Many companies are nervous about engaging on social media. Those able to integrate it with their brand and marketing strategy produce robust campaigns.

© Fotolia

© Fotolia

Many brands remain understandably
apprehensive about engaging on social media platforms. While many French companies haven’t been shy about using social media tools, their strategies have been less bold than their international counterparts, according to this Accenture study. Given the extent of social media campaigns gone wrong, however, it’s hard to blame them. In early 2012, McDonald’s launched a social media campaign to try and inspire customers to tell heart-warming stories about happy meals under the “golden arches” using the hashtag, #McDStories. But the community responded in a less  appetising way than McDonald’s had  anticipated, with stomach turning horror stories about bad experiences with the food and the brand in general.  This is a good example of a lack of integration between a social media campaign and the overarching brand strategy of a company. Often, companies forget to think about these strategic aspects: What does my brand stand for ? What are the functional and emotional benefits that I want to communicate? What customer group(s) do I want to target ? What is the right platform to use ?  But there are also good examples of brands that ensure their social media campaigns fit into the brand promise they would like to send, such as Evian or Pernod Ricard.  Where social media campaigns go wrong is when marketers tend to think of social channels as yet another push channel such as TV or radio advertising. Many marketers are too reliant on traditional approaches and they underestimate the fundamentally different nature of the medium as a platform for engagement, a two-way street with customers.

 

The mistakes brands make
In general, there are three common mistakes brands make in social media strategy.
– Not staying customer oriented
– Targeting everyone instead of focusing on key brand benefits
– Not integrating with the marketing mix A very important rule in marketing is to be customer oriented. As simple as it seems, the concept is lost in many social media campaigns, where the marketers have  forgotten to come back to their end consumer. What do they want? What do they expect from my product/brand? Many campaigns focus narrowly on brand awareness and forget about the brand image. It doesn’t help to have millions of views  if the brand is sending the wrong message. Brands also think that being on social media means they need to reach a wider audience. While the channels give them that potential, they often overstretch their brand positioning and dilute their brand equity. Sticking to the target is essential  and it is more important to engage and communicate with your target than being passive with millions of followers. The  expression from Paul Ricard, founder of Pernod Ricard, before social media had even been invented is even truer today: “you have to make a new friend everyday”. In today’s social media landscape, one true friend is more important than 10 passive ones.

 

The winning formula
Those able to create campaigns that gain resonance and a following are those using social media as a package of efforts to connect and engage with consumers, as we can see from Evian, a company that  has successfully integrated social media into its brand image. While many companies struggle to create that one viral hit Evian is doing this now  for many years. One of their recent campaigns – Baby&Me – received over 140 million views in 80 countries. But even more important is that the video really stands for the brand promise and the benefits that Evian wants to communicate: Healthy, pure, natural, premium, source  of their water, perceived as water only  for newborns, helps you to stay young.  The campaign is a success because it is interactive, creates contagious and engaging content, and is consistent. Most importantly it fits perfectly to Evian’s brand positioning; very important to create engagement and not just awareness.

 

It’s like organising a party
The best way to envision setting up a social media strategy is to think about it like you’re organising a party. What is the occasion ? Who do you want to invite? What is the theme ? Where are you having the party ? These questions are all relevant elements of a social media strategy. The occasion is your objective, the invited guests are your target audience, the location is your channel(s) and your theme is your content. As the host, you own your party, it’s happening in your house or venue. You also set the agenda with the activities. We call this owned media. But what happens at the party among the guests is earned media, which is when the guests take over. Everything that is done or said about the party, i.e. your brand is what you’ve earned  by having a party. What they say afterward is a gauge of your success. A strategic approach is a must. Clarity of objectives, target customers and channels is essential. But the most important link in the chain is the one that hooks your social media strategy to your brand or business strategy.

 

Par Joerg Niessing is an Affiliate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD and Executive Director of INSEAD eLab.
You can follow Joerg on Twitter @JoergNiessing
An extended version of this article first appeared in INSEAD Knowledge (http://knowledge.insead.edu).