Marketing to Communities

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When Mad Men premiered on the small screen in 2007, it was an immediate homerun. Numerous prestigious accolades and skyrocketing ratings followed, and the series was clearly an iconic gem of this generation. However, despite its wild popularity among modern television audiences, the plot was antiquated. Set in the 1960s at a New York City advertising agency, the show features Don Draper at the throne in the office, dictating the direction of all the advertising campaigns. Throw some womanizing and martini-soaked lunch hours into the mix, and it’s clear that the series represents an era that is no longer applicable to modern-day culture.

Today, many analysts agree that social communities should be a top priority for marketers. According to Esteban Kolsky, founder of ThinkJar, more than 20 percent of activity on the Web includes social communities, and that proportion will continue to grow. “It’s a pretty significant number,” he observes. “Pretty much everyone is using at least one of them. The goal is to disseminate information to the public. And if they are all in one place, that’s where [marketers] want to go.”

However, for social communities, which seemingly have been popularized overnight, change happens quickly. As for marketers who are looking to participate in these communities, best practices that worked as recently as a year ago may no longer apply.

The “number one mistake” usually occurs when planning social marketing campaigns, Kolsky says. “They see it as just another channel for marketing,” he explains. “Instead of looking at how to do things differently…they just go into online social communities and advertise their message, instead of engaging and having conversations.”

Social communities are shaking up the entire space. “The company used to have the power, control, and ability to influence the products and customer service strategies,” says Kimberly Collins, research vice president at Gartner. “Social media has put the consumer in power more so than they have ever been in the past.”

Taking the customer’s voice “strongly into consideration” is vital for today’s marketers. “If you don’t listen, then you could really miss some key insights to improve your customer experience and brand name,” Collins warns.

“While Don Draper probably wouldn’t agree with me, marketing and data accumulation in the Mad Men era was easier, as customer interactions came through a limited number of channels,” Tim Wentworth, chief marketing officer of Ektron, wrote earlier this year. “Now we have the Web, email, and social media, in addition to traditional sales channels like the phone and face-to-face customer interactions.”

Wentworth explains that most marketers are “savvy enough” to track customer behavior. As a result, the term “mad men” has significantly changed. “Thinking like a Mad Man means that you recognize that selling also occurs outside of channels that you can’t easily control,” he wrote.

“Investment of Resource”
When selecting a company’s target community, social media is a “strategic investment of resource,” asserts Joe Fox, senior account executive and local product manager of Fathom Online Marketing. “Businesses should try to find where their target market congregates within the realm of social media and specifically market to those places,” he says. “Customers want information and a simple connection to what is relevant to them. Businesses should give them a simple way to find what is around them, even in social media.”

Collins adds, “Choose three to five platforms that make the most sense for your company. You don’t want to be in every channel; otherwise you are gong to be spending a lot of time and seeing very little return on investment if you try to manage too many of these.”

In terms of marketing strategy, Kolsky says, B2B and B2C campaigns are similar. “There may be some technical challenges to keeping confidential or privileged information secure, but the same tools and same concerns apply: Become a member of the community, contribute, engage, and use marketing sparingly and wisely,” he says. “This does not change from B2B to B2C.”

While LinkedIn has been viewed as a preferred marketing platform for B2B vendors, Kolsky disagrees: “LinkedIn is not well suited for marketing; it is more of a sales and recruiting community. Each community has it own purposes, and marketers should never try to change or modify that. Companies should turn to LinkedIn for recruiting and HR issues, at best.”

Currently, two of the top social community software platforms are Jive and Lithium. By combining the powers of community, collaboration, and social networking software, Jive offers marketers an integrated platform. Recent updates include video, analytics, and social media monitoring.

Last year, Lithium acquired social media monitoring provider Scout Labs, whose service enables brands to engage with their customers beyond the community to monitor, map, and measure customer conversations.

“Lithium focuses exclusively on what we call the social customer,” says Katy Keim, chief marketing officer at Lithium. “We built our entire company based on serving that social customer, and what we try to do is build a place where customers can engage with one another and the company. We call it a brand nation.”

Whom to Trust
With customers engaging so much, whose opinions do they trust? When Edelman published its annual Trust Barometer research last year, there was a clear shift in consumer behavior. For several years, industry analysts, consultants, and marketers promoted people’s peers as the top trusted source for consumers. However, Edelman’s 2011 report showed that new top trusted sources are third parties, experts, and academics.

Ben Boyd, executive vice president at Edelman, says “a number of factors” are driving the change. “Three or four years ago, I found it both novel and impactful that I could find out what movies my friends liked and what restaurants they liked in a one-on-one scenario,” he recalls. “But I think over the subsequent three to five years, we have seen that become not as much of a useful information feed.” Instead, it has become “a drowning sea of different opinions.”

Furthermore, Boyd says the financial crisis had a “seismic impact” on consumers’ overall trust. He recommends that marketers bring well-trusted and highly regarded individuals into their social communities to build consumer confidence. “I think that individuals are looking for higher credentialed sources of authority who they feel can really help them make sense of it,” he says. While Boyd thinks this is true “across all channels,” it is especially critical for the financial communications industry. “I think it’s safe to say that, as an industry, it will have to rely even more heavily on academics and third parties for sourcing of believable insights for consumers.

“As a firm, we don’t think that there is going to be a shift back in terms of a dominant person like me, as there once was at the advent of social networks. But we do believe that having that trust reservoir established for a brand is paramount,” he continues. “Those brands that have established themselves as a trust reservoir in the minds of consumers tend to weather the storms much better.”

Consumer Sentiment
With the advent of social networking platforms and growing options for consumers, engagement with customers is setting brands apart. “For the most part, the person that gets steamed enough to go out and [post a negative comment] should definitely be followed up on,” says Laurie McCabe, partner at SMB Group.
In addition, follow-ups should not be limited to negative comments. “Certainly contacting and connecting with those customers who are happy could make them even happier, increase their loyalty even more, and reinforce in their minds, ‘Yeah, I made the right decision to buy,’” McCabe says. “The listening and the response are really what it’s all about.”

Collins adds, “Customers can have influence in product strategies so they can talk about the features, functionality that they like, and the new products they would like to see. You can really use them as a source of input and innovation for product development based on more of what the customers would like to see.”

On the other hand, Kolsky emphasizes the “self-policing” qualities of social communities. “The problem is, you don’t control the communities, so if someone makes a disparaging comment about your product, the best you can do is offer information that counters that claim,” he says. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be well-perceived, but it’s going to be all you can do. You can’t just remove it and say ‘I don’t want people to know about it.’”

Instead, companies should focus on creating “champions for the brand,” he says. “You want to create a community where you engage with your members so the other members of the community will come to your defense when there is an unfair and unjust attack launched at you.”

Consumer insights also are valuable when crafting advertising strategies. Engaging with consumers is important when discerning the dos and don’ts for individual marketing campaigns. “Before you spend a lot money on a television commercial, you can ask, ‘Which of these do you like better?’” explains Collins. “Sometimes you air something and it’s offensive. So if you ask the social community online, they could have told you that.”

Customers are communicating through threaded conversations on review sites, such as Yelp, in addition to “less obvious methods,” such as likes and interests on Facebook. “While consumers are still using social media as major sources of conversation amongst one another, the indirect effect of these other methods cannot be ignored,” Fox says. “A simple ‘like’ from a trusted friend might sway an uncertain consumer in a purchasing decision.”

Fox notes that creating a social media presence is an easy and virtually free way to get started, but “that comes after scouting the potential of a given network. Once a profile is established, companies should make meaningful content available designed for their target market. Sharing product information, deals, photos, links, and other items with customers can help foster brand loyalty.”

McCabe says that using social media is “absolutely critical” for monitoring what’s being said by consumers. “If you are using social media to promote your brand and your offerings, there is nothing wrong with that, but you want to make sure that these two worlds are in sync,” she advises. “The last thing you want to be doing is just circulating some kind of tweet or Facebook posting about how great something you do is and, meanwhile, you are just caught off guard because your customers are circulating a different story.”

Amid the current “social media explosion,” McCabe says the time has come to approach social campaigns with a clear agenda in mind. “We are just starting to really learn how to use it most effectively and what some of the risks are,” she says. “Businesses should go into social media campaigns knowing their objectives.”

One of those objectives is to know how to communicate with your audience. For example, a recent study conducted by Yahoo and Digitas Health identified key implications for marketers targeting women:

• Be honest and strong.
• Be everywhere she is.
• Be in the content she cares about.
• Be present emotionally.
• Be specific to health styles.

“The big point is to market to the woman wherever she is, and don’t just focus on treating the condition,” says Lauren Weinberg, senior director of strategic insights and research at Yahoo. “Having one or many health conditions is a fact of life for most women. In spite of this, women choose to live full and positive lives. Health providers have the ability to speak to her effectively and emotionally through the content she cares about, especially around medication, fortification, and information.”

Kahn says online communities are “ideal” platforms for women because they are likely to be engaged consumers, seeking brand recommendations and researching new products. “The key to engendering trust and establishing relevance online is aggregating women around the right topics and inviting marketers to be adjacent to that content and part of the conversation,” adds Jim DeMarco, vice president of research and analytics at iVillage. “The bottom line is, in order for marketers to instill trust in their own brands, they need to align with media platforms that enjoy a high level of trust among their users.”

Building social communities is still new for marketers, and many analysts differ on the right approach. But the consensus is you won’t be a modern-day mad man by ignoring this phenomenon. “Trying to avoid it is a mistake because the power has shifted to the customer. And if you don’t listen, you could miss some key insights to improve your customer experience and brand name,” Collins says. 

Associate/Web Editor Brittany Farb can be reached at bfarb@destinationcrm.com.

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