Matt Potter, Head of Content, John Brown Media Group

More social, less media

If a brand wants to compete, it needs to use its social media presence in ways that provides tangible business benefits far beyond CS or sales. But first it needs to broaden its thinking, says Matt Potter, Head of Content at John Brown

“What is the point of ‘doing’ social media if we’re not selling or providing customer service?”

This is a question I get asked weekly in one form or another. It’s actually a pretty healthy one to be asked and I love answering it. If you don’t, you might not want to be in content marketing at all, because for many or most of us, depending how you slice it, ‘social media’ is increasingly ‘the media’.

There are obvious answers such as SEO, influence and audience testing, but it’s where these responses end that things get really interesting. Because social media is not just a channel; not just media: it’s social. And tapping into social dynamics can bring access to a whole new level of ROI.

“Key metrics on loyalty, trust and tolerance rise the more consistently and visibly interesting, genuine, active and engaging your channels are”

Igniting interaction

One way to tap into social is to create content with an open-source mindset – putting exciting material out there and letting the community sell for you. Underpinning our work for Vue Cinemas is a strategy of sparking passionate and fun conversations around movies, with the aim of getting more people talking on social media about films (which happen to be on at Vue) as a way to drive anticipation and make film central to their friendships.

And from hashtag games to the least likely candidates to be the next James Bond (Ian McShane? John Hamm?), it works: 18.2% of bookings are attributable to Twitter, while three in five said conversations over Twitter had affected their decision to see a film.

This is about recognising that a cinema brand’s competitors aren’t just other cinema brands, but other ways of spending leisure time – a pint, a pizza, NetFlix – and that talking about your offering with passionate others makes people more curious, more knowledgeable, more passionate and more confident about it themselves.

Selling through social

This isn’t an outlier. On hearing about a car make or model, 42% of consumers considering purchase no longer go straight to the maker’s brand website, let alone ask for a brochure or visit a showroom. Instead, their first action is to check out what peers are saying on… you guessed it.

So the role of the marketer becomes less direct and more about filling the space around the brand profile with interesting stuff worth sharing and talking about – a new kind of ‘thought leadership’. This is done with the knowledge that prompting positive interactions between third parties does some of your selling for you.

This has other benefits, as research suggests that simply manifesting a social presence that people find engaging, outgoing and interesting has hard value in itself. One clue as to how comes from the study of the social behaviours we share with animals. Primates strengthen social bonds in large groups by approaching each other, smoothing fur and removing (often imaginary) fleas. This grooming often has no direct link to hygiene; it’s simply a way of affirming a shared connection, and in doing so stimulating the production of endorphins and the hormone oxytocin responsible in humans for feelings of intimacy, compatibility and bonding.

It’s a direct ancestor to ‘Liking’ or ‘Favoriting’ a post and may explain the pleasurable feeling of being followed or retweeted by a strong or credible social media account.

Crowd dynamics

So much for the warm-and-fuzzies. What about the ROI? Our parent group, the Dentsu Aegis Network, has worked with Cambridge University to research the specific value that can be attached to being a popular and active presence in social channels, independent of any specific sales funnel.

This was done by setting up three profiles for the same non-existent company, identical in all ways except for the amount of engagement – the ‘Likes’ – with that profile, and asking subjects questions about the company, its products and their relationship with them.

On a range of indices, from trust (“I would trust this brand”) to preference (“This brand would be my first choice”) to advocacy (“I would encourage friends to buy this brand”), an increase in perceived popularity had a marked, immediate and unconscious uplift. Even when there’s no interaction with the subject, the subject sees others’ interactions and likes and unconscious cues – that this is a brand others like, trust and profit by their association with, and that they can too.

This idea, that seeing our group enjoying something helps us want to enjoy it, is the basis of social proofs, the currency of TripAdvisor and the reason Apple has given every pocketable device from the iPod onwards white earphones. (You won’t see the pocketed device or know whether it’s any good, but you will see that everyone has one.)

Your brand might have great feedback, great NPS and a lovely brand logo, but unless that positivity plays out on social media, it won’t be able to influence the 42% of car buyers, the 18.5% of cinemagoers… or the rest of us. Key metrics on loyalty, trust and tolerance rise the more consistently and visibly interesting, genuine, active and engaging your channels are.

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