NEW YORK — Have you ever seen the YouTube video where a guy appears to catch a pair of sunglasses on his face? Even if you did, that was a few years ago — before Brooklyn brought back the Ray-Ban craze — so you probably had no idea what brand those sunglasses represented. You might have recognized the shades from an '80s movie or a Roy Orbison photo, but that's about it. Even if your curiosity got the better of you, chances are you didn't waste your time poking around the e-commerce sites of various eyewear manufacturers to find the shades, but instead did something much simpler: You googled it.
(The search-engine giant may not be too thrilled about you using its name as a verb, but Google is increasingly becoming the consumer's entrypoint of choice for product discovery. Just how prevalent is its use? At the eMetrics event in Washington this week, one presenter projected an image of the Google search window in front of an audience, and jokingly asked, "Have all of you recognized your homepage on the screen?" Another eMetrics presenter noted that 85 percent of all searches conducted in the United Kingdom utilize Google.)
After a Google search of, say, "brand of sunglasses guy catches on his face YouTube," you'd quickly learn the brand and make of those glasses -- Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Maybe then you'd do a search for that specific brand and learn which retailers sell Wayfarers and for how much. Within a few clicks, you've entered the buying cycle. And that retailer you'll end up purchasing from? It will have no idea what led you to seek out those sunglasses.
Emily Riley, a Forrester Research senior analyst and a presenter here at Mediabistro's User-Generated Content Expo (UGCX), used this story to demonstrate that, now more than ever, social media is having an effect on buying decisions. The creative social elements, such as viral videos, are rarely credited for sales; their impact, however, is significant -- and growing. But how should businesses use social media not merely to generate consumer interest, butprovoke consumer purchases?
Riley led her presentation with a reminder of the POST methodology, popularized by Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff and former Forrester analyst and current Altimeter Group Partner Charlene Li in their book Groundswell. (Bernoff and Li were named to the 2008 list of CRMm/Articles/Editorial/Magazine-Features/The-2008-CRM-Market-Awards-Influential-Leaders----Introduction-50539.aspx"> magazine's Influential Leaders.) The POST framework includes four key tenets for social media participation:
- People: The people component means going beyond where your audience is -- you have to think about how your audience interacts with social media and how they would interact with your brand given the opportunity. "Half of consumers will interact with their favorite brands using social media," Riley said, "But favorite brands is the key point. That probably doesn't mean Crest Whitestrips or Goodyear Tires. Apple? Yeah. Sony? Yeah." In other words, how sexy is your brand? Realize that audiences might not want to interact online with an insurance company the same way they would with a record label.
- Objectives: The head of your company might have shouted, "We need to be on Twitter," after seeing a wave of competitors entering the space. Before you sign up for a new service or take on a new tool, however, you need to think about what you'll do when you get there.
- Strategy: "You have to plan for how relationships with customers will change," Riley said.
- Technology: Once you've got the first three down, it's time to figure out what social technologies to use.
To help businesses handle the myriad considerations required by participation in social media, Riley shared with the audience seven key principles to abide by. Although emphasizing that the seven recommendations fall short of what might be considered best practices, Riley also provided examples for each of companies that have made splashes in the social space:
1. Try something new.
- Live Twitter coverage by the Associated Press and Yahoo! News of the hearings for Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court: From the handle @AP_Courtside, reporters conveyed up-to-the-minute details and collected citizen questions. "It creates an immediacy and discovery process that you wouldn't have otherwise," Riley said.
- RedBull uses Facebook Connect to increase social sharing and as a means for fans to choose what kinds of content they want to view -- all within one stream. So, instead of following a lot of people chattering about Red Bull events, the brand is bringing all that content to its users. Riley said this is a new idea which she thinks will become more important -- letting users filter and siphon bits and pieces of information as they become published.
2. Create a single point of passion, otherwise known as the "marketer's sweet spot."
- Nike Human Race: Nike has created a whole portal dedicated to race running. The brand's web site invites members to post race routes, track times and mileage, and create a virtual running community. This month Nike Human Race went as far as coordinating a worldwide 10K run, inviting runners to run a 10K anytime during the day on The Day the World Runs (October 24) and then sync it (using the Nike+ iPod chip) to the site to see how runners compare.
- Jeep and Facebook: When a Facebook member posted the subject "My Jeep is a piece of crap," Jeep could have reacted in several ways. The car company could have responded to the message, taking a customer service approach and offered to help in some way. "That's maybe the 'Comcast Cares' model," Riley said, referring to the cable company's lauded social customer service. However, Riley pointed out, "If [Jeep] did that, they would miss out on the deluge of fans that would stick up for them in public." And stick up they did -- other fans on the Facebook fan page voiced views on how they love their Jeeps. Some upped the ante and contributed problems they've had with their cars, but the participation underscored their loyalty to the brand.
3. Tap into the unique benefits of your chosen tactic. "Not all social media is made for the same types of behaviors," Riley said. Some channels encourage connecting, whereas others encourage engagement.
- The White House Townhall on Facebook: The discussion page empowers citizens to talk about hot topics. How do you gauge what topics are hot? The conversations people don't care as much about get pushed down. This does a good job of tapping into the conversational nature of Facebook, Riley said -- and, as an added benefit, it serves as free market research for the White House.
4. Make yourself indispensable.
- Hyatt e-Concierge Service: The hotel chain runs this service regionally, so that when a guest logs into Hyatt's online portal, they can connect on the Web with hotel employees at their specific hotel. The online concierge service is essentially an extension to the front desk. If a guest, for instance, wants a taxi, she can Twitter that to Hyatt, and they will respond.
- Nike+: Another reference to Nike, and for good reason: The brand has found a way to transform an offline experience into online behavior. With a shoe-embedded computer chip that connects to an iPod and tracks mileage and other stats, Nike has ensured that many runners won't leave the house without their shoes and their iPods. "They've made the two connected forever," Riley said.
5. Create better channels for sharing information.
- The Weather Channel: When people want the weather, they usually don't want to spend a lot of time finding it. The Weather Channel has been tapping into the brevity of Twitter perhaps for that reason. Now, if a person twitters her ZIP Code to The Weather Channel via what's called a "direct message," The Weather Channel automatically responds back with a customized weather forecast.
- Sony Style: The site combines services, support, products, and community all in one place. Using social software, Sony Style enables customers to learn from each other. The portal, Riley said, demonstrates that Sony doesn't want the relationship to end with the transaction. Sony Darkroom, for instance, is an educational site where a person can post a digital picture, and ask for recommendations, tips, and critiques from community members. Because consumers feel like they own the community site, they become better brand advocates, Riley said.
6. Extend accessibility beyond the Web.
- ESPN ScoreCenter: ESPN's application for the iPhone lets users do what they would do on the Web in the palm of their hands — and delivers personalized game scores on demand. Riley said that she imagines that ESPN could expand the application and present consumers with upsells and cross-sells, as well. "Make sure you aren't too siloed in your social strategies," the analyst warned. "Look at what horizontals you should build in."
7. Use personal engagement to sell.
- Young & Free Alberta: The Canadian bank encouraged young people in Alberta to submit videos. By encouraging participation by its creative advocates, the bank found new customers in places it wouldn't have reached originally.
[Editors' Note: Earlier versions of this story included a reference to FreshDirect, the online grocer, as an example cited by Riley in support of one of her seven principles regarding user-generated content. FreshDirect's actual Daily Produce Rating System, according to company representatives, is generated by FreshDirect produce managers on a daily basis and not open to input from users. The editors regret the error.]
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