Facebook may be a perpetual whipping boy these days, but I’ve got to admit that it’s done something really important for marketing over the last five years – it’s helped marketers to be able to conceptualize what a social network can do to improve B2C communications.
Unfortunately for Facebook, however, the technology and techniques that will one day revolutionize marketing are still in their infancy, and it’s doubtful that Facebook is going to be the platform in which a lot of the most serious changes take hold.
Take, for example, this article from AdWeek, which offers some striking infographics about social media users. Adults age 18-49 are likely to have 278 human friends on Facebook and 29 brand friends, and yet only 39% of those adults say they interact with the brands on their friends list regularly.
What’s more, the graphic cites some agreement statements that are fairly representative of the negative sentiment towards brands online. 24% of adults say that they only interact with brands so they can get a deal being offered. 21% feel like brands try to accumulate large numbers of followers but then fail to follow up with a digital community. 18% feel like brands come off as insincere, and 17% get annoyed with brands trying to interact with them.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of brands have been victims of the same sorts of self-proclaimed experts who were hawking SEO solutions a few years ago. Marketers attend a workshop or listen to a webinar, hear these gurus talk about how great social media is, and then adopt a strategy of building up a Facebook page or Twitter feed with no real strategy for interacting with consumers. The thing is, it’s easy to set up shop and offer great deals to grow something on the internet. If you’re giving away a valuable coupon or something free, you can get people to click that “Like” button. But the digital party won’t last long if you don’t find ways to sincerely engage that audience.
One of the mistakes I see a lot of brands make is in trying to start a conversation. There’s nothing wrong with conversational marketing if it’s done well, but you’ve got to find a way to moderate that discussion without being obtrusive. Imagine if you were invited to a fun party, but the host kept interrupting your discussions with others to talk about himself. Or, even worse, if he asked you questions designed to get you to tell him how great you think he is. On a site like Facebook, that sort of narcissism is easily ignored with a quick click on the “hide” button.
As it happens, brands that do a good job of social marketing have a much more comprehensive strategy than just setting up shop on Facebook. One brand that has done an incredible job of building up a strong social media community is Sony’s Playstation brand. It started a few years ago with an official Playstation Blog, which Sony’s marketing team essentially just used for talking about sales and promotions about Playstation systems and accessories and content on the Playstation Network’s digital games store. This blog is accessible via the Web and also via the 73 million Playstation 3 consoles that are currently in homes around the world.
But Sony saw that some of its readers were highly engaged with the brand and wanted to use the blog to provide feedback and to know that they were being heard. These fans were often quite passionate about the brand and willing to spend money on premium digital content if they felt strongly enough about its quality and utility. So Sony not only empowered its social media team to begin responding directly to blog commenters, but also began to improve the scope of its blog to include game developers from other companies so that they could have direct interaction with the fans. They also empowered some of their marketing team members to start an official podcast (promoted on the blog) and began increasing their video content. Today, most of the blog posts get hundreds of responses within a few hours.
And how are they using their Facebook page, which has 29 million likes? To drive users to their offsite content, primarily. But also to use Facebook for what it excels at doing – sharing videos and beautitful visual content. Playstation users can go on the brand’s Facebook page and find nicely maintained photo albums for games and accessories, which helps to highlight the platform’s lovely form factor and the graphical capabilities of the Playstation 3 console and the Playstation Vita handheld.
With such a large audience listening, Sony can cross-promote some of its other services (such as Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited, both of which are available on the Playstation platform). Even there, they’re careful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sony treat this social media platform as a means of trying to boost sales of other product likes (such as TVs, eReaders or music players) or to try to boost sales. They cultivate a sort of cool enthusiasm for the Playstation brand, and it keeps the fans engaged without feeling like they’re being marketed to.
Granted, Playstation is an enthusiast brand – it has passionate fans who line up to buy new hardware and games. But it’s also a good example of how a global brand has managed to leverage its strengths to build a strong digital community. What they’re doing won’t work for every brand, but it’s worth studying all the same.