Social media needs new model

28 June 2011

NEW YORK: Brand owners that most effectively transform themselves into "social enterprises" stand to gain substantial benefits, a study has argued.

Research firm Gartner predicted the 20% of corporations using social media for more than just marketing will lead their industries in terms of revenue growth by 2015.

Currently, however, many attempts to leverage Web 2.0, like Facebook brand pages and building internal networks via platforms like Yammer, fall short.

"Many organisations are lured into social initiatives because of the ease of implementation and simplicity of the tools," Gartner said.

These schemes often fail to deliver the desired results, yield unexpected resource demands and risk "brand dilution" as companies respond inadequately when netizens post comments and complaints.

The core initial steps should involve creating a "social vision" and "blueprint" for executing this, with the first stage led by senior management and the second by a "social steering committee", Gartner said.

Firms must decide how efforts relate to staff, business partners, existing customers and prospective clients, alongside which technologies to deploy, it added.

Training employees, hiring necessary expertise, modifying leadership models and workflows, formulating rules governing social activity, and distributing best practice tips are also all essential.

Some wider key challenges are developing a "social graph", combining data on influencers, "brokers" and central players, with sentiment and content analysis, and metadata including online links and tags.

Equally vital is establishing metrics and systems proving return on investment, moving beyond simply counting the number of "fans", such as to ascertaining the revenue derived from new buyers.

Speaking at the recent Cannes Lions Festival, Paul Polman, Unilever's chief executive, asserted the web must be recognised as the "defining invention of our time."

He said: "We now have truly global media companies ... such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Google and Amazon. These companies have the capabilities to know their own and other consumers intimately.

"The influence of Facebook and a handful of other companies can certainly not be underestimated."

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG giant, recently opened stores on Facebook for ranges like Tide, Gillette and Olay, as it seeks to gauge potential demand.

"Social network selling is an extension of our overall focus on innovation and brand-building," said Tonia Elrod, of P&G's external relations team.

"We expect testing commerce via social networks like Facebook will help us accelerate e-commerce growth."

Carolyn Everson, vice president global marketing solutions at Facebook, suggested that increasing integration could foster such a collaborative model.

"What is happening here is we are redefining the way all of us work together," she said.

"We love the notion of partnering with entertainment and content providers and have them think about how to make content social from the start."

James Murdoch, News Corporation's deputy chief operating officer, stated the presence of "big beasts" like Google and Apple must be addressed

"How do we make sure we can compete at scale globally with these new players … and still be quick and creative and risk-taking?" he asked.

"A big factor over how this plays out over the next five-to-ten years is going to be how we do that."

Sir Martin Sorrell, agency holding group WPP Group's chief executive, similarly warned digital media and the rising importance of emerging markets required brand owners to change.

"We can only provide integrated and seamless solutions ... if the client has a seamless organisation," said Sorrell. "It's no good us trying to sell in to several buying points."

Data sourced from Gartner; additional content by Warc staff