By Anssi Tauriainen, CEO at Aito Technologies.
Initially dismissed by pundits as a toy for lazy students, social networks have now taken the World by storm and become a pervasive part of everyday life for millions of people. In the year to February 09, Facebook experienced a 228% increase in the number of user profiles it hosts.
While Twitter, the real time social media application, grew by a staggering 1382%. Wall Street valued Twitter at $1bn at the end of last year, but it has only recently announced that it is considering a move to generate revenues through advertising.
Other methods of commercialisation exist, with social networks adopting a direct sales model to permit their members to buy and sell goods in a virtual environment. Brands sell new products through virtual stores on sites like Second Life, while members of the Habbo website are able buy and sell furniture to decorate their virtual ‘hotel rooms’.
An online community or social network represents a significant opportunity for a brand or a media company to target a specific consumer segment with personalised and relevant marketing and advertising campaigns. In addition there is an opportunity for social networks and their media partners to identify up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
The challenge that advertisers and marketers face is how to develop an accurate profile of these consumer segments and be in a position to develop highly targeted promotional campaigns and non-intrusive advertising, which is aligned to the online behaviour of their target audience.
Now that so many visitors to the web are spending the majority of their time on social networks, Facebook alone has over 400 million members worldwide, customer profiling has become critical to the success and visibility of brands. As a result the social networks and their media partners are now looking at different methods that will help them to develop an accurate portrait of the end user.
Traditionally online businesses have relied on customer relationship management (CRM) techniques to develop profiles of their customers, and have extracted behaviour and billing information from different data sources.
The challenge is to unite all that intelligence into meaningful data, which can then be used to identify new revenue streams, up-sell opportunities and develop highly-targeted advertising and marketing campaigns.
Social networking sites have at their disposal in-depth profile information about their subscribers that would be the envy of any other business. There is the potential for brands to tap into a wealth of information and keep track of their target audiences’ behaviour and experience, which also provides them with the ability to evaluate subscribers’ responses to advertising and promotions.
The traditional CRM methods of extracting data from a variety of different sources can be a slow and expensive process. By implementing the latest customer experience analytics (CEA) tools, social networks and media companies will be able to utilise existing assets and data sources, to produce conclusive and accessible data. CEA tools are deployed as a simple plug-in product that can be integrated directly into an existing infrastructure to draw on important sources of subscriber information.
This includes data traffic, relevant demographic information including username, gender and age, together with subscriber activity on a social media site, which can range from posting comments on a blog, to accessing specific content. Other critical information would include purchasing behaviour, identifying the products and services that were bought by individual users.
The analytics tools are used to drill down and identify consumer segments that would be receptive to targeted promotional campaigns and advertising. Brands are able to use this information to target subscribers with branding and advertising messages, accurately and appropriately.
The social networks themselves can use the data to learn more about the community for commercial reasons identifying up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. What’s more, these tools can be up and running quickly, ready to produce accurate data practically overnight.
CEA has already been used successfully by muxlim.com, the world’s largest Muslim lifestyle network, which was able to develop a reporting system to provide its media partners with an insight into brand opportunities and invaluable feedback on campaigns launched into the market.
This additional reporting service proved to become a valuable asset allowing muxlim.com to cement existing relationships with media companies and attract new partners with a more substantial proposition.
Online communities can become a serious commercial proposition for brands and advertisers, but only if they can access the intelligence needed to profile and segment end-users for the purposes of targeted advertising.
Despite the challenges, the outlook is extremely positive - CEA tools can address the technical and monetary issues of social networking.
More importantly, with the likes of Twitter being valued at $1 billion, there is a feeling that - according to the Financial Times - the success of social media sites “represents a long term shift in how people use the web.” That is definitely a trend that advertisers and marketers should be paying close attention to.
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