A customer focus is key to social success

Social media has permanently changed the marketer's role - as well as the relationship between brands and customers. writes Mhairi McEwan

The brands that are winning today have social DNA at their core. To paraphrase Amy Kean, head of consumer innovation at Havas Media, these brands "behave like glow sticks at a festival; they mingle and are authentically part of the crowd, rather than trying to grab attention from the sidelines". These brands have put their customers wholeheartedly at the centre of the business, engaging with them in an "always-on" fashion.

As brands test and learn different approaches for their social-media strategy, a steady stream of poor examples – Mexican-restaurant chain Chipotle’s recent fake Twitter-hack stunt comes to mind – continue to make headlines. But then there are those "glow-stick" companies that have naturally adopted practices that capture the attention of customers around the world, guided by such principles as:

Shift the mindset – not just the budget

Embedding the core tenets of social into the fabric of the business and engaging everyone with them is vital. Burberry has achieved this brilliantly with world-class social-media activity. For a company that is more than 150 years old to achieve this is impressive.

Listen before you think

Social listening allows marketers to get closer to their customers more quickly and easily than ever before. Major insights about the way customers use or think about your product can be revealed. Gatorade has been a pioneer in this area, creating a "mission control center" in its headquarters, staffed to analyse brand reception and stay connected to followers.

Inspire interaction

Be truly honest with yourself when assessing the relevance and authenticity of your social content. Allow customers to interact with your content and even guide the narrative; that way they will share and advocate. Mercedes-Benz recently allowed consumers to decide the direction of a TV ad for its new A-class model via Twitter, the world’s first "audience-driven" TV commercial.

Move from campaign to conversation and exploit the full potential of social media

Mobile network Giffgaff is the classic example of how social-media dialogue vs costly advertising campaigns can propel a business to success. In fact, its action pushes even further, as the company uses social to power its entire operating model, offsetting big costs.

Measure what matters

"Likes" and follower numbers can have little meaning. As the industry continues to determine how best to measure social media effectiveness, it’s important for marketers to measure real engagement, such as through shares, comments and other types of contributions. Pimm’s Facebook activity celebrating Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win is an example of the type of campaign where those who saw the message demonstrated a 14% increase in brand engagement compared with those who did not see it.

Social has had a transformative impact on marketing. At its core, however, great marketing remains the same, with growth being driven by differentiation, insight and customer value. Right now somebody is talking about your brand. If there ever was a choice not to participate, there isn’t any longer – the conversation will carry on with or without you. But by putting the customer at the heart of your business, you are setting yourself up for success in this social space.

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