The Innovation Engine

The Smart Way to Tap Social Media


O.K. In our last column, we hope we persuaded you that you need to add social media—things such as Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, and Facebook—to your innovation quiver.

But not only do you need to add social media but also commit to using them. Just experimenting with the idea is unlikely to produce any significant impact. A far better course to take is to concentrate on an objective—what do you want to have happen as a result of employing social media?—and then measure progress toward that goal. Without focusing on measurable objectives, it's difficult to justify further investment. Or as the philosopher George Harrison put it: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there."

Then again, just because you can measure something doesn't mean it matters. Sure, you can discover that 436,315 young women have commented on your blog posting about the latest in skin care, but if that activity isn't moving the sales needle, it isn't helping you. The only metrics that matter are the ones that support your objectives. Typical goals include increased brand awareness, increased sales, accelerated new-product adoption, enhanced organic search ranking/visibility, customer retention, and real-time insight.

Now, these metrics don't exist in a vacuum. Your competition will be using social media as well, so you want to be smart about which you use. If you want something important to measure, you should gauge where you stand compared with the competition in context. You need to see who has the advantage based on positive/negative brand perceptions, organic search-term content/ranking, visibility, and their observable overall social strategy.

We have two suggestions. First, you want to identify the key social media most used by your customers and then evaluate their choices by not only popularity but also how believable your customers think they are. A case study will show you what we mean.

Find Out Where the Trust Is

We were hired by a cosmetics company that wanted to start employing social media in a big way. Because you want to fish where the fish are, we began by finding out what social media their customers—and potential customers—used on a regular basis. By surveying a representative sampling of people, we discovered there were a combined 17 places (which included Facebook and certain other Web sites and blogs) they visited most often.

Now, 17 places are far too many to target effectively. So we dug a little deeper and found that the cosmetic company's customers did not view all 17 equally. Some Web sites were seen as places that were trying to sell them something. Some blogs were seen as entertaining but not reliable. Others were seen as purely social places, so any sort of commercial message there would come off as jarring. Armed with this information, we were able to prioritize our efforts accordingly and align the right outlets with our strategies and tactics. The results were an increase in reach and, more important, quality of reach.

Nicholas Kinports, our firm's digital integration manager, has a wonderful way of thinking about implementing your social media strategy. "It isn't about making content go viral—though that would be a wonderful byproduct, should it happen—or creating the next great Facebook application," Kinports says. "It's about structuring, and in some cases restructuring, how a business views and interacts with its customer base. The modern consumer is savvy, aware, and fully able to make informed decisions, thanks to a wealth of information freely available on the Internet. The consumer of the near future will make purchase decisions based on information gleaned from unbiased peers and influencers. Social media is the latest tool through which these interactions occur."

If you think of social media as that—a social consultant—the results can be remarkable from both a bottom-line and competitive standpoint. But to be in the game, you first need the desire to be social and the strategy to do it authentically. Then you need strong team members to execute ongoing core competency and follow it through. As you can plainly see, there's a big difference between a brand that behaves like a dabbler and one that behaves like a master when it comes to social media. Where does your brand fall?

G. Michael Maddock is founding partner, and Raphael Louis Vitón is president, of Maddock Douglas, a company that invents, brands, and markets products "for companies driven by innovation" .

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Maddock is chief executive, and Vitón is president, of Maddock Douglas, an innovation consultancy that specializes in inventing and launching new products, services, and businesses. Maddock and Viton are the authors of Free the Idea Monkey (ISB Publishing, 2012), and Maddock is the author of Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradox—How Great Brands Invent and Launch New Products, Services, and Business Models (Wiley, 2011).

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