Can social media really lead to demand generation?

Don't follow the flock when it comes to generating demand via social media.

The key question many companies are asking today is: Can my social media sites be used to generate demand for my products, and lead to revenue conversion? Ask any traditional marketing agency and the answer will most likely be a resounding “probably … at some point in time”.

Well that time is now, but it’s not a simple case of posting advertising beside someone’s wall post on Facebook, or Twittering a link to a product page.
As WPP CEO and Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell recently told me, social media is a modern form of the old fashioned practice of sending someone you know a letter. You’d hardly fold an advertisement and send it off with your mother’s birthday card, so why would you do it in the place you go to socialise online?
Sir Martin has a point, which is why he heads up the world’s leading marketing agency. But Sir Martin also went on to say that in his view, social media was potentially one of the most powerful marketing mediums ever invented, if only we could figure out a way to advertise within it that didn’t turn our target audience against us.
And this is the key to using social media as a marketing tool. You can’t simply blast endless advertising at people when they are in the mood to socialise and share intimacies with their friends.
But does this mean any advertising on social media is a no-go? Definitely not. It just means the way companies advertise needs to be far smarter, and more subtle, than ever before. And subtlety here is the key. So too is content.
I use the example of Blackberry. In 2009 Blackberry released a new Facebook user group to its 2000 or so staff in APAC (http://www.facebook.com/BlackBerry?ref=search). The staff then invited their friends to join the group. Simple enough. Except Blackberry cleverly used the site to post product features of its existing range, and to answer questions, concerns and complaints. Before too long, customers were answering each other’s questions and concerns. The site quickly became the place to go for anything you needed to know about Blackberry products.
And Blackberry wisely used the site to post useful content, and then, once consumer trust was established, began posting the occasional new product review, or a link to a new model’s buy-page. Very quickly, Blackberry was able to introduce subtle marketing messaging into useful product information and advice.
At last count, the site had more than 1.2 million users, and that in little over a year.
So social media can be used to generate revenue. But it’s a subtle approach and one that should be tested in a single market before being launched globally. Because if you do manage to upset your social media followers by “shotgunning” them with product reviews and sales pitches, their response is likely to be instant, and non-too-pleasant.
Remember, our wall posts are for us and our friends, not you and your product!
For now, most companies are content to grow their social media sites, trusting in the tried and true places such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Linkedin and so on. The majority seem happy to engage with their customers and listen to brand sentiment.
But now it’s time for the bgrave to take that next step, and actively promote their products to these often massive user groups.
I suggest taking a cautious and subtle approach in a select key market. Engage your customers, identify key influencers and involve them in your marketing plan. Then release your message, complete with easy links back to your own product pages, and measure the results. By measure, I mean not only see what sales you generate, but listen for any impact your activity has had on your brand sentiment. Selling a hundred widgets is great, but not if you lose 10,000 followers in the process.
Once you get the formula right, roll your campaign into other regions, being aware of the social media common to those regions, and also the unique cultural differences which may mean your message needs tweaking before being broadcast into China or similar first.
Again, a softly, softly approach with plenty of time built into the campaign for monitoring and making adjustments is recommended. And it might also be nice to thank your followers for allowing you to market to them. Remember, your approach is usually more important than your message.

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