The Business Side of Social Marketing

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Loni Stark, Adobe Systems Inc.
Loni Stark, Adobe Systems Inc.

I've observed that companies have become fluent in performing acts of “drive-by” social—hitting occasional jackpots of retweets or likes. However, after the high-fives and fleeting feelings of popularity, all too often, someone is left with the unenviable task of explaining how these finger taps and keyboard clicks translate into real revenue and assets for the business. 

Even as early as March 2011 eConsultancy was reporting that Twitter had nearly four million tweets per hour. YouTube was banking more than 24 hours of video uploaded every minute and clocking in two billion video views during the same period. 

It's been over a year since, and most companies, while swimming in social waters, are still scratching their heads on how to harness the power of social media.

Social marketing solutions are making significant strides in helping companies attribute social outreach initiatives to online purchases. However, an overlooked area with great potential to impact revenue is in the social engagement that enterprises can foster on their owned digital properties; whether it's their websites, micro-sites, mobile sites, or tablet apps. Customer communities centered on companies' own digital properties, while harder to start, are the way companies can harness the power of social that provides a sustained competitive advantage. Owning a deeper level of social engagement on the website enables companies to harness the passion of a community to create relevant content that will foster long-term audience loyalty and revenue growth. 

Build organic traffic through user generated content

Online ads accounted for more than $100 billion in marketing spend worldwide in 2012. Any other traffic a company gets is through search engine optimization and creating a loyal audience. Organic traffic is incredibly valuable because it's “free,” and the alternative (ads) is pretty expensive for traffic acquisition. The foundation of organic traffic is relevant, accessible content that customers care about. Churning out useful content requires buckets of sweat equity and pounds of authenticity.

Making it easy and fun for visitors and customers to create content on your site through ratings, reviews, forums, gamification, and social communities is one way businesses can unleash and tap into a goldmine of user generated content. Many retailers have included product review capabilities, but few have centered the conversation on product discussions within the context of what really matters to customers. For example, people who buy fitness equipment are not usually treadmill aficionados. Instead they may be marathon enthusiasts or pledgers of a New Year's resolution. FitStudio (fitstudio.com), an initiative by retailer Sears, starts to address this by providing useful content on fitness instead of just presenting their fitness products. They have strong content marketing. However, they haven't turned on the power of user generated content by giving visitors the ability to engage and add social content across the website, and by drawing in interactions from their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube presences. Fostering this kind of user generated content increases the value of owned digital properties by bolstering search rankings and organic traffic. 

Actively help build customer communities

The mistake companies make is that they limit themselves to what works for individuals through social media channels. Many of the social media tools, such as Twitter and even Facebook fan pages, are optimized for individuals, not enterprises. Businesses need to go beyond this to facilitate customer connections instead of acting just like individuals. This is well understood in the real world; companies orchestrate conferences and user groups where one of the key benefits attendees cite is networking with others. Businesses can build tremendous brand engagement and awareness by being the industry leaders of creating destination hubs for customers to socialize on shared passions. It also allows for segmenting different customers into sub-interests or based on different customer lifecycle stages. Broadcasters, such as ABC, are starting to do this really well online by building forums and blogs around popular television series on owned properties that connect to third-party social networks to amplify the content. 

Share your brand

The strongest brands are ones with which customers can identify. Social media strengthens this connection by providing ways businesses can elevate the status of key members of the customer community. Through badges and expanded privileges on a social community and throughout a brand's sites, customers whose status is tied to the success of the brand will have an interest in not only supporting it, but also guarding it and evangelizing it. Social sites, such as Yelp and Foursquare, exploit this really well by creating elite badge statuses and special site privileges, but I have yet to see companies not born directly from the social era get this right. 

Social media is still in its nascent stages. Some of its most powerful and innovative possibilities are still to be realized. The companies that look to strengthen their chest of user generated content, build communities, and share in the success of their brand will harness the formidable power of passionate customers and reap the associated benefits.

Loni Stark is director of product and solution marketing at Adobe.

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