Don’t be afraid of experimenting with social media

While the bankers left Davos in a fairly defensive mood this week, one of the most high profile and sought-after sessions at the World Economic Forum was the session on the growing influence of social networks. This focused on a workshop where representatives from all main social networks were present.

It serves as a timely reminder of how online is transforming the 21st century and how brands should transform their communications with consumers.

It’s perhaps surprising then to see research from the Internet Advertising Bureau showing that only a fifth of marketers view social media as a core element of their marketing strategy.

Broken down, the research says that three-quarters of brand marketers surveyed believe that social media’s biggest challenge is proving it can deliver return on investment, while 64% saw measurement as the most significant hurdle.

While such thinking is important from a financial perspective, it’s perhaps missing the whole point of what social media can do.

Rather than thinking about how do I get people to spend on my brand through social media ads, maybe it would be wise to think using the terminology that Facebook uses to describe its advertising service – engagement.

Think of recent successes that have been attributed back to social media – Rage Against the Machine going to number one, Wispa coming back and the Walkers make your own flavour campaign.

Of course, it’s not without its problems. The free speech nature of online makes it a potentially dangerous environment for mistakes – remember Habitat’s attempt at using Twitter?!

But in terms of actually encouraging consumer participation and engagement with a brand, it can open new doors, which ultimately could lead to a sale. If not profits, then at least it’s a favourable opinion of your brand.

As Owen Van Natta, CEO of Myspace told the Davos crowd: “We are able to efficiently consume media through people, rather than limited sources of content.”

Randi Zuckerberg of Facebook, adds: “It’s not enough to have 6 world leaders discussing important issues, let’s bring 350 million people into it too.”

And George Colony, CEO Forrester Research, reminded the Davos audience “7 of 15 most trafficked sites are social networks.”

With a new decade upon us, its perhaps important for brands to remember that the digital era is upon us. Being sceptical is OK. I myself refuse to buy into the Twitter hype. But, at the end of it all, the old saying of “you have to be in it to win it” applies wholeheartedly to social media. Initiatives like Honda’s crowd-sourcing and Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s fundraising appeals are innovative and exciting.

So, what’s stopping you from experimenting and investing in the digital era?

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