Virtual Relations

With social media it’s relatively easy to supersize things, followers or fan bases included. However its most potent ability, is to supersize content, to take it viral. This is both a huge opportunity for companies and brand builders to harness and also a threat to ones that don’t engage their audiences. There are over two billion people online worldwide and internet use is growing.
Shaun Bailey, chief executive of UK ad shop Jacob Bailey has been assisting businesses with the opportunities offered by social media and is working together with Mitra Innovations here, consulting with Sri Lankan clients too. He says companies are often challenged by where to begin although it’s obvious that a large social media following may boost business. Most large firms now realize an underwhelming number of followers on its social media can also be damaging to the confidence of customers.
Bailey points out that virtual fans, who ‘like’ a firm’s Facebook page for instance, can quickly become advocates for its brands if the company can engage them effectively. He discussed this and strategies for engaging fans in a wide ranging interview…


Social Media Overview

[slideshow_deploy id=’778′]

Do you think that the case for social media is as strong in a market like Sri Lanka as it is perhaps in, say, your home market in the UK?

Shawn Bailey: I would say its growing very quickly. I think there are about 1.5 million facebook users in Sri Lanka, so almost one in ten people here have an account and it’s growing. You look at other countries in the region, and I don’t see why Sri Lankans won’t also get addicted to the social media phenomenon as a way of communicating with each other, and from a business point of view, communicating their views and their association with brands.

Some of the facebook pages of Sri Lanka’s largest companies are full of profanities posted by dissatisfied customers. Now people seem to have a new avenue to vent their anger and companies that set up fan pages were not ready for this?

A: You have to recognize the world has changed, and I for one think that it’s a good thing that products, services and the brands have to stand up to the promises they make. There are a number of regulators within the UK & European market to make sure what advertising agencies say, is truthful and honest, and if someone complains that a product doesn’t do what they say it does, then a campaign may have to be pulled out at great expense and there would tend to be an investigation. So in some respects social media is taking the strain away from those regulators who are usually under-resourced. It’s the power of the consumer over the brand and if the consumer is dissatisfied with the product or service, social media allows them to add their views and because it’s a sharing network, someone can get a little bit ticked off and suddenly 100 people come to know about it. Within a few hours you may be reaching 1000 people, and within half a day you could be talking to hundreds of thousands. Companies and brands have to realize the world is different now.

If you join the social media phenomenon and you start to work at the channel, you can react to what’s being said, you can respond to what’s being said and act to correct things. You can strive within your organization to become a better organization and put those things right.

Can you recall instances where companies have put their fingers in their ears, saying ‘I don’t want to recognize this social media’?

A: A lot of organizations are not sure where to begin, and that’s perhaps typical of Sri Lanka too because it’s not as prevalent in Sri Lanka as in some other nations. So the early adaptors maybe making few early errors, as they engage. However you cannot stop the conversations that are going on, without your contribution. Also when you start to engage with the community online, then you’ve kind of made a commitment to have a conversation with them online. So if you then stop that becomes a negative experience. So organizations that are going to enter it, need to listen first.

My advice would be to listen to what’s going on, listen to the chatter about the brand, to what they are saying about their competitors and who is saying it. That will help put up a nice picture about who’s engaged with the audience, what they think about the particular brand and which social media channels they use. It may be that 60% are quite happy with the brand and 30% maybe indifferent and 10% maybe dissatisfied about this particular product. We need to go back and find out what’s going on with this particular product and change the way we do things. Say to your audience ‘would you try this and give me your honest feedback’. They suddenly come back and say its a fantastic brand, has been brilliant, thanks for listening to us, thanks for giving us these complimentary products for trial and they would tell people about it. What has been proved is that advocates, fans of a particular brand, who are using social networks are in many cases 100% more likely to purchase that brand. So it’s affecting returns, its affecting sales, its affecting profit, research is showing that.

How do you divide up an existing marketing budget? Typically how do companies approach this? Is it something they need to take off their marketing budget and fund and what sort of challenges can you run into?

A: My first piece of advice would be to listen. From there you can start to see what you need to do, and how does that meet your overall business goals. What a lot of owners get wrong is they isolate media and think social media is just another digital channel. My advice would be to test, listen and to trial a campaign and see what the reaction is, learn from it and then plan your next campaign.

You talked about ‘earned media’ or the ‘likes’ on facebook. Are there cases where you found, that despite the lower spend on the social presence, that ‘earned media’ is getting them a greater return than perhaps traditional ways of reaching customers?

A: One great thing about social media is it’s traceable. You could have links to your facebook page, straight through to your website and redeem a certain percent discount to get that feedback.

In social media it’s the customers that give the grade and start sharing that with their friends. So you can start to use social media to expand your fan page and also to position your product and services in the market and actually trade on the really good stuff they are talking about.

The first effort is to build a fan base. That may cost, to use the page search, sponsoring links, those sorts of things you have to pay to get you in. You’d also be offering discounts, so you build up a decent enough fan base. Next stage is to engage with them, keep them coming back. Keep them coming back and that’s when they start to self generate content and that’s where you get to earn from that media. You get trust and then earnings in terms of sales. To give you one example; there is a hotel that just did a $79 Twitter promotion and they sold 1000 beds for that particular night on the $79 for their twitter fan base. There is a huge return on investment. So if you are a fan and if you are an advocate generating content on behalf of the brand you are likely actually to purchase something, so that earned media then becomes earned revenue. However, you’ve got to give the users what they want. They want their exclusive content, exclusive access, exclusive experiences and exclusive promotions. By doing that, by rewarding them, they become consumers saying positive things about the brand.

Fans are generating content or earned media and therefore they will be receptive to being treated special because they are a fan. Say Ray Bans for example, they might say to me, Mister Bailey, since you are a fan you’re entitled to purchase the latest seasonal Ray Bans three months ahead of them appearing in our retailed outlets. I think ‘great’, you know I could be wearing the latest thing three months ahead of everyone else. Or it could even be that you could only buy a particular model by being a fan. Now that’s exclusive, that’s a unique product, a unique offer and that’s what all the research in social media tells us that users want.

When a company does have a considerable fan base what will it typically cost vs what will they generally be spending on marketing, to keep fans engaged?

A: Well that really does depend on the product, volume and the ability to discount. You would have different strategies for different products. It’s great from a retail point of view because you have a number of products that you discount in certain times of the year, much like offerings to loyalty card holders, you offer your fan base promotions that cannot be had anywhere else. The industry has been doing so for years, but now it can be done cost effectively through social media.

In your experience, is it that companies often look at their expenditure related to social media as a marketing expense or do they often see that as an outlet for sales?

A: Marketers overall aim is to add profitable revenue or add value to the balance sheet, or both. Whether you are growing brand awareness or rebranding, it’s all because it makes you more attractive to a bigger better audience, it’s in order to encourage sales. So in a sense, I think the investment is in another marketing channel and digital is another channel. It should be integrated with other channels, e-marketing, online advertising and maybe out door. But many actually want to see their investment in social media actually make a return on investment and I think in the early years there was a big rush into the social media and there were mistakes made like overselling. I think there was a bit of rush and there was a backlash to that, which is why I advise listening first, learning from other people’s mistakes, so that you don’t make an expensive social media mistake yourself.

Anything that you think is particularly relevant to a market of Sri Lanka’s size where social media is growing, the opportunities are perhaps there, but very few companies have actually ventured?

A: I think that will expand in line with other countries and therefore the opportunity for a brand to have an advocate fan base is quite significant and the fact is that the fan base can also be global, so a good recommendation might allow you to get into another market. One of the reasons it’s so exciting around here, is it’s the start of the journey and it’s nice to be here at the beginning. Talking to some of the associates here, they are saying that ordering online has now started to take off. Smart phones are more common and maybe 18% of phone users have one. You may predict that possibly in two years time it could be upto 40%. What’s happened in the other market is that it’s switched from the laptop or the desktop to the ipad and to the mobile phone. An ever increasing number of people are accessing email from mobile phones and more and more people are accessing social media via their mobile. The hardware is getting into the audience’s hands and there is the convenience of digital engagement either in conversation or purchases, it’s all there and starting to happen.

Once you build a fairly sizeable number of fans how do you leverage on that? Explain to me what ‘big data’ is?

A: There are a lot of organizations talking about big data. I haven’t even sorted the little data out yet. The data we have at the moment is as rich and it’s being offered up freely. My advice is to use this first and then start thinking about this big data. So called big data is out there, it’s your name, it’s your interest, it’s the brands you like, the brands you don’t like, who your friends are, lot of people ‘check-in, I am here’. It’s the really big behavioral picture and to marketers that’s absolute pure gold because we’ve got far more insight in to behavior than we have ever had and therefore we are able to make sure that we are making the right offers, to the right people, at the right time, at the right place, that we know is going to add value; whether it’s convenience, whether it’s a better promotional offer.

Digital spend as a percentage of overall marketing spend must be 25 to 30 percent in the UK?

A: It’s increasing. I like to talk about marketing strategy and digital as a part of marketing. However we are seeing the digital focus first and then you start to have the more traditional channels fitting in around the edges, whereas many years ago, when digital was in its infancy, marketers used traditional channels first and figured how they could fit the digital in. I went to a conference three months ago and one of the speakers there was saying that they actually have a policy now, mobile first. So mobile at the centre and digital spanning out traditions are all out of the equations.

Mobile is particularly challenging isn’t it, although in markets where internet penetration is low most people experience the internet first on a mobile phone?

A: When you do redesigning a website put the customer at the heart of that journey. Now you can do what is called a ‘responsive design’. A responsive design means that your single web page design will shrink, drop non essential elements and change to adapt to smaller screens. People have had really poor experiences with brands because they have accessed websites on their phone first. Remember mobile is growing but still in many ways a smaller channel in terms of engagement channels. But every year it seems to get bigger and bigger, so more emails are opened on mobiles than before and more people access content. Some phones are now bigger to have that beautiful engaging screen size.

A lot of digital spend seems to be concentrated on Google search. If a Sri Lankan company was looking to spend, does it make sense to take that traditional approach to put most of the money on sponsored search results? Around half of digital spend globally goes in to search I think. You are talking about the rest of the 50%; do you think that will grow faster than perhaps search related spend?

A: I think search has changed a bit, for a start, because the big boys, Google, have changed the rules of engagement. They talk about ‘inbound marketing’ now. The marketing industry loves coming up with great new titles, I don’t mind that, because it allows you to talk about it and explain to clients and create a level of interest again. So you may start to hear things such as ‘inbound marketing’. A lot of it is going to be around content and getting scores around content and your reach. Your reach is also about the engagement the audience has with that particular brand.

I’m not sure I understand fully?

A: Inbound marketing will include pay per clicks, include social media and include your traditional kind of search engine optimization under one roof. So those things will start to be integrated. Imagine that the content that you are writing for your website will be more attractive to search engines. It’s also content that you could use within social media, you might put a shorter clip for the business community, the CEO of an organization may put it out to his shareed network on Linkedin, they may have a one liner for twitter.
If you create the content, then, that content is tailored for the different channels and that’s where a lot of investments are going now – to create content for different channels and content curation. If you look at search now, it’s switching to the power of the word and power of the imagery. They talked a few years ago about the power of the words coming back in again, because content is key, key words are key and the level of conversation is key and it’s great that the word is coming back in strength. But another interesting insight is the fact that you’ve started off blogs and then your Facebook posts are reduced and in Twitter, and now it’s going into Pinterest, so image leads, and You Tube has been very heavy with image since day one and the power of imagery has started to come back in again now. So the level of written word, in some sites, is being diminished and the power of the image and the moving image is starting to take precedence again. That’s also in line with the bandwidth, the efficiency of downloading etc. I don’t think the content or the written word is dying. But literally a picture does say a thousand words, and it can engage and capture imagination even more so in some long narrative. There is basically a mix now.
It’s interesting, this shrinking of words, to images. I don’t think it’s replacing words, but another way of doing it. Pinterest, for instance, is highly visual and there are exponents saying that it’s the rich picture websites experiences that are really fuelling and driving engagement at the moment.
I expressed caution at the beginning, listen first, and then start to grow your fan base and then engage with the fan base. Start converting into earned media so you have earned trust, but it really is giving what they want, exclusive content, exclusive offers, promotions and exclusive experiences. So that they are encouraged to share that with a group of friends, that’s where it becomes viable.