Why social networks are important to marketers
Ten years, perhaps even five years ago, if you’d mentioned the term ‘social network’ you’d have been met with a blank face.
How hard to believe then that today more than six million users are logging on every month according to Ofcom.
Of the three main players, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, the latter is the biggest in the UK.
Not only that, Bebo is the most popular website in the UK – even more so than Google.
Last week comScore revealed it had 8.6 billion page impressions in August, compared to Google’s 8.45billion.
Interestingly, it’s the first time ever that the largest site in the UK (by any measure) has been run by a company actually based in the UK.
As a result, it’s an audience that marketers are looking to address. But they need to do so in the correct manner.
Simple banner advertising may not be the right answer. Virgin Media, Halifax, the Prudential and the AA together with Vodafone and First Direct all pulled their ads from Facebook last month after they randomly appeared on pages promoting the British National Party.
Perhaps brands can get higher engagement from their audience through ‘social marketing’.
Some 48 per cent of brand marketers plan to use social marketing tactics in the next year, compared to 38 percent who did so last year. That’s according to JupiterResearch.
"Social Networking Sites: Defining Advertising Opportunities in a Competitive Landscapes”, author, Emily Riley, said, "Users between 18 and 34 are much more likely than older audiences to visit social networks daily."
"Thirty percent of frequent social networkers trust their peers' opinions when making a major purchase decision, but only ten percent trust advertisements.
She added, “Consequently, brand marketers must harness brand advocates and influentials by providing additional motivation for frequent networkers to engage in social marketing."
The report pointed out that in addition to engaging brand advocates to involve social networkers, brand marketers must target interests and activities that attract frequent networkers.
How to win over social network users
If managed correctly it could be good news for brand. Six out of ten British consumers would be willing to interact with a brand on social networks if offered the right incentives, discounts and special offers.
According to the ‘2007 Social Media for Brands Report’ consumers are more open to contact with brands through social networks than many may think, and more than half are willing to act as brand advocates through social networks.
A massive 80 per cent of people who use social networks have either chatted about, commented on or reviewed a brand or product on an online forum or social network.
The report also indicates that negative comments posted on online forums and social networks put off customers, with more than half (52 per cent) admitting to this.
There is a clear gender divide here with 59 per cent of men taking negative comments seriously or very seriously as opposed to only 47 per cent of women.
Travel products and services were identified as the sector most at risk from negative comments on social networks, with almost six out of ten (58 percent) saying that negative comments would lead to them abandoning a purchase.
This was followed by consumer electronics (e.g. TVs and computers) with 51 per cent, financial services with 44 per cent and communications brands such as broadband and telephone providers with 40 per cent.
Company director of Tamar, which commissioned the report, Neil McCarthy, said, “The rapid growth of social networks and user generated content is shifting the online balance of power away from marketers towards the consumer, and the effectiveness of traditional online marketing channels is decreasing.
“With so many consumers actively commenting on brands through social networks, online reputation is becoming even more important."
The ‘2007 Social Media for Brands Report’ also reveals that nearly 1.5 times as many 18-35 year olds would rather accept a friend request from a brand than have banner adverts on a social networking profile page.
The best way to get users to accept friend requests was identified as through offering special offers and discounts (60 per cent). In contrast only 5 per cent said that they would be enticed by previews of forthcoming services, and only 10 per cent by exclusive products or services.
The 18-35 year olds are most receptive with more than half (51 per cent) stating the they would even be willing to act as a brand advocate (e.g. set up groups for brands, encourage friends to join and participate) on social networks in exchange for offers and discounts.
This rose to almost two thirds (64 per cent) in the 18-20 age group, who are also the biggest users of social networks.
McCarthy went on to say, “The first step is to understand how your brand is talked about in the social media space, and then decide what the best way of targeting a certain group of consumers is.
“The approach preferred by the consumer is clear: brand owners must look to ‘befriend’ consumers on social networks rather than advertise to them, and the best way for them to do this is by offering discounts and special offers."
How to monitor what’s being said about your brand
A web-mapping platform was launched earlier this year that gives brands critical insights into how they are perceived by social media networks.
Network Sense maps social network links to illustrate a brand's total online reach as well as weighing up its presence against competitors.
Marketers can then use this info to build relationship and influence strategies for their identified networks.
Head of content & media at Spannerworks, Antony Mayfield, said, “It provides our clients with a radically improved insight into the evolution of online communities and enables them to 'think strategically' about social media.”
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