Social media: is corporate marketing getting it?

05 December 2012 Stephen Hay Regional Director, APAC

A recent Burson Marsteller Social Media Check Up reassuringly trumpeted that big corporations (Fortune Global 100 in their case) have truly embraced social media. Consider;

  • 87 percent are using social tools and channels in one form or another
  • 79 percent have YouTube channels, up 39 percent on the previous year
  • 74 percent have Facebook pages, with a corresponding strong growth in the numbers of “likes” from users

All very impressive. But, are we for the most part missing the point about social media by adding it to the already long list of one-way communication and PR channels that we use to direct messages to our customers?

While there are some notably good exceptions, mostly consumer brands like Coca-Cola or what Nutella calls its kitchen table, a typical corporate Facebook page can be a pretty disappointing mix of:

  • Press release-like statements about products and services
  • Tired reproductions of marketing campaigns
  • The ubiquitous “like” and “share” buttons
  • Links to TV commercials that we have seen before
  • Suspiciously positive comments from users

Social media is about facilitating peers talking to each other, sharing ideas, content, and creativity. Simply recycling marketing content onto social channels is a bit like those Lycra-clad drinks promoters that interrupt your conversation with a friend in a bar. They may be attractive, but a disruption none the less and it’s not going to end in a relationship.

We have an amazing opportunity with social media to engage customers and prospects differently. To give them a voice and to build a more sustained dialogue based on customers choosing what, where, and how they want to participate.

Building long-term engagement is important; this can only be done by offering choice and control and constantly building trust.

Burson Marsteller suggests that every corporate Facebook page gets an average of 152,646 “likes.” It could be argued that in today’s transient world, clicking on “like” is a pretty non-committal action and from that simple starting point, a whole relationship needs to be constructed. One that keeps the customer engaged and moves the relationship forward, deeper, and more profitable.

There are those that have daringly taken peer-to-peer social developments to a new level. Consider airlines: having been slow into the social space, some are pushing the envelope. KLM’s Meet and Seat and Satisfly are initiatives that allow you to search fellow passenger profiles and then book into the seat next to them.

So how might we build more relevant and longer lasting relationships across the social spectrum – some pointers:

  • Facilitate peer engagement and expression. Dialogues are two, even three-dimensional.
  • Version your marketing to do special and different things on social channels such as Facebook. Make fans feel special for turning up.
  • Look to facilitate user-generated content. Be the gallery that showcases the creativity of your fans and customers.
  • While staying within the realms of decency, avoid the temptation to over-control things. A few negative posts are not going to hurt you and often encourage loyalists to jump to your defense.
  • Customise from simple versioning of fan pages by interest or demographic to more sophisticated custom content serving.
  • Don’t do creepy stuff. Companies like Facebook already have a fairly bad rep for privacy and encouraging stalkers and the ‘like’ isn’t going to strengthen your brand.
  • Facilitate spontaneity. From fans and the brand, not everything needs to come out of the approved PR machine.
  • Encourage interaction beyond feeble “likes” and “shares.” Quizzes, games, and surveys are all a good start.
  • Respond to people. If they ask questions, try and answer them as you would if they called or wrote to you.
  • Weave social interaction into a long term customer journey and corporate relationship model that goes beyond social channels.



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