The usage of social networks is increasing daily. Clearly, the whole social phenomenon is still far from over. Its impact for marketers and companies is huge. A whole new range of channels has joined existing interaction channels and have shifted the focus from communicating as in messaging to communication as a balanced mix of cross-channel dialogues where listening, and thus customer data, preferences and behaviour, are key.
For marketers, this evolution constitutes an enormous opportunity, but also a major challenge. The attention of modern individuals is fragmented, and in this hectic communication reality they want to decide for themselves how and when and with whom they speak, both in private and with regard to business communication.
Moreover, people can also disseminate information themselves via social channels, which can very quickly send messages all around the world.
The social media (r)evolution has five major consequences for marketers. Note that this does not mean that all of them are only caused by the social media and networking evolutions.
Many of them were happening already. The social Web is a natural evolution whereby people are connected to people online in a one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many way, more than ever before, but it certainly has strengthened, and sometimes simply caused, each of the five evolutions that you find below the graphic.
1. The increase of communication channels: a never ending stream of dialogues and content
People talk about brands and companies, as they´ve always done, but on the internet everyone can see or read it.
That´s why it is so important to participate in these “conversations”: dialogues between people, based on content that is the basis of a story thats gets told and shared when it is relevant, funny or valuable for people in any other way. Besides the conversational aspect, there is also a spreading aspect on social channels. It’s a myth to believe that people only converse, they also disseminate information without ever engaging in dialogues. But it’s important to listen to these messages as well: they tell us what people think.
It’s also the reason why reputation management is a priority for many marketers who are getting started with social media marketing.
Whether these discussions are taking place on blogs, Twitter, Facebook or other social media: it is important to follow and professionally respond to them. You can also make sure that people talk about you by setting up communities and other conversation possibilities where people can express their opinions, even if the messages they share are ´negative´ for your image.
2. People are becoming a part of the marketing process.
Internet users actively create and share relevant content and information. Relevant doesn´t have to mean ´serious, insightful or educational´. It can also mean ´fun´, ´useful´ and so on. Because people like to share information with others via direct contacts or their social networks, they are becoming an integral element of the marketing process.
That is what online word-of-mouth, viral marketing and influencer marketing are all about. One of the tasks of marketers is to identify those people who share the most or are the most influential (which isn´t the same thing). But this doesn´t mean that you should ignore the less influential users of social media!
3. Marketing has finally become a dialogue.
People talk via various media and channels. They no longer passively consume your marketing and communication messages, they actively participate in them and they want your brand to be real and transparent: as a bunch of people. As just mentioned, they do so by sharing, but also by reacting.
For many companies, this requires a huge shift in their traditional way of thinking about marketing and communication (as a monologue and broadcasting). Outbound is down, inbound is up. Or better: there is a need for cross-channel interactions where the borders between outbound and inbound dissapear. Everything is function of the customer, the channels he uses and his digital signals and triggers.
Reacting to the opinions of people begins with being where they are, by following what they say (social media monitoring) and responding with respect, regardless of the channel or medium. But above all it is a matter of customer-centric thinking.
4. The purchasing process and buying journey have changed.
Consumers search for online information before they buy products or use services. They visit comparison websites, read ´peer reviews´ and ask their acquaintances for advice. They also visit your website, download your white papers, etc.
The challenge for companies lies in monitoring all these digital footprints of the increasingly ´invisible´ customers and accompanying (potential) customers during their purchasing process. In practice these means a very data-driven way of marketing whereby all cross-channel interactions, triggers, feedback, opinions and transactions serve to personalize the relevance of dialogues and thus content and conversion.
The focus has moved from sale to purchase. Web analytics, social media monitoring, marketing automation and so on all come together here with other forms of marketing such as email marketing and customer data systems such as CRM. All of this has to result in a holistic vision of the increasingly digital customer whereby providing content that’s adapted to the individual buyer and his behavior is crucial.
5. Much greater importance is now attached to improving relations with existing customers and ´brand followers´ than was the case earlier.
Everyone knows that it is much more efficient to improve your financial bottom line by getting more out of existing customers and turning more or less regular customers into genuinely loyal customers and even creating so-called ´brand advocates´.
Attracting new customers is expensive. But naturally it is also necessary. In the final analysis, the ´pipeline´ has to remain filled, and the company that can live solely from its existing customers is very much the exception. Through the power of word-of-mouth, social networking, online recommendations, etc. there is a growing understanding that concentrating on existing customers (and other people around your company) is far more than just a question of customer “maintenance”. As it happens, the best sellers are these ultra-loyal and satisfied customers. Reputation almost equals sales.
Or, in other words: by working on ´customer retention´, you´re also engaging in ´customer acquisition´. That might well be the most important reason why community marketing and social media marketing are so important. If you can´t have as much direct contact with potential customers as you did before, you not only have to be there where they prepare their purchases, you also have to have people who help you with sales, and these are precisely your ´fans´, ´followers´, ´loyal customers´, ´brand advocates´ or whatever you want to call them.
Social media marketing is no longer a choice, it´s a must, simply because your prospect and customers use them. It’s a matter of being there when and how it matters to your customers, prospects and brand ecosystem in a cross-channel way.
Remember these words:
- People (customer-centricity, people-centricity) and their opinions and preferences
- Stories (what content becomes and should strive to be)
- Channels (offer choice of ways to interact)
- Value (content & services must be relevant in the interpersonal context.
- Reputation (the sum of all the above and what makes or breaks in the social age, reputation and customer loyalty lead to sales)