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First, there was inbound marketing.
Then came social proof.
This year, the focus will be on social context.
Online, social context is the “push” behind the goal to get you to take action. It’s a combination of social proof (such as “14,380 people like Zangy Spaghetti Sauce”) and people within your social sphere that could influence your decision (such as “Joe Bloggs and Suzie Homemaker like Zangy Spaghetti Sauce”).
As both sociable and influenceable creatures, we recognize the pull that numbers can have – but what really seems to spur action is the fact that our friends approve of it and can even motivate us to try it – even something as insignificant as the brand of spaghetti sauce we use…
Social Context In Action
The fact that Facebook is now sharing some of its copious consumer data with marketers has led to a slew of analytics programs trying to measure the social sphere. But there’s more to marketing than metrics. There’s also the importance of building a relationship with your customers and then branching out to their friends in the hopes of capturing more “Likeshare” than your competitors.
But social context goes well beyond products and branding. One utility company, Opower, plans to use social context in 2012 to help reduce electricity usage by showing how your bill compares with your neighbor’s. It rewards energy-conscious individuals with a smiley face. Something so simple tends to bring out the competitive streak in us, while causing us to recognize patterns of behavior we’d like to change.
A Delicate Balancing Act
Of course, no one wants a bunch of brand blather clogging up their newsfeed or timeline. Marketers have to strike a delicate balance between being useful and being a nuisance. Currently, if you Like a brand on Facebook, you’re also opening up your profile and potentially your friend’s pages to a swarm of marketing messages and game invitations. While this is great exposure for the brand, it can also be a huge turn-off depending on how the promotional messages are received.
But there are substantial benefits for those marketers and companies who do social context right. Currently, it’s about the closest you can get to real-time measurements of how effective your promotions are. One study showed that over a 14 day period, one company achieved a 32% improvement using social context ads.
Stop Looking at Social Sites as Silos
Your social marketing efforts should no longer be looked at in terms of separate silos away from your main business, but rather an integrated part of your overall marketing drive. Now, there are so many excellent apps and tools available that not getting all your teams on the same page – product development, customer support and social strategists alike – spells social media meltdown.
Become a part of your audience. Find out what truly drives them to listen to you – not just what you think motivates them. The early adopters on different social networks are essentially content curators for their various lists. If you’re not actively engaging them and making your offer worth listening to, they’ll take their attention (and their followers) elsewhere.
These days, it’s no longer about how many Twitter followers you have, or how many Facebook fans like you – but about what your return on investment is with all of them. How many ultimately clicked a link you posted? How many of them filled out your survey or entered your contest? In 2012, you won’t just be a marketer, blogger or website owner. Your job will expand to include titles like social community manager and content publisher. Finding ways to turn your problem-solving marketing slant into helpful, actionable content that people can’t wait to recommend is what gaining likeshare is all about.
A Glimpse into the Future
Want to see how one of today’s top companies is taking social context to a whole new level? Just take a look at this Dell ad by interactive advertising company Flite.
Not only is it advertising Dell as the solution provider, but it’s also providing a channel for users to get answers to their computer and network problems. Not just answers from a Dell representative, mind you, but others in the community as well.
According to Flite, consumers spent 30 seconds on average interacting with one of its ads (versus 11 seconds with other types of ads) and are more likely to click on a “learn more” button. Ads like these have a click through rate of 35 for every 100 customers.
Social context is a deceptively simple way to reach customers through the right channels at the right time and reap the benefits of direct and peer-supported engagement. If people are talking about your company or your products – you need to know how, where and why, and be able to measure that activity.
Your Next Action Steps
Wondering how social context fits into your specific marketing plan for 2012? Here are a few steps you can take to start harnessing this powerful social trigger right now:
- Look for ways to turn a simple “Share this with a Friend” promotion into a friendly contest. Even a virtual token of appreciation, such as a special badge of recognition for participants’ websites, will help spur entries.
- Leverage social context ads in Facebook to not only promote your brand to followers, but also give them the opportunity to include their friends, such as Starbucks’ Buy One Get One “Warm Up with a Friend” ad above.
- Make social context marketing a part of every campaign you launch – from emails to direct mail flyers. Use social analytics to determine how many people are truly interacting with your brand, rather than relying on sheer numbers alone.
- Consider how you can position your company “in the background” while providing an open, helpful space for people in your industry to get answers to their questions. Could you start an “Ask the _______”? promotion and invite your followers to join?
The Bottom Line
It’s worth noting that the best discussions are a two-way street – not a tediously manicured content stream that only displays the shiniest and most pristine parts of a company. Whether you like it or not, the customer is now in control. Give them every possible reason and advantage to become a brand evangelist – and use the power of social context to make sharing among friends as easy and welcomed as possible.
Sherice Jacob (@sherice) helps businesses and bloggers increase conversions with SEO copywriting, website reviews and conversion optimization strategies. Want more? Get your free conversion checklist and web copy hotsheet at iElectrify.