respond to consumer complaints or questions via its Twitter account. Furthermore, United has a reputation as having poor customer service, a fact that was highly publicized during the "United Breaks Guitars" viral video incident. The weak presence on Twitter can't cover up United's failure to resolve systemic customer service issues. Marketers risk facing a backlash and turning social media efforts into a complete waste if culture and business practices do not support what is being said and done in social media.

Pitfall #3: Focusing on short term wins instead of long term engagement
Short-term wins can be great for generating buzz and grabbing attention for your brand. But to create long-term engagement you need to put the customers at the center of your strategy and provide something that is relevant and useful to keep them coming back. Marketers must understand how and where customers want to interact with their brand in order to add value. Are your customers creators, observers, or information-seekers? Do they prefer engaging on Facebook, on a Web site, on a mobile phone, via email?

Burger King is constantly on a quest to beat out rival McDonald's. By launching highly creative (and sometimes controversial) campaigns, they have been successful at generating buzz and drawing attention to the brand. However, results are only short term and fail to achieve real long-term engagement with the brand and grab market share from McDonald's. A prime example is the 2009 Whopper Sacrifice on Facebook. While the Whopper Sacrifice stunt received lots of media coverage, just around 82,000 Facebook users participated and only about 23,000 users actually sacrificed enough friends to qualify for the promotion (to be fair, Facebook forced Burger King to disable the app). There are hundreds of consumer-created Burger King groups and fan pages on Facebook (the largest has over 200,000 fans). If Burger King knew its customers were active on Facebook, then the strategic idea would have been to take control of the brand's presence and provide a central outlet (ie, Burger King fan page) to engage with fans through relevant content, not callow stunts.

Pitfall #4. Being trendy instead of strategic
Social media discussions shouldn't start off with "we need to be on social media." It's necessary to understand why you want to be on social media to ensure that you're making a strategic move for your brand, not a trendy one. It's a marketer's responsibility to figure out which platforms are right for both the brand and the consumer. If this isn't done correctly you risk becoming a social media/branding/financial fail -- your consumers may not accept it positively and even turn on the brand if it feels too fake. Through social media, marketers should channel all the passionate brand loyalty into something productive: feedback, promotions, contests, etc. The key to doing this is focusing on strategic engagement, not jumping on the bandwagon.

Skittles decided to give complete control to consumers without thinking through what that really means. The effect of turning the Skittles website into an aggregation of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia backfired when consumers had free-reign to say whatever they wanted. It seemed that the marketers at Skittles forgot that the whole point of social media is to engage with consumers by providing value. Without any monitoring or interaction from the Skittles team, the site was essentially a graffiti wall that had no brand building power. This doesn't drive relationship building, it's too superficial and completely unstrategic. Skittles realized the error and its new site is much more controlled, but still allows consumers to share and interact with the brand. On the new site, the overwhelming social media streams are gone and all content can now be shared through Facebook and Twitter.

Pitfall #5 Not integrating and treating as a side experiment
Social media cannot be treated as a side experiment. Marketers need to throw out the "if we build it they will come" mentality and start integrating and directing consumers to brand initiatives. Although social media doesn't require as large of a budget as traditional media, it doesn't mean that you can test it out with short-term or one-off side experiments. If you're going to use social media, you need to commit to it. If you're not integrating your social media efforts with your overall marketing strategy you risk having disjointed messaging and not reaching the customer -- in other words, your social media strategy becomes a wasted effort. Social media should be the thread that weaves together all your marketing initiatives.

UPS delivered a few social media initiatives last year, but they failed to give directions to where they were located. UPS’s strategy is to provide content that is relevant and useful to its B2B customers. At the center is a branded Popurls site. Here UPS is serving as a content curator for business news and tips. UPS also created a Populr Brown Edition YouTube channel and Twitter. While the Popurls pieces are integrated with each other, this initiative is not integrated with UPS's overall marketing initiatives. The Popurls site is clearly a missed opportunity. The full potential will not be realized unless UPS offers directions to and from these sites and does a better job integrating these elements into its overall marketing efforts.

Avoiding Social Mediocrity
Marketers will need to avoid these 5 pitfalls to be successful. If you don't approach social media the right way, you're just setting your brand up for failure. Long-term and strategic thinking should guide your efforts. Social media is not a campaign that begins and ends in a matter of months. It is a long-term commitment of engaging with your consumers to build stronger and more loyal relationships.

About the Authors: Stacy Cohen and Marina Molenda received master's in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School at Northwestern University. They specialize in Brand & Advertising Strategy and Direct & Interactive Marketing and are the co-founders of the integrated marketing blog Vitamin IMC. To learn more about the authors, follow them on Twitter: @stacycohen, @marina81

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