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How to best target social networks in 2008

How to best target social networks in 2008

By Henry Elliss, head of social media at Tamar.

In 2007, social media has sprung onto the radar of marketing and brand managers worldwide, but the questions remain, what is the opportunity? What is the threat? And how do we do anything about them? Henry Elliss, head of social media at Tamar looks ahead to the main challenges in 2008 and how to be prepared for them.

2008 will be a watershed year for social media. In 2007 brands have woken up to the new media phenomenon, and while the majority worry about how to manage and control their reputations in this new, fluid online arena, few have really though about how to monetise social media, or build it into their overall marketing mix.

2008 will see social media evolve in three significant ways. Firstly, there will be an explosion in the number of smaller, niche social networks that are set up targeted at specific interest areas and these will supplement the existing populous, generic social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

Smaller generic networks will fall by the wayside. Secondly applications will move to another level with lots of big brands set to launch applications on all the platforms as a way of interacting with consumers on their terms. Thirdly by the end of 2008 most big-name brands will have an official presence on the major networks and will have put in place a strategy to deal with social media.

The impact of social media on brand reputation is evidenced by the recent Social Media for Brands Report which revealed that more than half of consumers are put off by negative comments.  The report also found that 80 per cent of people who use social networks have either chatted about, commented on or reviewed a brand or product online, this has a huge impact on any consumer-facing brand’s online reputation.  It also highlights the need for brands to know what else comes up in the search results when their brand name is typed.

If your brand becomes the victim of negative comments online, it is vital to address the situation as quickly as possible with a damage limitation approach. In the online world issues spread like wildfire and an unaddressed issue can rapidly get out of control.

The RMT is a prime example of an organization which could have anticipated the negative comments all over Facebook in light of the last round of tube strikes. Within 12 hours of the strike starting, there had been over 1,500 Facebook users registering more than 30 anti tube strike groups. Had the RMT been proactive, they could have set up a Facebook group which actually made an effort to communicate their rationale and goals and tried to garner public understanding and sympathy for their cause.

It’s not just about being seen to be doing the right things, it’s about engaging in the spirit of the enterprise. This is vital when marketers consider how to make social media work for them. Many brands believe that by simply peppering social networks with banner ads, they are embracing the new medium, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Social network users tend to be cynical and media savvy and in response brands must engage them in the spirit of social networking. A simple mantra marketers must remember is “befriend not banner” and keep that close to heart when targeting social media.

The recent Social Media for Brands Report 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 join a brand’s online group was also identified as through offering special offers and discounts (60 per cent).    

As social media becomes more influential in 2008, brands must plan as far ahead as possible and make sure their approaches are innovative and relevant – marketers must be sure of their social media audience and make sure the messages are right for them.

In addition, it is important for marketers to understand what their competitors are doing and what is being said about the brand on blogs and social networks.  When approaching social media it’s vital to think about it in the context of a long term strategies and brands must consider whether their site is missing out on the next generation of visitors.

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