Social media – engage and sell, sell, sell

Social media has proven to be this year’s sexy new poster boy for the marketing world. It seems every week we hear of yet another company popping up on Twitter or Facebook and employing agencies or consultants to create a new social marketing strategy.

Financial services and automotive companies have been quick to jump on the social media bandwagon, while FMCG companies such as Procter & Gamble are increasingly testing the waters.

Carphone Warehouse for its part recently appointed Face, part of the Cello Group, to drive activity in this area. Twitter, for example, has allowed it to speed up the identification of problems and identify issues put forward by its customers.

Now, it is also hoping to use social media to target new audiences.

Meanwhile, the Government, as the biggest advertiser in the UK, is also bolstering its activity in interactive media. The COI this week launched Digigov, a blog that will aim to stimulate debate about digital policy across government departments by encouraging public feedback and information sharing.

The Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for their part have appointed Profero to lead the digital activity for a new approach to tackling teenage pregnancy and sexual health.

Marketing activity could see the development of an online drama, social media, mobile, and display ads.

In the retail arena, John Lewis is planning to launch an interactive, virtual store, signing up to NearLondon, a shopping, social-networking and entertainment virtual world set to go live in November.

The social networking world is a 3D video representation of London’s businesses where consumers will be able to visit a virtual version of a store in exactly the same location as it would be in real life.

But while social media is proving to be a boon for marketers in terms of consumer engagement, the big question that remains is how they’ll be able to convert that consumer interest into cold hard cash.

The company behind NearLondon, NearGlobal, is partnering with the New West End Company to create the “West End VIP” scheme for users of the virtual world.

The membership programme will offer regular shoppers and visitors a range of benefits at participating shops, hotels, bars and restaurants.

If this idea works, it could be just the answer for marketers such as John Lewis which need to profit not just from greater consumer engagement, but also sales. If it can achieve this, then there will be nothing virtual about its success.

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