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The ability to reach thousands of people with a single message is a marketer’s dream. Whilst the advent of social media has made this possible, it is precisely the power and breadth that Twitter, Facebook and other community-driven sites allow that have companies shying away from fully integrating it into their marketing strategies.
Peter Horrocks, Director, BBC Global News and World Service says, "Social media marketing should be the same as conventional marketing, only more so. It needs to engage and stimulate. But it also needs to be tight, personally relevant and make you want to share it. If you have fascinating content and messages, you'll be fine with social media. If you haven't got compelling content, it's probably not worth trying." 
Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-author of the book The Dragonfly Effect, believes that just one Tweet or ‘social object’ (A Tweet, post, update, video or picture that is entered into social streams that then serves as a catalyst for conversation and engagement) can create a ‘ripple effect’. “Just as a rock thrown into a pond leads to a series of waves that radiate in all directions, one small act can lead to large, often unimaginable, results. Research shows that ripple effects result from small acts that have a positive significant impact over time. When the action at the epicentre of the ripple effect is based on deep meaning (or something that you believe will make you happy), a multiplier effect can occur owing to the principles of emotional contagion.”
According to Don Elgie, CEO of Creston plc, companies ignore the social media phenomenon at their peril. Customers are now in control of a brand’s reputation, which can be easily damaged if a company doesn’t take decisive and early action in listening to customers. “Social media can be a powerful tool in the research armoury as a company is able to use the learnings to shape better their brands for the future,” he says.
Getting it right

However, utilising social media is not just about getting a message out as soon as possible, as there are numerous examples of organisation whose impetuous responses have led to disaster. Brian Solis, a social media expert, believes that, for a social media marketing strategy to be successful, it needs to be relevant, have resonance and be significant. The beauty of social media is the ability for companies to say more with less.
  • Relevance – Pay attention to the conversation between customers and join these dialogues as a ‘person’ not a ‘platitude spewing machine’
  • Resonance – This is the speed and degree by which social objects change hands. Brian suggests using KISS – keep it simple and shareable
  • Significance is the product of relevance and resonance. Significance is measured by affinity, collective influence and reactions
Jennifer continues, “The Dragonfly Effect is a model that taps concepts from social media, marketing strategy and consumer psychology to help people achieve a single, concrete goal. The goal is to make corporations rethink how they are using social media to build brands.   
“What is so exciting is that these ideas - around the social web - seem to be changing the way executives are building brands by fostering an ‘empowerment marketing’ design - arming employees and customers with motivation and templates so they can grab onto a brand’s goal and run with it. The idea of the ripple effect – that a simple small act could create big change – is also resonant among the executives we have been sharing it with so far.”
Mark Inskip, Partner, Marketing Transformation at Accenture says, “The existence of evangelists and detractors is not a new phenomenon. Their power to communicate to huge numbers of people is new and their opinion, especially if backed up by other similar opinions, is more trusted than conventional advertising. Every company wishing to take advantage of these evangelists and capitalise on their networks, whilst negating the negative impact of the detractors, must have a social media strategy and must act on it.”

Why is it important?

Stephen Pain, VP Global Communications at Unilever plc, explains how, particularly, younger generations view the internet and, therefore, why it is important to create a marketing presence through social media. He says, “The other day I overheard a young colleague say, ‘If it’s not online, I’m not interested.’ Social media is changing everything. The ubiquity of real time connections between people, computers and, with Web 3.0, everyday appliances, mean that ‘real time living’ will be the norm – meaning you can connect to virtually everything the way you want to connect through an increasingly ‘intelligent’ life form called ‘www’. Perhaps the only possible long-term strategy is to learn, first, how to exist, real time, in the here and now.”     
Not since the invention of the television, have the parameters of advertising changed so drastically. The idea behind social media, word-of-mouth, is not new. Organisations know that word-of-mouth advertising is exponentially more effective than traditional forms of marketing. What is new is the speed and the breadth of people that can be reached by one ‘social object’. 
Through this fast moving medium, consumers now have enormous influence over the reputation of brands. Blogs and sites such as Twitter and Facebook have given customers numerous ways to disperse their voices and opinions. From sending a Tweet about product to commenting on a newspaper story about a restaurant, the online population can give recommendations or air grievances with the click of a button.
“In the past, spreading a message was all about maximising the primary recipients - increasing the audience - because there was no way to know if the audience was interested in the message or not. Consequently, the hit rate was low and the probability that an individual would pass on the message, in comparison to the number of primary recipients, was negligible. Consumers do, however, like to be informed as to which products are the best or most suitable for them and the lack of trust they have with corporate advertising has left a void into which social media has stepped,” says Mark. 
Unlike other forms of marketing, through social media companies take on an almost ‘human’ persona. “The emotional impact of brands is a critical feature of communicating an organisation’s personality and value system. Increasingly there are deliberate attempts by marketing teams to convey these feelings through online social network communities. The interpersonal sharing of emotion is well established as a process to strengthen social bonds and distribute knowledge and information. This is a key feature of being a successful social species. We know this transfer of feeling has a powerful positive (or negative) impact in social networks, where the relationship between individuals is real.  We also know that this mechanism works when the relationship between individuals is assumed and without the necessity of any direct interaction. In short, even if we have never met the ‘group’ to which we think we belong, we will readily create belief structures and act in ways we think they behave so that we can align with the assumed norms,” says Charles Sutton, Senior Partner, Organizational Edge Ltd.


The power of social media is therefore undeniable and organisations cannot afford to miss the opportunities it offers. Yet, it is the speed, breadth and power that social networks afford to both consumers and organisations that make companies reticent about fully integrating social media into their marketing strategy. 
Mark continues, “Social media has, for the first time, allowed users of the internet to communicate on a one-to-many or many-to-many basis with their friends and relations with the utmost ease. Who better to trust than the recommendations of someone whose personality you understand? If you know a particular associate is, for example, overly excited by gadgets, you may take their recommendation with a pinch of salt, or you may decide to rely on their informed opinion for your own next gadget purchase. Either way the opinion shared by this individual is not motivated by profit and can, consequently, be regarded as un-biased. Couple this product neutrality with social media's ability to allow an individual to communicate their opinions with minimal effort to entire social networks (the average number of friends on Facebook is around 200) and the ever human desire for 15 minutes of fame, and you create the ultimate recommendation/anti-recommendation forum.”
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