New social models emerge

07 June 2011

NEW YORK: Brand owners like Dell, Coca-Cola and Zappos are pursuing increasingly sophisticated social media strategies, but most firms still lag considerably behind in this area, a report has argued.

Research provider Forrester polled 95 executives from organisations boasting over 1,000 staff, and fulfilling duties covering the Web 2.0 space. It combined the results with in-depth interviews conducted with 30 companies.

Overall, the findings suggested a distinctive "journey" is emerging, varying in complexity from establishing an initial presence to managing multiple brands on numerous platforms.

Thus far, approximately half of the businesses polled had not yet moved into the Web 2.0 arena or were simply conducting trials and weighing up possibilities.

Forrester identified several phases marketers are passing through, the first of which - including less than 20% of companies - is being "dormant", be it due to caution, regulation or seeing few positive incentives.

The "later majority", a third of businesses, occupy the "testing" stage and are attempting to define a clear path based on past experience.

Next come the "early majority", currently "coordinating" strategies, involving taking a more centralised and consistent approach, and investing the requisite financial and governance resources.

Home Depot was a member of this group - which includes another third of firms in all - and demonstrates how successful players often experiment outside their biggest product or customer segment, and work upwards from "small victories".

The DIY chain started with a simple Twitter customer service account and adding videos to YouTube containing easy-to-follow hints and tips.

It has recently appointed 25 associates who spend three days a week in stores and two days active on its How-To web community, alongside delivering video content to be used internally and externally.

"The way to stay fresh and current is to stay in the aisle with vendors and customers," said Brad Shaw, the company's vp, corporate communications.

"We also wanted to be able to market them as real store associates. These are not call-centre people or marketers or merchants or my communications team."

Elsewhere, "early adopters" like Best Buy, Coca-Cola and Starbucks are at the "scaling and optimising stage", integrating across channels and monitoring advanced metrics, the report stated.

Dell also fell within this cohort and is deploying technologies from Radian6 and Bazaarvoice, as well as enhancing its in-house capabilities.

"We have 10,000 Dell employees trained as social media professionals, but we want a lot more people at Dell trained to be brand ambassadors," Susan Beebe, Dell's chief listener, said.

"We now have Dell social experts worldwide to help our customers, and we're listening and engaging in 11 languages."

The final cluster referenced by Forrester are "innovators" that have "trained and empowered" all relevant employees and consolidated original models.

A key aim for these trailblazers should be building dedicated centres of excellence to maintain such an advantage, the report continued.

Zappos, the online shoe and apparel retailer, was name-checked as one pioneer which has already achieved this status, having set especially high standards regarding its output.

"We want to break down the barrier between company and consumer," said Aaron Magness, senior director, brand marketing and business development at Zappos.

"You need to take a step back and say we want to form personal connections with our customers: there are myriad ways of doing this."

Data sourced from Forbes, Forrester, Economist Intelligence Unit, Business Insider; additional content by Warc staff