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Social media: How to use customer data to improve personalisation

18th Aug 2011
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Len Shneyder looks at how firms can use customer data to improve personalisation and integration in a marketing campaign. So far, Len has looked at email marketing and landing pages. This week he looks at social media.

I’m a big fan of Bill Moyers, one of America’s most recognised and respected journalists, who I believe speaks truth to power. In an interview, he uttered something incredibly relevant to our topic: "when you look at an audience of consumers you want to sell them something; when you see an audience of citizens you want to share something."
The social network is a modern country independent of borders and flags where marketers and consumers are equals. That’s right - equals - we are all citizens in the Land of Social Networking. Marketers with multi-million pound budgets have no more say than a mechanic from Manchester.
In our last two articles we discussed how landing pages and email work in a customer-centric worldview. We must now take a breath and consider how to structure our approach to social media in order to maintain a customer-centric strategy. Social media presents marketers with more opportunities to embark on cross-channel campaigns than any other individual channel because of the interconnections growing in the applications and platforms. We are in an age of messaging convergence where information is freely flowing from one walled garden into another. This free-flow might seem chaotic but it’s rife with opportunity and, more importantly, replete with metrics and data about how our customers are engaging with our messages across networks and channels.
Defining the social media project as 'CONTENT'
At a friend’s behest I sat down over a few weeks and slogged my way through all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica (here’s my virtual nerd passport). I was so immersed and impressed that I began to search the web for more content. I ‘friended’ the show’s leads on Twitter, hunted down the BSG page on Facebook and declared my admiration clicking the ‘like’ button, and then noticed something: the ads.
The right hand side of my screen now displayed an ad for the MMO Game of Battlestar Galactica. Intrigued, I clicked through to a beautifully designed landing page urging me to play for free. In addition to the game ads, I saw ads for t-shirts with slogans from the show, which I shared with friends who watched the show, which in turn increased the frequency of ads. As the lines blurred I wondered how brands can leverage the layers of social media to compliment and create a more potent total customer-centric digital strategy.
The genius of Facebook, well one of them anyway, was to allow users to import feeds and updates to their wall from other networks, thus making networks stackable, giving users less reason to ever leave Facebook’s site. Your customers are doing much of the work for you by integrating channels into Facebook, like Twitter and Flickr feeds. A single well-crafted tweet can be instantly seen on Facebook, LinkedIn and even in webmail clients when picked up by a user who has stacked their networks. Much of the heavy lifting of sharing has been taken care of through technological integration; your job is to create content worth sharing.
From the flat tirade to the three-dimensional conversation
Social media is the anti-bullhorn channel - it requires the marketer’s active participation. You can’t scream loudly and go dynamite fishing because you’ll only go hoarse and blow your toes off. It’s really easy for your customers, fans and followers to flick a switch and never hear from you again.
In order to succeed, marketers must leverage what they know about their customers from the email channel, their landing pages and other lines of communication to build out dynamic conversations that travel up and down the social stack. Your emails are content and fodder that feed social networks. Your job is to participate, not preach, and in order to do the former effectively, you have to understand a few basic concepts:
  • Earned vs paid impressions

    When a marketer spends money on keywords for SEO, that’s a paid impression when someone clicks that link. If your customer re-tweets your message, or shares a link on Facebook, that’s an earned impression. The latter is absolute marketing gold while the former is a staple with fixed returns.

    Earned media is far more valuable because it’s accompanied with a large helping of trust. For each earned impression you have the chance to earn more impressions from a “captive” audience. Social media networks of friends usually trust one another more than they trust the emails you sent, and the continuing use of the spam button proves that.

    There are many creative ways to ‘earn’ impressions. Take the past “Burger Sacrifice” campaign waged by Burger King. If you delete 10 friends from Facebook, you get a discount voucher. There’s no rule about adding them back in; when this launched, it raised the brand’s awareness, generated traffic to restaurants to redeem burger suicide vouchers and garnered new fans. Social media encourages experimentation and at times rewards bravery.


  • The most valuable message in the world

    The most valuable message in the world is the one you don’t send. That’s right, social media is a ‘less is more’ paradigm. If we think back to email marketing 101 we have to remember the concept of message fatigue: how many emails before someone complains or unsubscribes? The danger of over-messaging in social media isn’t the loss of one customer, it’s the loss of the customer’s friends, and their friend’s friends and so on. Each of your customers is at the centre of their own social universe and you have to trust them to do the work for you. Before trust comes empowerment and in order to empower customers with sharable content you have to first understand what motivates them. This can only be accomplished by building a robust multi-dimensional customer profile.

    If we acknowledge the relative low worth of an email address with no other information identifying the customer behind the email, then the same is true for a Twitter handle if you’re not measuring the user’s sentiment toward your brand; this also goes for a corresponding name that has liked your Facebook page; your job is to track the content that’s liked, shared and build out the defining characteristics and habits of that customer. Without correlating the channels and establishing a viable cadence that doesn’t exhaust a customer’s attention span, you can’t hope to engage with a customer socially, and your conversation will be uni-directional, lacking the urgency to find its ways through to all levels of the social stack.

Social media isn’t an isolated channel with different rules and metrics that’s detached from the rest of your marketing efforts but sadly it’s often treated as a separate entity. But with a little ingenuity, cleverness and technology, you can bring the empiricism of email to the brave new social world. Everything you know about your customers can be put into play and everything you learn in the social channel can be applied to your other digital channels to create a truly human and social view of your customers. It’s all connected.

Previous features in this series

Len Shneyder is product marketing manager at IBM Enterprise Marketing Management Group.

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