Wake up to Facebook, Twitter: Five tips for using social media

Net Effect: How to turn web 2.0 into real marketing tools

Net Effect: How to turn web 2.0 into real marketing tools

Social media is already well entrenched in businesses, with corporate blogs, Facebook pages and crowdsourcing projects underway. Anthony Plewes explains how - now that these tools are maturing - businesses can start getting real marketing results from social media.

Fuzzy social media benefits are all very well but for blogging, social networking, crowdsourcing and the like to become successful marketing tools, they will need to measure up against proven marketing metrics. Encouragingly some companies have already grasped that particular nettle, according to a recent social media benchmarking report from MarketingSherpa.

The research shows that seven per cent of companies are already producing measureable return on investment (ROI) on their social media projects, which is impressive given their relative newness. Unsurprisingly these businesses plan to invest in social media liberally. A further 49 per cent say social media is a promising tactic that will eventually produce ROI, so they also plan to invest in it further.

Where are these companies seeing success? Mainly in fairly obvious areas, such as increasing website traffic, lead generation and sales revenue, or improving search engine rankings and boosting brand or product reputation.

To really judge the success of a social media strategy, businesses also need to differentiate and segment their user base, because not all 'friends' or website visitors have the same value.

MarketingSherpa has also compared the effectiveness, effort required and enterprise usage of different social media activities. It found the most effective technique was building and maintaining blogger relationships, but because these required the most effort, usage in companies was only middling.

After maintaining relations, the next most effective social media strategies are microblogging - Twitter for example - social media SEO and blogging. Interestingly, budget for all of these social media strategies lies in human resources rather than IT.

For businesses looking to embrace social media for marketing in 2010, here are some pointers that can help make the project a success.

Assign a marketing objective
Like any project, you should have a clear business objective for your social media efforts and not just do it for its own sake. Perhaps you need to improve brand visibility, want to open a dialogue with customers or target a hard-to-reach market segment.

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One creative example of this is Ford's 'This is Now' campaign, which aimed to create a buzz about the new Fiesta among a target market that were not interested in the motor industry's traditional media, such as car magazines and shows. It used a collaborative art project with user-created media to create interest in the launch.

Segment your users accurately
Any social media campaign needs to carefully think about which users it is targeting. Market researcher Forrester's Groundswell project provides a ladder of social network involvement that can help.

It segments users from inactives - who do nothing with social media - at the bottom, to creators - who publish their own blog - at the top. It measures the frequency of users...

...participating in at least one of these activities per month. Spectators, who read blogs or listen to podcasts, are unsurprisingly the most common, at 70 per cent in the US but creators are on the rise and have reached 24 per cent in the US.

Don't become a security risk
Although free exchange of information is at the heart of social media, you don't want to expose confidential information to the world. Ensure the software you are using is properly secured and your staff have been trained in its use. You don't want them inadvertently sharing company secrets with competitors or insulting customers.

In addition, make sure you follow best practice guidelines for social media so that your project and company are respected in the long term. For example, for blogging follow full disclosure practices, such as those espoused by the Social Media Business Council.

Stay committed and act quickly
If your social media project is all about collaborating with your customers, as in crowdsourcing, ensure that you actually implement the suggestions they make. Look at the success Nascar had with its Fan Council, which looked to draw on the enthusiasm of motor racing fans to drive innovation. The project celebrates the ideas fans came up with, such as a new way of restarting races.

For more common businesses, such as coffee shops, you might find that the best ideas generated by your social media project end up being used by your competitors, so take the initiative and use them first! Starbucks demonstrated its customer involvement through the My Starbucks Idea site.

Learn from others
It's always useful to see what has actually worked for others in social media, and there is plenty of information out there. Here are some good starting points and resources:

Anthony Plewes is a director of Futurity Media, a leading technology marketing consultancy. He has a background in journalism and industry analysis with expertise in communications and IT.

Over the past decade, Futurity Media has worked with some of the biggest names in the technology business. Futurity Media's philosophy is simple: take complex technologies and make them accessible to a business audience. To find out more about Futurity Media's approach, go to www.futuritymedia.com.