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Direct Response Marketing

The Social Experience

1 May, 2011 By: Pat Cauley Response

Though many marketers are still testing the social media waters, it would be naïve not to recognize the immediate impact sites like Facebook and Twitter can have on sales.


Social media’s immense impact on our world is undeniable. In just the past few months we’ve been moved by Twitter helping the people of Egypt ignite a revolution, and shocked, entertained and then saddened by the very public meltdown of Charlie Sheen via YouTube videos and his #winning tweets.

We live in a world where anyone can make second-by-second updates to inform everyone in their life what they’re thinking at any given moment. The power of this unique voice can be harnessed in a variety of ways. And for marketers, it’s almost naive not to recognize the immediate impact social media can have on brand, product and sales.

According to Nielsen, 90 percent of consumers trust their friends’ recommendations over advertising. For savvy marketers, social media is the perfect vehicle to increase sales, brand awareness and engagement, but the social waters must be navigated carefully to be effective.

Testing the Waters

“Social is not about you; make it about your customer. We’re all about trying to get our clients to focus in on how to tap into their customers that are acting social and want to have an affinity with the brand,” says Blake Hayward, vice president of products for San Francisco-based social media firm Extole. “In order to do that, you must engage them in the right way, and they become your marketers for you. Make it easy! Not only is everyone connected now, and it’s easy to see what folks are saying about a particular brand, but also user-generated content and interaction with a brand only takes one click. The ease of this process is really important. You don’t want to limit who you engage with.”

Social media has actually been a natural progression for marketers. “E-mail is a little bit clouded. People are kind of abandoning their in-boxes because they’re being overwhelmed with spam. A place that they’re going to receive content from the same friends they’re E-mailing with is the Facebook newsfeed,” says Matt Monahan, director of social for New York-based Epic Media Group. “If you have a fanpage, you have direct access to the newsfeed, and you as a brand marketer can publish content that’s displayed very much in a relevant way because it’s in between messages that are relevant amongst friends. It almost blurs the line between advertising and entertaining content between friends and ultimately yields very high engagement rates.”

However, your social efforts don’t necessarily have to be on one of the actual social sites. “Go to where your customers are. If you’re already driving a ton of traffic through your existing website, engage them there. Engage them in social ways on your own website that will then give you more visibility in the other social channels where your customers are interacting,” says Peter Yared, vice president and general manager of Portland, Ore.-based Webtrends.

Golden Rules of Social Media

Matt Greenfield, senior vice president and director of client services for Encino, Calif.-based KSL Media, works with DR powerhouses like TELEBrands, as well as retailers such as Anna’s Linens, Toshiba and UGG. “Be genuine and authentic,” he says. “Spend a lot of time understanding your target audience and the emotional triggers that lead them to make purchase decisions and just things they enjoy doing, their passion points, their leisure activities. If you can get to what makes them tick as individuals, you’ve sort of captured the first element of social media objectives — it’s not really about you, it’s about them,” he says.

Doritos and Pepsi Max were able to effectively engage consumers with their “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign in which they asked users to create their own Super Bowl commercials for the brands and submit them in a contest that spread like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter.

“If people respond appropriately to chatter from tweets, it can be really impactful,” says Greenfield. He referenced Jack in the Box’s Twitter feed, which has used an interesting model and developed a strong following by balancing the character they have in Jack, who can say funny or mundane thing that the fans “get” and then marrying that with offers thrown out sporadically. “It’s an interesting balance of offer plus content that’s entertaining that keeps people excited,” Greenfield says.

Hayward has found incredible success on Facebook by encouraging clients to engage users on their brand page. “Facebook, from a direct response point, is a tough environment for a marketer to get a consumer’s attention. There are notifications, messages, friend suggestions — it can be very distracting for a Facebook user to really be drawn into a fan page, so we work with our clients to provide engaging programs on those pages to draw the visitors in and give them a reason to engage with that brand,” he says. “In most cases we’re driving to a ‘Like,’ but not only to like that brand, but turn it into a very social event.”

And instead of just updates in the newsfeed, Hayward has also seen success with sweepstakes by driving users to refer them to their friends in that if they win, then their friend does as well. They do this by tracking every referral for sweepstakes and contests on Facebook. Sweepstakes and contests that have referral and sharing incentives are essential to a successful social model. “It’s impactful and draws users into the fold because it’s something new,” he says.

It’s important for marketers to look at trends, see what customers are saying and then bring it back to the brand. Much like DR marketers test and change their offers in television creative, they can apply this same tactic to tweak or adjust their social messaging to really hit that sweet spot of what the customers feel to make the messaging more effective.

“We’ve seen companies that — instead of focusing on their brand — create content that meets a typographic need of the consumer,” says Greenfield. “So if a client decides that their customer is really into music, even if the client has nothing to do with music, they’ll create social content that’s music-related that their consumer base enjoys. They’ll tie their brand to that and they’ll get legs off the viral sharing and the association with something that is a passion point for their consumer.”

Monahan adds, “Make sure you’re publishing offers and products to your newsfeed regularly, but make sure you blend it with content that’s also educational and entertaining. If you just try to sell through your newsfeed, you’re going to get low post quality score and end up with low algorithm relevance and not get as many impressions per post.”

EdgeRank is the system Facebook uses to help determine what posts from friends or pages actually end up on your newsfeed. “EdgeRank is to Facebook as page rank is to Google. It’s the algorithm that determines how relevant content is based on audience’s interaction with that content,” says Monahan. In a nutshell, a lot more content is posted from friends and companies that you like than what actually shows up in your newsfeed, so Facebook has to intelligently think about what content to show you to make your user experience as good as possible.

“They use geometrics to calculate EdgeRank,” Monahan explains. “While the details aren’t exactly known, the general idea is that if you have a higher number of fans than other competitors in your category, then you’ll have higher EdgeRank relevance and get more impressions in the newsfeed and garner higher value from that channel. The second metric that matters is post quality score, which is a seven-day rolling average of Likes, comments and shares on content that’s pushed out to your newsfeed. So what marketers need to realize is they need to have a big number of fans, but they also need to be posting content that’s relevant to your audience.”

However, to ensure that messaging will surface appropriately in the social realm, there are certain things marketers should avoid when using these media.

Social Taboos

“Consumers shy away from what they view as commercialism. We’ve seen clients who have tried to force their own agenda no matter what; clients who become enamored with themselves and their brand as opposed to considering what the consumer actually wants,” says Greenfield.

Clearly when in the midst of digesting enjoyable content from their friends and family, a blatant marketing push stands out like a sore thumb to most consumers. “Every once and a while you find this magical moment where something within a brand is actually really appealing to a consumer as well from a content standpoint, and that’s the optimal fit. But there are a lot of brands that are pretty mundane products, so sometimes it is important that you find a different path to igniting the social atmosphere that doesn’t requiring you forcing your product down on them,” Greenfield adds.

Cliq Social Media follows a philosophy of interacting directly with customers so they feel connected with the brand, enlisting them as brand ambassadors.

Yared cautioned against monotony. “What doesn’t work is saying the same thing over and over again,” he says. Yared also conveyed a marketer’s need to realistically manage expectations. “Why would someone spend 20 minutes on your brand when they’ll only spend 10 seconds on their best friend? This is a specific medium, and there’s a specific way that people like to engage with friends and also entities.”

The unpredictable nature of social media makes some markets hesitant to join the conversation. And while having a presence in a social space where your users, customers and fans can interact with you does have a certain level of vulnerability, when it comes to social’s positive benefits the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. The debate on how to respond to criticisms persists.

To Engage or Not to Engage

“Ask yourself a few questions. For instance, ‘Do we have the resources to support an ongoing communication path to consumers from a customer service standpoint?’” Greenfield says.

Social media customer service is a switch that, if you turn it on, you have to be prepared to react to it on an ongoing basis. Greenfield also cautions against starting a dialogue. “If you’re responding to customer service issue, make sure it has a finality to it. The worst thing you can do is ignite a conversation,” he says. “Try to discern the degree of inflammation of the issue, and where appropriate, take it offline and out of social media and get in touch with that individual directly. Sometimes social media is a great platform for resolving issues, and other cases it can backfire and ignite a flurry of additional responses that don’t go in the right direction.”

Hayward sympathizes with brands, admitting that response to negative chatter can be dicey. “It’s actually kept a lot of brands on the sidelines because they fear the negative quote, but they’re not factoring all the positive quotes and recommendations as well that they can drive by engaging the customers in a social setting,” he says. “And actually, often if you service a negative quote well, it can be turned around into a win with customers.”

For example, what some would consider to be videos containing pretty negative opinions about the Snuggie, Allstar Marketing was able to turn a lot of it into positive press that ended up increasing awareness and sales for the product.

Greenfield identified third-party tracking systems that advertisers are now utilizing like Radium 6 and Hitwise to monitor the chatter in the marketplace, be it positive or negative, to get a feel for the mood surrounding the brand and which way the conversation is migrating. These tools can be a great way to track message impact in the social space, so marketers can adjust their social messaging much like their traditional advertising campaigns.

Show Me the Money

Having customers engage and spend time with your brand is clearly positive, but analytics-driven DR marketers also need to know that they’ll see actual financial benefits to their social ventures.

Greenfield referenced a tactic on Facebook where retailers will accumulate a certain amount of ‘Likes’ before exposing an offer. For instance, if a post received 10,000 Likes, all those users will receive a 50-percent-off coupon; for 20,000 Likes, everyone would maybe receive a buy-one, get-one (BOGO) offer.

“It’s sort of a Groupon equivalent, but I think it’s a good use of Facebook that’s allowing consumers to band together to communicate with another to ignite the social community, and they get something that they actually care about in return and the advertiser is actually selling product and gaining interest, engagement and awareness in their brand,” he says, declaring it a win-win for everyone.

Another smart method is to use Facebook credits. “It’s an opportunity for direct response marketers to give a certain amount of virtual currency back to a user in exchange for completing an action. It allows you to predict what your customer acquisition costs are going to be and you’re also going to be able to target really granularly,” says Monahan. Facebook credits can also be beneficial to DR marketers in terms of continuity and loyalty programs. Consequently, he also recommends putting your store in your Facebook fanpage to ensure you have a point of sale on Facebook.

Signing Off

At the end of the day, most marketers can probably decide quickly if social media is an appropriate strategy based on the basics they already know about their brands or products.

Monahan says, “If you’re already getting complaints to your website and it’s really hard for customers to find a way to communicate with you, then you’re going to get a lot more complaints through Twitter and Facebook. Secondly, survey all your customers and make sure they’re actually participating on Facebook to make sure it’s the right audience channel for you to be marketing to. If you check off both of those boxes, then you can go into social advertising with some confidence and probably see great results.”

When social media is done right, these engaging, analytics-driven tactics could be just what DR marketers need to put their campaign over the top.

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