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  • Feb 04, 2014

Even as brands successfully use social media, one can’t help thinking that only the surface has been scratched. The social-media eco-system has been with us only for the last five or so years and is continually evolving with newer platforms emerging and some old ones falling by the wayside

If 2012 marked the discovery of the power of social media and social networking, then 2013 was the year it began coming into the marketing mainstream. In 2012, Barack Obama’s Facebook post of his picture hugging his wife Michelle after he won the elections, was the most liked one ever with over 4 million ‘likes’; PSY’s “Gangnam Style” became the most watched video in YouTube history with 1 billion-plus views and Pope Benedict XVI went tweeting with Twitter. These eye-popping events demonstrated the power of social media to hitherto sceptical marketers, who decided to embrace social media wholesale, if not with a vengeance in the just concluded 2013.
In 2013, corporations—big, small and inconspicuous—took to social media as they would to the Holy Grail. Brands left no stone unturned to exploit this medium as an active part of their media mix in the hope of reaping the kind of scale the rich and the famous had achieved in the previous year.
So where did they go and what were the best evolutions? Here are some learnings:
Establishing brand connect was never this fast!
Building awareness on traditional media has always been expensive. Thus, such media have often been poor choices in promoting line extensions, variants, etc., for large brands or prohibitive for the incipient marketer who could not match the budgets of the behemoths. In such a scenario, social media proved to be an all-time boon for businesses, both big and small. They could now attract and reach thousands of potential customers instantly, at the fraction of the cost of traditional advertising. In fact, many businesses had found the perfect springboard to drive awareness using the network capability. Even as several innovative marketing techniques were being unleashed, the social landscape was rife with many success stories:
Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dove, were some of the brands that leveraged social media successfully to drive their franchises and, sometimes sales too!
Starbucks that discovered social-media promotion in 2009 with its free pastry offer that was taken up by a million people, continued to build on its success in 2013 to announce special deals and offers.
For example, a localised price-off offer for June 7, was shared by 13,931 people on their wall posts and received 1,553 comments, on the day of the announcement.
McDonald’s showed how its brand positioning could be extended to interactions with merely a blank.
Dove showed the network effect of its message centred around improving self-confidence in women. It launched a viral video in which a forensic artist draws women according to their own self-description as well as a stranger’s. The film, uploaded in 25 languages to 46 Dove YouTube channels, captured a staggering 114 million-plus views within one month of its release.
Even as it struck a deep emotional chord with millions of women across the globe, it drew a lot of criticism and sparked off controversies for “reinforcing dominant beauty stereotypes”. Notwithstanding the criti- cism, social media had done its bit for the brand. Dove’s message had reached women, in far flung, never-imagined-before corners of the world and created the desired brand love!
The recent video for Google India tells a poignant story of how two friends separated during the India— Pakistan partition reunite after six decades after a few Google searches. The three-minute video racked up more than four million hits within just four days of its release. The versatile power of its search engine was uniquely promoted through storytelling and it sure had caught on and how!
Of late, many brands have also been exploring the fairly nascent Vine platform to disseminate information. A few pulled off some brilliant campaigns, and in the process established a closer connect with their customers, even as they achieved their objective of subtly promoting their brand.
Lowes (an American chain of retail home improvement and appliance stores) ran a brilliant eight-series educative campaign dubbed’#fixinsix’ using Vine videos. Essentially, these are handy do-it-yourself home lessons that addressed common customer pain points. The solutions are provided in slick, six-second, ‘how to’ films that deal with a range of ‘how to’ topics like removing stubborn nails, peeling off stickers, cleaning rusty knives and fixing PVC pipes.
General Electric used Vine to create a series of stop-motion videos about science. GE makes appliances, but its brand is all about inspiring creativity through invention. The innovative series helped it connect with younger audiences and raise awareness without pushing the product.
More mileage, more visibility
Marketers and brands had found a perfect tool in social media to build hype and generate buzz around their promotional activities. And the clear winners were those who had adopted unique, brand-centric marketing tactics that had captivated the interest of their fans and followers.
When the online shopping e-commerce portal Yebhi.com needed to create a buzz for its new ‘Try-n-Buy’ value proposition that enabled a customer to try the product before buying it, it took to Twitter. After sharing this through a new TV commercial, a contest using the hashtag #TRYnBUY was launched, where Twitter users were invited to answer 21 questions relating to the TV commercials. The hashtag trended for 50 hours with a total reach of 3.37 million.
Social media is a unique communication platform in that it gives opportunity for propagation through replication. The classic example is that of the Gangnam Style social video. It not only went on to become the most watched video on YouTube, but also generated hundreds of ‘me-too’ performances (including one from the cadets of the US Naval Academy) that received millions of views of their own, in turn increasing the popularity of the original video.
One-on-one consumer connect: finally a reality
Even as social media had helped brands helped strengthen their brand presence, a hidden strength of the medium is micromarketing, as HueTrap, a new brand demonstrated.
Huetrap, an online apparel store in India, ran weekly Buddy Moments Contest that encouraged fans to share their friendship moments photos. All friends in the winning photo received free t-shirts. Huetrap received an overwhelming response with close to 1,000 entries in the campaign that ran successfully for four weeks.
JetBlue took customer-brand engagement to a whole new level by using Twitter as a customer service platform. It informed customers of flight delays and solve other problems such as baggage loss. Its openness to engage with customers and prompt responsiveness displayed on this transparent platform had improved its brand image by several notches.
Early days yet
Even as brands successfully use social media, one can’t help thinking that only the surface has been scratched. The social-media eco-system has been with us only for the last five or so years and is continually evolving with newer platforms emerging and some old ones falling by the wayside.
The examples of brands on social media enumerated here shows that those that engage with consumers on a broader platform, rather than merely reiterate their advertising plank, reap rich dividends. Such an engagement, it would seem, is a necessary condition to realise the network impact of social media to get more ‘click-of-mouse’ propagation by consumers— after all it takes is just a few clicks on one’s computer and it is instantly broadcast throughout the cyberspace!puter and it is instantly broadcast throughout the cyberspace!

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