If you work in marketing for a large company, do not get distracted into micro-managing social media.
I’m going to start by discussing marketing and sales. It can be a little difficult to distinguish the two. Definitions vary, but I like to take an analogy from fishing, marketing is getting fishes to nibble at the bait and sales is coaxing/fighting them to the bank.
However a more useful difference is that marketing usually scales, becoming more efficient for larger companies, but sales often doesn’t.
- Traditional marketing activities are things like market research, public relations, and advertising. It doesn’t really cost any more to send out a press release, or create an advert, for a large company than a small one.
- Traditional sales activities are done by sales people, in a pub or over a phone, talking 1:1 with prospects who will eventually become customers. It’s very labor-intensive for a small company and even worse for a large company, because of increased structural overheads.
Traditional digital marketing fits with this distinction. It scales too, because creating and booking search adverts is pretty similar to advertising in any other channel, and sending out emails is pretty similar to direct mail.
This is important for large companies. The fact that marketing scales helps businesses to grow, because the overheads added by layers of management are compensated for by more efficient marketing.
But what about social marketing?
- Some aspects of this this can scale, for example you can treat a Facebook page or a Twitter feed as broadcast channels, like the celebs do.
- But a lot doesn’t scale. As soon as you try to engage more deeply, this becomes more like traditional selling than marketing - talking 1:1 or in small groups with customers and potential customers. Responding to individual critics; re-following friendly accounts; answering single questions; deleting inappropriate comments. Unlike the rest of digital marketing, this is hugely labor-intensive and does not scale.
EConsultancy just reported on a survey; reporting the conventional wisdom that retailers are failing to “get” social, because they don’t engage deeply…
The UK’s top 25 retailers have plenty of room for improvement in their social media and customer service strategies, with just 25% of those with a Twitter presence responding to customer questions through this channel.
This is one of the findings of the Auros Are you serious about social? study, which looks at how the top 25 UK retailers responded to queries on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs…
The 25 companies followed in the report had an average of 69,000 followers, which shows that there is a decent level of customer interest.
These results suggest that, though retailers are keen on a Twitter presence, they are yet to learn what users expect from them via this channel. That said, it should be very basic common sense (and good manners) to reply to a question posed directly at them.
- Despite the researchers actively engaging with the brand and asking questions, none of the retailers followed them back. This means customers can’t get in touch to provide details to help get their problem sorted out, or to move the discussion to another channel.
- Only 25% of retailers with a Twitter account responded to a question directed at them.
- While 20% responded to negative comments which had been directed at them, compared with 10% that replied to positive ones.
- For those that replied the average response time was 94 minutes, which isn’t bad. By comparison email response times were 10 hours on average, which says a lot about the quality of email service.
Whether the question is positive or negative, this represents a missed opportunity to engage with customers
I have been thinking about this, and eventually decided (to my surprise) that I disagree. Retailers are better at using Social Media than the experts!
This is because doing “Social Marketing” in the way proposed by a lot of experts is expensive and does not scale. It is fine for small companies to engage individual clients, because they are doing small-scale marketing anyway and so their opportunity costs are low. Big companies must do the same when faced by a PR crisis. But it is wrong for them to do so at other times, because the marketers doing the engaging could be working more productively on large-scale marketing instead. So the opportunity costs are too high.
Update: The survey sponsor confirms my negative conclusion:
“It is clear that retailers see the benefit of being active on social networks,” said Dominic Mills, Managing Director, Auros. “But too many are simply ignoring the fact that you have to be social and engage with users on these channels. Whilst brands need to monitor what is being said about them, they need to be confident about responding. Companies that use these social channels to get closer to their customers and prospects will increase brand advocacy and generate more bottom line revenue.”
See how he ignores the opportunity cost of marketers doing this instead of conventional digital marketing? If this survey showed that switching marketers from mass marketing to social marketing was effective, you can be sure he would have said so, and that’s the point.
To repeat my sentence from the top - if you work in marketing for a large company, do not get distracted into micro-managing social media.