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Time to grow up: Is your brand socially immature?

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23rd Jun 2014
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So, you’ve worked hard to build a pretty impressive audience on social, and perhaps you’ve even managed to generate a decent level of engagement. Now it’s just about keeping the whole thing ticking over as best you can, right?

Well, not really.

The bad news is that your brand probably still hasn’t reached social maturity. The good news? It’s far from alone. Many organisation don’t actually realise how much potential social offers, and how much room there is to grow in this virtual space. The social commerce experts at Buyapowa recently researched social maturity and found that only one brand – one, out of the top 100 retailers on the planet – has reached full social maturity. While this may leave the other 99 a little red-faced, it does mean that there is a whole load of potential in the social sphere, not only for them, but also for you.

So, Buyapowa has identified three stages of social maturity. We spoke to its director of client success Robin Bresnark to help you to establish where your brand lies on the spectrum, and how much more room it has for growth.

Stage one
Consider this stage your social infancy. You’re basically picking it up as you go along. You’re likely to trip up every now and again but hey, you deserve a break – you’re new to this. Just like an infant, your biggest concerns are learning stuff and getting as much attention as possible. Although you perhaps don’t go about this in the most effective way.

“Stage one is where you attract your fans and followers, and that’s where everyone starts,” says Robin. “So you set up your Facebook page and you set up your Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram profiles and all of that. Then it’s a numbers game, right? People set themselves KPIs like ‘we want to get a thousand followers by the end of March, a million by the end of the year’. And people sort of assess themselves on how well they’re doing with that. The kind of tools they might use to do that sort of things are competitions and polls, things that get people through the door – and it might not be the right people but that doesn’t matter, it’s all about numbers at that stage very often.”

Stage two
Now you’re in adolescence; you’re on your way. You’ve got yourself a good group of like-minded, relevant followers, and you’ve become a bit more socially awarre. You’ve moved on from using social solely shout about stuff, and now you’re joining in conversations. You’re at the party.

“Now you actually start to engage your community. So you offer your audience insider privileges, chances to affect the kinds of products and deals which go live, maybe – it’s a meaningful engagement rather than just ‘do you like to iron?’ and ‘what do you put on your pizza?’. So it’s properly starting to engage; it’s turning your audience into a community.”

Stage three
You’re in adulthood. You’ve learnt your lessons, you know what you want and you know darn well how to get it. The party just got interesting. 

Robin explains: “This is where the fun starts – it’s where you really build these social sales channels. So you’ve got your audience there, they’re kind of more of a community, they’re engaged. Now it’s time to convert these fans and followers into customers. And really critically, once you do that you can actually leverage their friends and their social networks and you can turn your customers into marketers on your behalf, so they go out and actually do some of the selling for you as well.”

Forget measuring social success by shares and likes - turn social into a sales channel and you'll generate returns that no one can argue with. 

Growing pains

Unfortunately, successful social growth relies on a careful balance of social activity, meaning you may well have to reassess your whole  approach. Buyapowa’s report demonstrates this by breaking down all the social posts it collected from the top 100 retailers into different categories: audience-building posts, silly posts, engagement-driving posts, posts about products and posts about promotions.

“The best brands had a spread of topics, and that’s really what we’ve been on the lookout for,” said Robin. “You don’t want to be stern or hard-salesy, you don’t want to be desperate. Just because you’re talking about products and promos, which is more of the stage two and three of social, doesn’t mean you should be totally sales-oriented or that you should give up trying to grow your audience. The brands that succeed the most have a nice blend.”

What you’ll notice these brands often don’t have in their careful blend however, are pictures of pugs in bowties. “Silliness in social: it’s endemic, it’s everywhere,” warns Robin. "It’s cupcakes and weather and cute animal pictures. We kind of like it when our friends share this stuff with us, but for some reasons brands think it’s a good idea for them to get in on the act. It might seems like a good idea and, you know what, once in a while it’s fine. But if you only focus on silly stuff what we find is that your customers are much more likely to complain then warm to your lovely cuddly brand identity.”

He used the below example from Sears, to show how these kind of posts can go down. Lead balloon, anyone?

Robin explains how you can’t “hoodwink” customers into thinking that everything’s all cupcakes and flowers and – in this case – cute pugs. “[Your customers] are on social and following you to talk about your brand and products and to get involved with you. They don’t want to see pugs. You’re just going to annoy people. Alarmingly, 34% of what these 100 leading brands put out on social is this kind of thing. And just as alarmingly, a third of those 100 brands post more of that than anything else. That’s kind of scary I think.

“It’s showing that there aren’t enough joined up messages in businesses, because fundamentally we’re looking at retailers here; it’s their job to sell things, it’s not their job to post pictures of pugs. And brands which do focus on the silly stuff are much less likely to get to the stage where they can start to successfully sell on social. And that has to be the goal for a retailer – otherwise what on earth are you doing?“

When it does come to posting about your products and promotions, it’s a good idea not to overdo it. Although your audience will want to know about offers and new lines – else why would they follow you? – it can get a bit much. Especially if, like five of the retailers in the study, 80% of your tweets are about this. “In our opinion, the sweet spot there is going to be around 40-60%,” said Robin. “I think that’s wholly appropriate. But what we found is that a third of these brands are just doing too much of it. It just gets incredibly samey. Although we’re very much in this game to encourage people to use social as a tool to generate sales, you do it in a more graceful way than just saying here’s a product, here’s a link to our ecommerce store, go and shop now, go and buy it.” There’s nothing social about that sales method.

It’s not all about posting, though; it’s also about listening. The report looks into this as a success factor. “We had a look at whether retailers are using social as a platform for talking to their audiences or talking with them,” said Robin. “This is a kind of finger in the air - I’d never suggest it was definitive but it’s an interesting one. What we’ve done is look at the number of people these brands follow for every 100 followers they receive on Twitter. Now, best practice for this is 10. People always say that for every 100 followers you receive you should follow 10.

“The distressing takeaway from this one is that two thirds of those 100 leading bands followed five or fewer people. And that’s kind of worrying; it suggests that they’re using social very much as a broadcast medium.”  

This is a biggie – brands need to focus more on the social, and less on the media. “When you use a word like media, all of a sudden people in media and agencies start to think about that thing as being somewhere where they broadcast a message,” explains Robin. “It’s almost a contradictory term to say 'social media'; 'social' means interaction and 'media' really means broadcasting. So there’s a horrible clash going on there. And these figures suggest that people still haven’t solved that clash.”

“The retailers who are really great at getting their fans and followers shopping, they take the higher approach. So they listen – they don’t just broadcast.”

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