The State of Social Marketing (Part 1)

This is the first of two articles covering the recently published Pivot Conference Report ‘The State of Social Marketing 2011 – 2012: From Social Brands to Social Business’.  Full Report details have just been published on the Brian Solis blog.

Part 1 summarises the main conclusions of the Report.  Given that it is based on US data, some observations are then made concerning the current ‘state-of-play’ with social media in the UK and other countries, based on our extensive coalface experience in this area.  Part 2 will address the ‘so what’ question i.e. the implications of the Report’s findings for Social Media Strategy Development moving into 2012 and beyond.

Based on the very detailed Report summary provided by Brian Solis, keynote findings are as follows:

  • Social Marketing currently stands at an important crossroads.  While there are a number of vanguard Social Businesses who have fully embraced the need for engagement, the majority of companies lag behind in execution.  Most remain at an experimental stage in their social media activities
  • A major ‘Perception Gap’ exists between the social media expectations of customers and executive assumptions of customer wants.  One of the key trends has been the emergence of the Social Consumer
  • Social Consumers are fundamentally different from traditional consumers in the way they find and share information, the way they make purchasing decisions.  They place more emphasis on the shared experiences of those they trust on social networks compared to corporate driven brand messages.  They expect brands to respond to their socialized questions.  This will require businesses to rethink their traditional approach to sales, service, marketing and customer relationship management. ‘Being Social’ will become the new key to consumer connection and success

Based on a detailed survey of 181 brand managers, agency professionals and other experts, the following key findings were noted:

  • 77% of respondents thought they had a clear idea of who their Social Customers were but most did not actively engage with them. 53% had not asked their Social Customers what they expected from engagement
  • In terms of demographics, Social Consumers are now widely distributed by gender, age and income
  • Facebook (95%), Twitter (89%) and Linkedin (76%) are the main networks used by Social Consumers but with a strong and more recent growth in the use of Google +
  • Experts were split on whether social would go mainstream in 2012 with 49% stating that they would probably be staying at the experimental stage.  This was reflected in budget allocation, with 60% allocating less than 30% of their total marketing budget to social media; a full 43% would allocate less than 10% to social marketing
  • The main barriers and obstacles preventing companies from moving beyond the experimental stage are interesting to note.  Uncertainty regarding budgets was mentioned as the most important barrier, quickly followed by ‘inability to define expected outcomes’; ‘absence of a clear social media strategy’; ‘lack of understanding of potential business benefits’; ‘executive scepticism’; and ‘lack of performance metrics’

So how do these US based findings compare to the current ‘State-of-Play’ with social media in the UK and other non-US countries? Where are we? What progress has been made and where are we going?

We would make the following observations based on our extensive experience in this area (e.g. Social Media Workshops delivered to over 2,000 companies over the last few years). Our observations support the main findings of the ‘State of Social Marketing’ report:

Interest and enthusiasm for social media in the UK and other countries has grown rapidly. Compared to 18 months ago, there is now a very high level of awareness and enthusiasm regarding the potential business benefits of Social Media from companies and organisations of all sizes and across most sectors. Channels are being set up, but the majority of companies remain at an experimental/’testing the water’ stage of social media maturity.

While good progress has been made, two main problems remain:

First, a broadcasting mentality prevails. For too many organisations, social media is seen as just another PR platform for broadcasting messages AT rather than engaging WITH customers.

Second, few organisations adopt a ‘strategic’ approach to social media. While it is easy to set up social media channels, the lack of strategic planning leads to major problems down the line in terms of resourcing, content, customers, measuring performance, business impact and return on investment.

In moving towards a more advanced stage of social media involvement, organisations in the UK and other countries will face exactly the same obstacles and barriers as reported in the US study. Part 2 will provide advice on overcoming these barriers, moving from a position of using social media to becoming a social business.

As usual, feedback and comment are very welcome. What is the ‘state-of-play’ with social media in your own organisation?

Jim, Alan, Vincent

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