Would you attend a party without an invitation? What if you also didn't know the dress code, or anyone in attendance? Maybe you'd crash the party anyway — as some sort of social experiment perhaps — but you probably wouldn't feel at home. "To expect to go and dominate the conversation?" asks Daina Middleton, chief executive officer of marketing solution provider Performics. "That's probably not going to go well."
In other words, if your goal is to infiltrate a social circle, try being a wallflower at first — it's the only way to get an accurate sense of the partygoers and what's important to them.
The "don't crash a party" mantra is a solid metaphor for the social Web, Middleton says, as companies of all shapes and sizes try to dip a corporate toe in the ocean of social networking. Performics, in partnership with ROI Research, recently released a report, "S-Net: The Impact of Social Media," that examines the idiosyncrasies of social activity across 11 different industries:
- consumer packaged goods (CPG);
- financial services;
- home furnishings;
- telecommunications; and
By tracking social-Web conversations about products and brands across all 11 verticals, the report's authors were able to determine the industries discussed most often by the largest share of respondents: automotive (61 percent), travel (60 percent), and entertainment (57 percent). And yet even the vertical at the bottom of the list — CPG — had 21 percent of respondents talking about its products on social networking sites.
Middleton says the findings included more than a few surprises. A higher share of survey respondents, for example, said they were more likely to be comfortable discussing — and more likely to "fan" or "like" — a banking or financial services brand on a social network than an apparel brand. Respondents also indicated that opinions voiced on social networking sites could influence business decisions in certain industries — automotive, home furnishings, and appliances — more than in others.
"At a macro level," Middleton says, "it goes to show, from a traditional marketing standpoint, you need to know your audience, your segment, and the individuals you are trying to interact with." It's not as simple as it used to be, she adds. "We used to talk about 'reach,' meaning we just wanted to implant a message." Given the evolving nature of the relationship between brands and customers — between each brand and each customer, in fact — marketers need to update those "traditional" practices.
The report identifies other differences in the verticals' presence in social media — many of which would be helpful to any company planning an entrance into the social sphere. Middleton recommends that, before jumping in, organizations do a listening audit, which can take about two weeks with the help of a listening-platform provider. In particular, she urges organizations to familiarize themselves with the industry-specific impacts of social media — and to take that process a critical step further. "You can say, 'This applies to my vertical,' and that's great information," she says. "The next step is to find out, 'Within my vertical, what are people saying about me? How am I viewed versus my competitor?' And then go try to figure out what's the right approach based on that information you have."
Regardless of industry, however, Middleton insists that when it comes to participating in social media conversations, all brands face the same challenge familiar to any veteran of the CRM space: getting buy-in from all parts of the organization. "All the structures internally need to be worked out before you can have success in this space," she says. In some cases, she adds, breaking down barriers and forming relationships with customers may require a rexamination of corporate philosophy and culture.
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