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Like, now so what?

As brand warriors battle it out on the social media platform for consumer favour, "like" has shed its identity as a plain old verb in the English dictionary to become a sought after means of creating a following of potential brand champions, and buyers.

Social media is definitely one of the biggest trends of this decade, launching an entirely new culture in which users connect and interact via status updates, posts and shares across a digital universe of their own making. The rise of Facebook in particular has been nothing less than meteoric, taking just a single year to reach 200 million users across the globe. In fact, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world in terms of population - an emerging market that few are willing to ignore.

Word of mouse

It's little wonder then that many businesses are actively embracing social media as part of their communication mix. Most organisations view Facebook as a means of increasing visibility and broadcasting messaging quickly and virally through its characteristic chain reaction of "likes" and "shares". Word of mouth has become word of mouse.

Harnessing social media is an inexact science and as the initial novelty of creating a fan base wears off, a number of more practical issues arise. These include:

  • Relevance: As the number of users continues to swell, the rate of engagement is actually decreasing. With so much content passing through a user's page they may not have the time or inclination to view or process all of it. Newly introduced filters also intuitively edge out less relevant streams making it more and more difficult to get virtual face time with users.
  • Access: Valuable user information is available in the form of social graphs, but because of how the platform is designed, only an actual application can access this content. Even so, this requires permission, in the form of a virtual token, granted by each user. So not only does one need an app, but also a motivation for users to grant permission before one can extract any intelligence.
  • Connect: The wealth of data that can be mined from social media like Facebook is huge, but how does an organisation connect this with existing CRM-type data for profiling and segmentation?
  • Social Commerce: Despite its growing popularity as a marketing tool, the business case for social media remains unclear. Increasing reach does not always translate into sales-channel growth and the actual outcome - ROI - is difficult to measure.

Because of how quickly social media is becoming assimilated into our business landscape, it is easy to overlook the fact that platforms, like Facebook, have not been engineered the same way that enterprise platforms are. There is no differentiation between testing and production, and the environment is a continual work in progress. But stability and reliability can be created by introducing applications that fill the gaps and build in the enterprise-type functionality. This is the thinking behind our Gateway, Wisdom and Alert products in our Friendly Intelligence portfolio, which have been designed to harness the latent business intelligence opportunities within Facebook and its analytics.

Social media initiatives may be sabotaged

Yet, even with these technology bridges, social media initiatives may be sabotaged from the start. The true potential of social media can't be realised as long as businesses continue to focus on themselves and their brands. This viewpoint needs to shift to the consumer and the conventional "listen", "learn" and "action" model needs to be reapplied from a new angle.

"Listen" is no longer about broadcasting widespread messages through blogs and Tweets and posts in the hope of being heard, but about considering the social graphs available from Facebook's analytical tools. "Learn" shifts from product education to a study of demographic, psychographic and behavioural aspects of users. Finally, "action" translates into well-segmented and targeted communication or transaction.

Adopting this approach converts social media into a means of learning everything there is to know about a brand's champions and understanding what resonates with them. From here, sales and marketing efforts can be derived that can realistically turn "like" into "spend" and a media cost centre into a revenue-generating engine. From a business standpoint, there is plenty to "like" about that.

About Mark Bannerman

Mark Bannerman is the country manager of MicroStrategy SA.

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