Final part of UK Marketing Magazine’s series with Nexus Communications Group on social media: Friends with benefits?

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First published in Marketing Magazine on 25 September 2013

In this concluding part of our Digital Emperor’s New Clothes series with Nexus Communications, we recommend that you polish up on your charm skills if you want to get ahead with social media. they seen as an authority?

Social media breeds prom­iscuity. Plenty of not-very-well-thought-out approaches, rash promises and a prevalent lack of respect for latest link-ups. For example, how many LinkedIn requests do you receive from people you don’t know, who then try to sell to you? Cheap and dirty…

But before you get too moralistic and agree too quickly, think about your own “little black book” of conquests you tend to call “likes”. How meaningful is that set of relationships? How much do you listen to their wants and needs, as opposed to diving in with the “me me me” approach? Is it a two-way relationship, or is that a term that doesn’t sit with the “notches” approach to measuring social impact? Are these “friends with benefits” or just hangers-on?

Richard Medley, managing director of Nexus Communications, claims the rules for finding relationships of real mutual val­ue in the social space are no different, on many levels, from the face-to-face world. He says: “As in any fledgling relation­ship, it pays to listen to your new friend and not just talk about yourself all the time. Finding common ground helps, and making sure you don’t set out on the ‘use them and dump them’ path for your own short-term gratification. If you are good… then your charms might get shared and talked about.”

So does your brand have any such “friends with benefits”? People you spend time with, share with, cultivate as fans – but don’t have to be exclusive with?

The personal touch

To achieve social-media cut-through, your communications need to have the personal touch – the “relations” aspect of public relations – and be delivered with the effort “friends with benefits” expect as part of their relationship with you.

In contrast, mass-reach messages can be misinterpreted, miscommunicated or lost in the ever-growing crowd – which, in turn, erodes visibility, trust and action from your target audience.

“The danger is that brands assume they need to adopt advertising strategies through mass media to achieve mass impact. While there’s clearly a time and place for the big ad campaign, speaking to a few can lead to the many,” adds Medley.

“It’s about balance and things working in tandem. Advertising is relevant; it’s talking to the 10,000s. But talking to 30 or 40 connected people can really open the floodgates, too, by setting up a chain reaction of sharing good content, and with added endorser credibility.”

Sophie Griffiths, head of digital at Nexus Communications, says: “While social networks such as Facebook and Twitter invest in optimising their own paid advertising structures and enhance effectiveness, there’s a gut feel out there that, as users on social networks, we just don’t interact with advertising – or, even worse, we interact with it in a negative way by hiding news-feed stories, and taking every opportunity to block brand content.

“As in any fledgling relationship, it pays to listen and not just talk about yourself all the time. Finding common ground helps”

She continues: “So begins the advertis­ing arms race. New advertising features get added, algorithms get tweaked and the marketer responds, but the consumers get bored or find a way to ignore it, and then the process reiterates.

“Each social network platform relies on ad revenue to exist, so it stands to reason that they must keep innovating in this space in order to survive. And advertising isn’t bad – it’s just not always the best standalone approach for social without real engagement in tandem.”

So finding the right influencer – the “friend with benefits” – should become central to a brand’s social-media strategy. And careful consideration, research and the use of the right tools are required to make sure that the few who are being targeted are effective.

Influencers are not always the most-well-known names, and relevance is important in what they talk about online. They will be the people who are interested in your world; who might tweet or post about the real-life context in which your brand exists; who will have a following based on what they focus
on, and who therefore could be of prime potential relevance to your brand.

“We use tools that help analyse content, sentiment, follower profile, resonance and sharing – and even personality and preferred ways of working. If you don’t analyse and know who these people are before you talk, all the lights might go off when you do…” says Griffiths.

The ripple effect

“The ‘benefits’ bit of this is simple” she adds. “If you think around content and your own everyday circles, it will be recommendations and shared stuff from a friend or family member that count for more than any other marketing discipline can muster. There is real value in the endorsement that comes from content shared by people who are trusted and respected. It has so much more real-time resonance among digital natives bored of pop-up ads and inappropriately served content.”

Your influencers should also inform your content-marketing strategy, feed it and then want the output. So listen; engage; be courteous, Talk like a real person and respect them. Find the 30 or so who are connected, relevant, interested and will tell their gang about you, and what you have is scale of word-of-mouth combined with the efficiencies of targeting. And no one minds a little promiscuity in this world as long as the time you spend with each of your “friends with benefits” is high-quality and focused.

This is the PR thing. Hearts and minds. Relations. One-on-one storytelling. Pers­onal, but with big impact. As marketers, we are constantly challenged to stand out from the crowd, and some­times the secret is not to try to talk to everyone in that crowd at the same time.

“In the past, marketers have faltered at defining influence and measuring the impact of what influential people do, which is, in reality, making your brand relevant and sharing the content that makes a real business difference,” concludes Medley.

“It is a simple truth, and one where investing in a new digital wardrobe and social style mantra is not such a massive leap to take. Especially to avoid the eventual finger-pointing that will come with the realisation that many current strategies and outfits for the ‘emperor’ sit somewhere between the threadbare and the downright naked.”

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