Saturday April 7, 2012

The social media challenges


“SOCIAL media is the new loyalty club,” says Yasir Yousuff, NM Incite managing director for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Speaking to StarBizWeek on social media marketing, he points out that it is the consumer, not companies, that controls information on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

When companies use social media to drive consumers to their own websites, they should provide a separate community website or microblog for these potentially influential consumers, says Yasir.

Yasir says it is a ‘sin’ if companies don’t act on feedback from customers.

“These social media users should be treated differently than the casual visitors to your website, and be given special incentives and promotions. Marketing is about segmentation and differentiation, and those on social networks have higher value,” he says.

NM Incite, a collaboration between global market research leader Nielsen and consulting firm McKinsey & Co, helps companies to develop their social media strategy and provides them with actionable insights based on social media buzz, i.e. what people are saying about their brand or product on social media.

There is a direct correlation between exposure to social media buzz and purchase intent, he says.

“In the social media, you can find a lot more information than what the company wants to give you, so the company can't control information; it can only influence. That, I think, is the big challenge for companies today: consumers in social media are interacting in ways and means that the company cannot control,” Yasir says.

Yasir also thinks that whatever companies do on social media should be integrated with what they do on other media such as print.

“Real-time feedback on social media is a good tool for improving marketing effectiveness. Companies can use it to make corrections to product strategy and marketing campaigns in other media,” he says.

According to him, one mistake that a lot of companies make is trying to do social media as a standalone activity.

“Actually, social media should be integrated as part of the marketing strategy and as part of your media mix. Whatever your corporate or product strategy, you must integrate social media into them and use social media as a real-time platform to test new ideas, to get feedback on existing products and services, and to reach out to customers and build a community of interested people.”

Companies should realise that going online for social media interaction is a huge commitment, he says.

“The thing with social media is, you can never switch off. Once you open that channel (of communication), there's no question of switching off; it's always on and you need to be prepared to engage with customers all the time. That's why it's better not to go online if you're not ready.

“You can just have a static website or you can have an online chat room where customers can connect with the customer service representative. I can have a forum, especially for cars and technology products, where people can look for technical support and also give reviews.

But all this needs a certain commitment to customer service. There has to be a responsive mentality, that I am always there for my customers, I'm listening to their feedback, and I am able to communicate and get back to them in a personal manner.”

Yasir says that if companies don't act on the feedback, it is considered “a sin.”

“You can't claim to have social media channels just to be cool. When you open a Facebook page or you have a Twitter account, customers have a certain expectation of you as a company,” he says.

Many companies abandon their social media sites after having done certain campaigns.

“Let's say you have a Facebook account that was opened specifically for a particular product campaign. After the campaign is finished, nobody maintains that Facebook account. Suppose you have 10,000 users online who like that product. What do you do with these 10,000 people? A great way is to show the company values their advocacy for its product. For example, you can give a 20% discount coupon for the weekend just for these online people.”

Social media requires a medium- to long-term strategy of customer relationship management. “If you use social media solely for doing promotions, it (sales) won't be sustainable. Companies need to know how to win the customers' loyalty what are their interests and how to serve those interests. Maybe you are required to make non-commercial investments such as content creation and community initiatives.”

But do consumers want to engage with brands on social media? A TNS global study has found that 57% of people in developed markets, and 47% of Malaysians, do not want to engage with brands via social media.

When this is pointed to him, Yasir declines to comment because the data comes from a different company.

He cites the findings of Nielsen's South-East Asia Digital Consumer survey, which covered people aged 15 years and above who had used the Internet in the last four weeks.

“Sixty per cent of Malaysian digital consumers have connected or interacted with brands, products or companies via social media in the past 12 months,” he says. That figure is higher than Singapore (56%), Thailand (42%) and Indonesia (20%), and just below the Philippines (65%).

He also notes that 94% of the Malaysian digital consumers have read other people's comments on brands, products or services in the past 12 months.

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