Social Media: Buying fans is easy, earning advocates is hard..

Launching a brand on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter is a simple feat... You can do it in half an hour with time to spare for a coffee. Sounds good right? Doing it successfully, that is the challenge; and one that requires a great deal of preparation, work and expertise. The bigger the brand, the more people that need to be engaged and excited by the delivery, not just fans, but the people involved in the process. There are some thing you can do to improve your chances but regrettably, none of them involve coffee-breaks...

This article is a collection of my experiences with doing a successful brand launch and covers some of the key things that need to be considered and planned for.

1. Before you start

1.1 First Question: Are you excited? Or is this just another job?

It is actually a serious question for a very un-serious situation. Social Media is fun, its engaging and rich, the environment is full of memes, jokes and general good cheer. You need to be enjoying yourself or this will be clear with the users. Ask yourself...

People spend hours of their leisure time every day on Social Media because they want to. They are having fun, you want to connect to them and so, it follows by the transitive property that you have to be fun. It becomes painfully clear to users if your social pages are just another channel, a method for pushing out offers and selling your product and is treated like some newfangled email distribution list. People don't want to be harassed or bothered by you talking at them, they want to play and they want to have conversations.

Social Media is communication. It is a two way street and some brands clearly have fun with that. I got the following communication from Benugo's Bar after an innocent Tweet. I was on Southbank with a few friends and stopped into the BFI for a couple of drinks and low and behold, there was a celebrity lounging on the sofa. Naturally, when I checked in on Foursquare I mentioned that excitement. Benugo saw my post and replied;

It is brilliant. They are engaging with the audience in a real way that gets people talking. I emailed it around at work during the weekend because I was rather taken with it.

This does not mean every brand should try and be funny and cheeky. Keep your brand identity and your tone but tailor them; just as your Press Releases have a consistent overall tone with your offer emails, doesn't mean they are identical, they are nuanced. Press Releases, for example, will be more formal and will be targeted to journalists; whereas emails are trying to inform.

Social Media is all about engaging. It is about what can you off your clients. No one would expect Lloyds of London to make jokes or be using slang or referencing memes, but you would expect a different tone from their emails to their social media engagement. None of this precludes offers and pushing your product. Research supports many people engage with brands because of the online offers that are given, but take a look at Starbucks for a really excellent implementation of the balance between engagement and sales.

1.2 Should you be doing this?

You need to be honest here, a lot of people think that they want to get into social media, it has been a hot topic for the last few years, but you need to know what you are doing and need to be the right kind of company doing the work. One advantage I and my team have had is that TMW have a long history in this area that we could bring to bear, aside from my own past experience in the area. TMW operate the media platforms for Lynx, Pimms, Unilever and various other brands. That corporate expertise is invaluable. Push advertising, for example, is a very different beast. TV commercials, billboards, they are great and valuable, but engaging with someone using the brands voice, that is a wholly different situation. (Note: There are a range of companies who are more than capable of handling both, but look for experience in both.)

If you don't have this expertise, if you've never dipped your toe into the murky Facebook waters, then its worth going out to the market and finding someone who has. Whether that is a Project Manager to help implement and give you their experience or outsourcing the entire thing to a Social Media agency, you need to implement well in order to achieve Social Media returns and engagement, and early investment helps that.

1.3 Strategy

This question is really about how you engage and how you develop a community. It is easy to create the page, and no doubt you can fill the first few weeks with some great content, but can you maintain that over just 3 months? Remember that is 92 days, and ideally you wants at least an item to post every single day. Do you have 92 items of content ready? Will you have 365 over the course of the year?

Ensure you have a detailed Creative content reveal strategy, both around tabs and around wall posts, to ensure that you are giving users a rich ongoing experience. Its better to post less often but with more engaging content than to spam your users with information they will deem irrelevant.

Also, pay attention to the types of responses you get based on the type of post. Does your audience prefer videos? Do they get really excited by Polls? Are they Offer crazy? Is it all about location checkins? Pay attention to this and target appropriately. Remember to keep measuring though, your audience engagement may well change over time as your audience demographic may change.

1.4 Brand Identity

Clients From Hell

As the above conversation shows, it may well be possible that your client isn’t fully au fait with what it means to be on a social network, and you need to set their expectations. Your ability to establish your brand identity is limied, you generally have small logos, and a background that needs to work across multiple resolutions. This isn’t a creative microsite which can be built to really show off the brand, it’s a system you are allowed to use. Remember, its free, so that always means you aren’t the customer, you are the product.

2. Personnel

2.1 Stakeholders

Consider, who needs to be engaged? You need the media team to be engaged with the project and working with you. You also need your key decision makers to be on-board and you need your accounts team involved thinking about how this new channel can be woven into the existing communications plans. The PM should be present representing delivery as should anyone responsible for the account from Strategy/Planning to give long term focus..

You also need to know who shouldn't be involved. Social Media is one of those projects that a lot of people want to be involved with, keep them to a minimum or you'll burn your budget and spend time going in the wrong direction or trying to please everyone. You need to be focused on delivery. Steal an idea from Scrum and designate Pigs and Chickens.

2.2 Social Media Editor

One thing you see a lot is the "Oh, the intern can do the Facebook posts" or similar. For some reason, despite a print advert going out only after having been written by a Copywriter, checked by a Creative Director, reviewed by the client, approved by the Product Gatekeeper and internally reviewed; companies look at social media, where things go out quickly and often and decide that they don't need the same level of oversight and generally feel that one of the most junior staff members in the office should be speaking for the company.

"After all," goes the thought "they are always on Facebook during their lunch-break."

This attitude is particularly common for companies who are attempting to manage their own social media platform from nothing. Ten years ago, those same people who are given responsibility for updating Facebook, because they are on Facebook over lunch, were playing solitaire during that period instead. How many Executives would have made the decision "Oh, we'll send our intern to Vegas with the company credit card and have them hit the Blackjack tables for us"?

I have to ask myself "why?" when I see this attitude; and the only answer I can come up with is that Social Media is still considered somehow dirty or not a real channel for engagement. I could understand this back in 1994. Back when we were setting up Geocities pages about TV shows and Web-Rings were a handy SEO tool. But now, 17 years later, when Social Media is everywhere and Smartphones tout it as a key reason for buying them over their competitor. Disney's Facebook page has 31 million fans? This is more than the population of Greater London that they can talk to directly every day. Now? Social Media is a legitimate channel, perhaps more legitimate than ads in that dying medium that is Newspapers. (certainly for some Brands it is already.)

Social Media is an area where you are talking directly to your clients, but you are also talking publicly to your clients. You need an expert to be working on these communications. The tone needs to be right and they need to be experienced and capable enough to deal with the exceptions. Those (hopefully) rare occurrences where Trolls, unhappy customers and the just plain mean decide to target you. Sure, 80% of the time,maybe the Intern is enough, but do you really trust them to answer within moments when a truly complicated situation occurs? Hire an expert and hope that you never need them and that every post could have been dealt with by that intern. That is the best situation to be in, because the alternatives leave you exposed.

3. Planning & Delivery

3.1 What drives your deadline?

Deadlines are driven by a lot of things and what is driving yours defines what your focus needs to be.

Is your deadline driven by:

  • A hard date, like a brand launch?
  • A fixed budget?
  • A big splash?
  • A multi-company approach?

A hard date, like a brand launch may well require that you and your clients focus on what is realistic in the timeframe. Creating only one or two static tabs may be all you have time for, perhaps you don't have time to implement an entire strategy. This is something I have had to do in the past with a client. Take stock of the timeline and work backwards to ensure you can deliver. The important thing is that you go live well; better a limited number of tabs that may not do much but look great and work than trying to do everything and doing it poorly. Social Media is all about growth and new content. No one minds if you start adding tabs and giving fans even more reasons to stay with you, they do mind if what you offer is useless or flawed.

If you are doing a multi-company or brand approach then you need to take the time to get the right controls in place, invest in some middle-ware like Buddymedia, Shoutlet, Syncaps or Context Optional to allow you to develop tab templates and manage engagement in a central controlled and easily reportable way. Understand what your target is, and plan from there.

If it is big splash, and the importance is making an impact then take as long as you need and come out swinging with something incredible.

A multi-company or multi-brand approach requires middleware. You need something to facilitate the management of multiple pages without wasting time and money. You need to be able to schedule your posting so that you do not appear to be favouring a particular company/brand. You will also be far more likely to have a range of client interests in the various areas, and middleware means you can implement approval or review workflow to support this.

3.2 Names

Book them early and book them all!

Get some spares and hide them, the last thing you need is the day before the launch facing a problem of someone emailing you and pointing out a backup profile name is appearing on Google because you used it as a publicly available test site for a few weeks and Google just wont forget about it! If you have plans to expland, register the names early on to prevent domain squatting. Whilst there are things you can do to reclaim a domain, its a headache you don't need when getting around it is so easy.

One final trick; create a memorable, but different Facebook page name as a staging site. For example if I needed one for my consultancy it might be it is memorable, but won't turn up on search engines or Facebook search and allows you to test a tab before it goes live or demonstrate to a client with contextual and functional support.

3.3 Rules of Engagement

Escalation procedures if things are going badly or some users are posting problems, you need to know what to do, and the client needs to be confident and comfortable with what you will be doing there is no time for the usual approval routes. You also need war procedures: if a dedicated attack on one of the sites is occurring. I.e. Green Peace decide to tell all their members to post on the wall because your product is not environmentally friendly, what do you do?

The client also needs to be prepared for negative comments, people going onto Facebook and saying that the product looks dull, or that their friend bought a second hand widget from that company and its always breaking and they need to be aware that these can't be censored. You need to have responses in place for certain comments, but these posts will happen and can't be deleted without community backlash, and sometimes just leaving them up is the best solution and effective answers can reap rewards,

3.4 Content & Communications Calendar

As I've mentioned, it is very easy to work on the assumption that the office intern will be able to do your Facebook updates, hey, these kids are always on Facebook anyway, how hard can it be? I've advocated the opposite, employ an expert. One of the core advantages an expert is going to bring you is a professional approach to the role. Part of that is the Content Calendar and Communications Plan.

We should have a content engagement calendar and plan for ensuring that we can maximise the relationships we create, ensure we are lining up our content releases with our press releases and any events that are going on. It also gives us a chance to engage with the client and ensure we are taking the Media in the right direction for their long term goals.

3.5 Tactics

What can you deliver quickly and easily? What victories can you deliver early on to really sell this new medium in. They need to be real and valuable, but having a visible mention on a partners homepage pushing traffic to your pages, or being able to quickly update a tab or logo to match a new campaign will show that this new medium is fast and responsible and very different to a typical website, and that starts the process of thinking of customer engagement in a whole new way.

4. Ongoing Development

4.1 Content

We have talked a lot about setting up the site adn getting people involved, but why should your fans pay any attention to your page? They owe you nothing and they have hundreds if not thousands, of alternatives. You have to earn their loyalty. You can't just put up old videos you produced years ago and think that is everything, you need to be offering fans a real reason to engage. Pretty much any infographic you care to reference(See Econsultancy Paper link below) reinforces the main reason people follow a brand is because they get a special offer out of it. If you can arrange a special offer, a really good one, then the viral nature of the internet may well take care of finding fans for you.

However, you can't just sit there, keep pushing out content, new images of the products, videos, conversations and news. Social Media moves from a weekly or monthly update process which most commercial websites work on, to a daily or even more frequent rotation. Remember if you want to put up only one post a day, that means you need the budget, workflow and creativity to create 365 items that your fans will care about. Compare that to the number of unique emails you send your clients/prospects and the difference of scale will be self evident.

4.2 Advertising

One of the fastest ways to gain fans is through advertising, but it is also one easy way to skew your fan base. If you are targeting your adverts then you are also self-selecting your audience. Be very careful with this because it can be too easy to decide who your fans are and so only end up with those fans rather than the legitimate customer base. The massive jump in fans that you can see is brilliant, but you can end up talking to the wrong audience.

Pay attention to the demographic information and see if it matches what you've identified as your core audience. if not, something may be wrong. Also, keep an eye on engagement rates, if people are only responding to a particular topic and ignoring everything else, you've got two choices, narrow your page's focus down to keep engagement high and essentially waste money by talking to the wrong people, or go back and start trying to align your customer demographics back to your core audience.

5. Technology & Restrictions

5.1 Medium

Facebook, twitter? YouTube, Orkut? Myspace? Friendster? Google+?

There are a lot of social networks out there, some are more popular than the others, bur some smaller networks have a particular niche. If you sell high end photographic equipment or want to encourage photos of your product, then look at Flickr, it is where the photographers live. If Russia is a major market then maybe Orkut is the pace to go. Iran recently opened their own Facebook alternative. Decisions here are vital and are informed by your audience. You don't choose the network and bring them in, they choose the network and you ask to engage. If you want to make that kind of choice, then you are better off maintaining your corporate website. In Social, the customer is king.

Generally though Facebook is your primary network. YouTube is useful if you've got alot of video content and Twitter rounds out the implementation. Consider FourSquare if you've got multiple locations that clients go to, though this has a higher US penetration than Europe.

5.2 Metrics & reporting

Increasing fans is good, increasing engagement level is better; whilst number of fans is great, but it is not the key criteria. It is more important how engaged these fans are. Finger in the air, not to be used as evidence or example; 5,000 fans with a 10% engagement rating is better than 50,000 fans with a 0.05% rating. Low cost, high sales may be ok with influencing subtly, but a luxury item manufacturer could potentially justify the spend on social media if only a handful of fans bought one every year based on their Facebook page or YouTube videos. FB insights, even the new improved version, is notoriously vague, in and of themselves.

One fantastic bargain of a tool for Facebook reporting is PageLever at only £34 a month, it offers easy to access reports on a range of Facebook metrics and perhaps more importantly, clear guidance on what those metrics mean.

Reporting and KPIs is so large however that to do it justice, it deserves its own post which will be covered later.

5.3 Facebook's Technology

Facebook alter their page, their API, even their programming language from time to time. They give warning, but sometimes not that clearly, and you need to respond to that as fast as you can. Your customers don’t care that you were taken by surprise by one of Zuckerberg’s latest updates.

Facebook is also king from a brand point of view, YouTube and Twitter are great, but Facebook has almost 1/12th of the worlds population in tow, and is built to engage. YouTube is more akin to a traditional push advertising platform, people can comment, but there isn’t that expectation of a response that is in place on Facebook. Twitter does communication well, but its fragmented and short. Its harder to build a visible relationship.

Facebook lets you take all these pieces and create a community of people who engage with your product. That is valuable if done correctly, and very hard to measure just how far this influence spreads.

5.4 Youtube's technology

What’s your video situation? For the Infiniti Brand launch, we had a focused and creative YouTube approach, 50+ videos were available in our archive with a regular stream coming along which could be offered out to our community. If you've not not those kinds of numbers, maybe just use YouTube as a video streaming service and hide the channel. Its worth using YouTube from day one, because the metrics it offers on video views are far superior to uploads to Facebook. The HotSpots alone make it an easy sell to a client.

Custom Channels, what used to be called a Brand channel, are a valuable way to show a visitor that you are not just a regular you tuber, but are a legitimate voice for a Brand. There are a number of benefits, but as of September 2011, the key ones are a channel header banner, a side banner, mobile banners for your dedicated mobile site and most complex, the magical Widget! An iframe that can access the YouTube API and so can do more or less anything. My experience says to launch with a basic channel, when you have the leverage move to a custom channel with static banners which show you are more than just a regular user and finally move to a fantastic engaging widget when you know what you want. This has changed yet again with the cross-product Google redesign, showing just how rapidly these changes can occur. There is a substanital cost requirement to spend with Google Advertising to qualify as a Custom Changel, so there must be a strong business case, however they do take your media spend into account so engage with a YouTube Account Manager.

One of the peculiarities of YouTube is that backgrounds are measured from the centre of the page. The background can be very wide, but the centre will be in the middle of the channel box spreading out to both sides. this means you've got no control over how much of the image is seen and so you may end up with part of it obscured. When I was reviewing implementations, Audi had this issue. on a nice large screen it looked great, on a small laptop monitor part of the logo and car were hidden and looked terrible. My preference is to only use a patterned background, use a nice, corporate correct image which works at whatever scale you like. Additionally, make sure that the footer fades into a fixed colour with a web friendly HEX code, so that you can extend it indefinitely without any issues.

5.5 Twitter's Technology

Twitter is, in may ways, the simplest of the platforms. It has a very basic background and logo requirement, and aside from that, there is nothing else to do. Whilst you can automatically post from Facebook/YouTube directly into your twitter account, I would advise against it, an automated account adds nothing and looks obvious. It might be worth doing initially if you are not focusing on the platform to give your account some history and credibility, but as soon as you can start posting.

Twitter, more than any of the other platforms is about rapid communication. As Benugo’s comment, to me, above shows, effectively monitoring what’s going on and your mentions allows you to be surprisingly engaging with your customer base.

5.6 Middleware

Middleware is software which sits between the content creators and the social media platforms and offers a range of additional functionality to improve reporting, control, and posting. There are many middleware solutions in the marketplace and you should do your own "Due Dilligance" when finding Middleware. It is still a very immature marketplace and the players change and develop swiftly. In our case we went through a detailed assessment process; we created a Requirements Document outlining exactly what we would need to meet the clients expectations. Following that, a BA lead competitor assessment was performed and we created a short-list. Supplier requirement responses were solicited and supplier interviews were conducted. We were then able to create a detailed weighted scoring grid which was cross referenced to costs, giving us our top performer, who was then approached.

Effective Middleware implementation and use is a separate project and one deserving of its own post.

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