By Nick Davies, managing director, EMO
The power of social media to create communities is well understood. However, social media is actually a tiny part of something much bigger – social marketing. And even if the lines are blurring – after all, both practices appreciate people as social animals – it is social marketing that empowers communities, both real and virtual, to make a genuine difference.
Glencoe/McGraw Hill, the educational and media services company, defines social marketing as “the use of marketing principles and techniques for the social good.” It’s the idea that we’re all capable of making important things happen when we work together – and one that David Cameron’s Big Society vision is in tune with.
The public and not-for-profit sectors use social marketing to target communications directly to communities, working with them to ‘nudge’ towards behaviour change, rather than dictating through mass media. It’s an approach that has been proven to reduce wastage significantly. However, social marketing is just as relevant to FMCG/retail brands.
When it comes to brands, social marketing helps demonstrate that they are more than faceless corporations. It enhances core brand values, builds trust and offers something extra to staff who enjoy working for a business that gives something back.
So what does social marketing mean in practice?
If you are going to engage with communities directly, you need to ensure that you are totally relevant, and to do so requires understanding of the geographics, demographics and community issues that shape an area at a granular level. Use mapping processes and media planning tools on a street-by-street basis, combined with on-the-ground research through focus groups, mystery shopping and street surveys to gain an in-depth view.
Identify community partners
It’s imperative to identify partners and key influencers within the community. Working with the stakeholders generates a collective effort, delivering better levels of engagement, providing an opportunity to share information between relevant parties and helping you to overcome barriers to behavioural change – all of which will more effectively mobilise the target audience. Social marketing partners/ key influencers could include city councils, local healthcare professionals, media partners, schools and colleges amongst others.
Adopt a ‘bottom up’ approach
Turn thinking on its head and build campaigns from the ‘bottom up’, passing information and reaction up the chain. Placing a dedicated marketing team on location helps build relationships, and strong relationships are the key to success. Going into communities, emphasis should be placed on friendliness, professionalism and persistence, and this energy and commitment is infectious.
Campaigns can be even more effective when stakeholders also shift to a bottom up approach. Once organisations start understanding the power of unlocking the potential of their own grassroots workers – akin to Big Society ideals – you add another dimension to the programme.
Review existing media channels and conduct pre and post campaign evalutions to drill down to what’s working and what isn’t. To get to the heart of a community, face-to-face activity is invaluable, supported by awareness media (including door drops, posters, press and online advertising), where appropriate. Nothing activates a community like people. Non-traditional opportunities are also abound – look at strategically placing materials within the community, considering, GP surgeries, local shops, leisure venues.
Also, look at both owned and earned media as a means of gaining a strong return on investment. Campaign websites and social media channels facilitate user-interaction and engagement, while the involvement of news agencies lends additional weight to a campaign. Done right, PR assists in delivering key campaign messages, and allows for in-depth and ongoing exploration of the issue, via trusted local outlets.
And it works!
A good example of social marketing working well can be seen with our work for Tesco where we identified a local boxing club, faced with closure and close to a store that was about to relaunch. With a generous donation from Tesco and support from Brent Council we installed a computer suite within the club; this has helped to both extend the club’s relevance across the community and secure its future. The club now offers a GCSE in boxing for local children and computer facilities for local adults.
This activity helped to provide Tesco with great PR within the local media around the time of the store relaunch, with the store opening proving hugely successful, performing well above target in the first three months. However, it has also forged genuine links between the retailer and the community, while offering the potential in the future to exploit those links through marketing on themes such as sports and healthy living.
Social marketing is a complex process that can be hard work, time consuming and can take marketers out of their own comfort zone. However, the fundamentals of getting social marketing right are simple. It’s about rolling your sleeves up and talking to people from a basis of deep understanding of their issues. It’s about getting them involved and empowering them – and it’s just as likely to involve community and Sure Start Children’s Centres as it is a Facebook page.
Most importantly, as we typically see a return on investment significantly higher than traditional marketing approaches, social marketing should be a no-brainer to any organisation that wants to make a difference.
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