Alex Marks

Size Doesn’t Count In Social Media

25 July 2012, Alex Marks

There was a highly prophetic article in the BBC news this week. The headline was along the lines of “Businesses uncover that Facebook ‘likes’ may not be as valuable as you think“. This was alongside other BBC articles around the subject that the Pope may yet be a Catholic and bears do indeed use the woods as a WC. Ah the Emperor’s new clothes!

Cynicism aside I thought it worthy of some comment and perhaps some perspective setting. There does seem to be an innate desire amongst marketers at the moment to accumulate as many “friends on Facebook”, “followers on Twitter” and “likes” for their brands as possible. The view being that the more I have the greater my success. And the bigger my bonus!

I have myself for instance, been asked on a number of occasions to “like” someone’s work on Facebook. Many adverts on TV are currently posing this very request. My instinctive reaction is of course to say “shan’t” but then I am a very jaded individual who has worked far too long in the marketing and media industries.

Victims of brand salience

I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that this is the action of needy individuals and from a brand value perspective worth little. There are many who believe that getting a “like” is an indication of brand salience.

That may be broadly the case but take the example of Aston Martin. They currently have, at the time of going to press, 1.74m Facebook “likes”. Now I don’t work for Aston Martin, nor do I have any sense of their marketing strategy. But as a marketer I’m going to hazard a guess that most of the people who “like” Aston Martin are unlikely ever to own one. So what is the benefit of all those “likes”?

Another day, another academic paper I think.

Perhaps I am being harsh. Perhaps it is just brands and consumers adapting to the options for recognition laid before them. And yes it probably is indicative of a positive feeling towards the subject. But surely success can be more clearly defined than that?

So I would like to point something out. I would posit that knowing you have 100,000 followers on Facebook/Twitter is largely meaningless data unless you:

a) know who they are

b) understand their influence

c) can measure the impact of that influence

So here are some tips:

1. Identify the influencers

An influential advocate with followers is worth far more to a business than an idiot alone, shouting into the wind.

2. Don’t just measure the quantity

Quantitative data has in some ways always been easier to come by than qualitative data. And it tends to be less ambiguous. But afford the qualitative more focus. Make the quantitative a hygiene factor. Record the qualitative: look for product feedback, blog comments, suggestions for service etc.

3. Don’t treat all data as equal

It is simply not good enough to say a comment was ‘broadly positive’ or ‘neutral’. What looks like success to one person will be irrelevant to another. Think whom you wish to influence with it. What is useful to a PR practitioner is different to what is pertinent to a Business Strategist.

 4. Don’t view data sources in isolation

Businesses have divisions, functions, departments and teams. Still, in this age of technology and convergence, we see businesses where E-commerce is run separately to Marketing, which again in some cases is run separately to retail marketing.

The problem is that consumers don’t live in silos. Their lives are fluid and change from context to context at a moment’s notice. Invest in systems that allow us to keep track of our consumers and their interactions with multiple components of our own business. So you can see how the TV campaign impacts upon the search engines, which impacts upon the share price and so on.

 5. Link it back to business success

Perhaps the most important yet most overlooked issue for any marketer. When you start to translate your visits, advocates and comments into usable insight and then correlate it to business value, then you have a much better sense of what kind of a relationship you have with your customer base. From this, you will also have a better indication of whether or not they are becoming more likely to transact with you in some way.

If you want to move your team closer to the top table, then this is essential.

So continue to embrace all that the web throws at you, but beware of those bearing false gifts. They are numerous and you must always question them.

You have been warned.

Alex Marks is a digital strategist and founder of Fresh and Frank consulting. In addition to consulting clients in digital and business strategy, he also leads Emarketeers’ Digital Strategy training course.


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