LONDON: Social media works best when operating as one of an optimum number of marketing channels and typically not as the lead one, according to a new Warc report.

In Seriously Social, marketing consultant Peter Field analyses case studies from the Warc Prize for Social Strategy, a global competition for examples of social ideas that drive business results. The competition defined social strategy as any activity designed to generate participation, conversation, sharing or advocacy.

He concludes that there is an ideal number of channels that can be used alongside social: deploy too many and resources become dissipated, but using too few can weaken the multiplier effects of multi-channel campaigns. Field puts the magic figure at around eight.

Which partner channels to choose will depend on the business effects being sought. Thus, short-term effects tend to favour online display and mobile while long-term ones benefit from channels such as PR and TV.

Field also compares the outcome of campaigns where social media takes the lead role with those where it does not and finds that the former fail to achieve the same uplift in terms of business effects; this is especially true if marketers are looking to achieve long-term effects.

And while this was the case whichever social channel was in the lead, he noted that Instagram was a possible exception, appearing, on the basis of limited data, to enjoy a superior performance across all timescales.

"It is not wise to think of 'social media strategy' in isola¬tion," says Field. "It is best to devise a brand strategy capable of driving power¬ful social effects, led by whichever channel is most appropriate for the brand strategy, and then supported by social media activity."

Peter Field will be discussing his top five takeaways from this in-depth analysis of the world's most effective social media campaigns in a webinar on Wednesday 29th October at 3pm, GMT. More details and registration are available here.

Data sourced from Warc