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Marketing 3.1! – Social Media Marketing and the New Age Branding

Overview: Over the past six decades, marketing has come a long way from the time it amassed wide focus and today almost every enterprise, big or small considers it as the most important factor of its functioning and product. With constantly changing themes and focus in marketing from product to customer to brand, the latest buzzword in the marketing arena these days is ‘Social Media Marketing’ which takes a more human centric approach. Although in its nascent state, the concept of social media marketing is quickly becoming popular and expanding to majority of the social media avenues with more and more corporations either experimenting with this sizzling phenomenon or adding it to their marketing mix. With marketers shifting focus back to consumers – the new brand owners, will social media marketing be the ultimate ‘branding’ technique?

Objectives:

  • To analyze the present social network demographics and how social media marketing is picking up pace.
  • To study what social media marketing is and how it is different from direct marketing.
  • To comprehend the potential limits and hurdles for social media marketing and brand building.
  • To understand the projected future for social media marketing.

Synopsis:

With a recessed economy in 2009, more and more people chose to steer clear of stores and do most of their holiday shopping online. Among these shoppers a whopping 28% said that their purchase was influenced by social media (according to a comScore survey).

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For the holiday season of 2010, more than 49% of shoppers are predicted to shop directly on ecommerce sites such as eBay and Amazon and the subsequent percentage of shoppers’ decisions influenced by social media is also expected to go higher than last year (essentially more than 30 - 35%). Hence, this year, more than 91% marketers and retailers will be using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to market their products. Out of these, 14% have already assessed elaborate social media marketing campaigns.

Social Network and the Social Media

With technological advances, the number of people going ‘online’ is increasing exponentially. Especially, people are connecting online through various social networking sites bringing everyone closer to the ‘six-degrees of separation’ where one is connected to rest of the planet by a chain of just six persons. Certain studies with the social network phenomenon Twitter have even shown that people connect with others throughout the globe by separation of mere 3.4 persons. This is Information Age 2.0 – the age of Social Networking; and in this age, people are not just connecting personally (as with common friends) but are connecting with everything personal. The colossal number of Twitter following, number of hits on YouTube videos (more than 2 billion views daily), the amount of content shared on Facebook (over 1.5 million web links, news stories, blog posts, photos, notes etc daily) and the sheer number of Blogs in the cloud is a clear evidence of the social media becoming an untamable giant. If you can’t beat them, join them; is the age old adage and ‘join them’ is precisely what marketers all over the globe are doing. Social media – the term coined for the content generated by these sites, is no more a fad but is clearly turning out to be a fundamental shift in the way people are communicating with each other.

These communications in the cloud are not limited to personal comments and statuses but encompass a wide array of subjects. If some restaurant serves a bad salad to a customer, there may be a tweet about it even before the customer leaves the restaurant. If someone liked a new drink a local bar or a company introduced, there are high chances that there will be a Facebook status message proclaiming its awesomeness. If some facial cream or some doctor’s treatment gave a customer even minute rashes, a search might as well return YouTube videos depicting all the ‘gory’ details. Wikipedia has over 13 million articles which are dubbed to be more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. Also there are blogs in the cloud which touch almost every possible subject or news around the globe.

These social networking sites are also connecting with each other, bridging the gaps and forming a whole bigger network in the cloud that is not only homogeneous but also teeming with information on all kinds of subjects, products, businesses, sciences and everything else.

Social Media Marketing

With shifting focus and innovation slowing down in the marketing arena, marketers are always on the lookout to press the Alt. + Everything button. Recent surveys have shown that traditional marketing is generating only around 18% return on investment (ROI) and only a fractional 14% of people trust advertisements. On the contrary, about 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations when buying a product or service. Since more and more people are going online, these recommendations mostly come from the cloud i.e. the social media with 70% believing in these online recommendations. Most studies have shown that the first thing netizens or even normal consumers do when they first hear about a product or service is that they research the product or service online and they will surely be looking at recommendations when going for that product or service. This change is mostly due to the customer’s shift in trust from companies to fellow consumers; even those consumers in social networks that they have no connections to.
Owing to such strong figures and demographics of the social network, it is hardly possible for marketers to turn a deaf ear to all the social media noise in the cloud. Hence, marketers are rapidly adding social media marketing to their marketing mix. However, even though it is marketing at the end of the day, the rules of the game when it comes to social media marketing are completely different from traditional marketing.


Where traditional marketing is about presentation, social media marketing is about content and the basic rule that applies here is ‘selling without selling’. To achieve and bank on the gains of social media one may first need to create ‘social authority’ wherein people in the cloud do believe and follow what the marketer is saying or endorsing. This process can provide much higher gains as the endorsing ‘juice’ can be passed to other social networkers where they in turn become the brand evangelists. Such following is already on the rise as it can be seen that over 25% of search results returned for ‘Top 20 Brands’ point to user generated contents.
With social media, marketers can create a platform where they can present a product along with channels where they can talk to customers directly to either upgrade that product or make fine tunings to it. This extends the reach of the brand where contrary to traditional marketing customer interaction has the potential to increase the brand further. This in turn translates to the brand making more ‘genuine’ relations and connections with a wider customer base. With social media marketing, a brand can also alert consumers of new products whereas with traditional marketing the introduction of a brand can take from days to months.
Given its features, social media marketing can be employed by anyone, be it a SOHO business or be it a multi-national corporation. It might as well be the stepping stone in new age brand building where the number of social sites linking back to the product or producer might be as important as what that product or producer has to say.
Social media however, is a double edged sword which can either make a brand or lay it to dust. Marketers today cannot afford to neglect all the noise in the cloud about their brand and need to be careful as to what buzz or news about their product is in the social media. With social media, a brand’s small mistake can be magnified exponentially if damage control is not swift and efficient.


Limits and Hurdles

Although social media has taken the internet by storm, it still has not garnered the necessary potential to penetrate all kinds of people over the globe. This is mostly because only a quarter i.e. 25% of the global population is online. Even in the US, close to 21% of the population is offline and 7% have access to only dial-up connection even with broadband prices dropping by half over the past five years.

This 21% mostly comprises of ethnic groups and people over the age of 65. People above the age of 65 mostly depend on their peers or groups while making choices. The older population follows television more than the internet and tends to be skeptical. Their number in the cloud is also decreasing as they are moving to rural areas. The ethnic people are packed into tight communities which are hard to penetrate on the cloud due to language barrier in some conditions. Hence, content relevance becomes a critical factor. Also the ethnic groups prefer more bundled services online contrary to Caucasians who look for un-bundled services. Also, 48% of these people access the Internet on their mobile devices making it hard for marketers to reach them completely.
Projected figures for US population show that ethnic groups would be among the top Americans experiencing rapid population growth where it is estimated that their population will contribute to more than 45% of US population during 2010 to 2030 and more than 60% during 2030-2050 (US Census Data). If these groups do not reciprocate to social media marketing, marketers would hence be losing a considerable share of the market.

Future of Social Media Marketing

The phenomenon of social media is not restricted to developed nations but is more global. Statistics show that more than 70% of Facebook users are based outside US; similar is the case with other social networks where a considerable amount of users are based outside the social network’s parent country. Also latest demographics show that there has been more than a 100% increase in the number of women and older users (55+) joining social networks. This is essentially beneficial as it is estimated that considerable amount of US population by 2030 will be in the age group  of 45 and above. Also, if social media marketers come up with proper content for the ethnic population and penetrate these groups, the number of markets that open up would be exponential and the sales collosal. However, the chances are similar to a fish biting the hook.

Presently, 24 out of 25 of the largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in their circulation as more and more people are looking for their news online. In the future, it is estimated that instead of the people going in search of the news, news will find them, suiting their preferences and choice. A similar case is hypothesized for products and services. With such an evolution in the marketplace, sky would be the limit and opportunities abundant for social media marketing.

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