In past years when asked to quantify the benefit of investing in social media, many brands and advertisers answered that it was a work in progress. This year, things were different.
"For the Intercontinental Hotel Group, we've found that an increase in online sentiment by one per cent, leads to room revenues going up by 1.42 per cent," responded IHG's social marketing and community manager for Asia, Middle East and Africa, Barbara Illiopoulos.
"I love you!" blurted John Bell, [email protected]
's global managing director, in a response that seemed genuinely prompted by delighted surprise.
And Illiopoulos wasn't alone. Ford's global head of social media, Scott Monty, shared that the brand's campaign featuring an orange puppet, Focus Doug, was responsible for an increase of 61 per cent in product interest.
"People engage with personalities, not product features," he said at the event.
Consumers may engage with personalities, but they talk about product features. "The single biggest driver of advocacy, is product features," said Bell, in stark contrast during his later presentation of a study by [email protected]
Amex too found that the best thing it could do for its brand, if it truly believed in its products, was to let customers have free reign on reviews, trusting the product to stand up to criticism.
"How do we as a financial services company lose control a little bit and trust our products to stand up under scrutiny?," asked Carl Barkey, head of social media and customer experience, global network and international card services, for American Express. But to change the card's perception as a fuddy-duddy brand for business traveller dads, Amex had little choice, he said. Armed with the success of Small Business Saturdays, which saw a 28 per cent increase in retail sales, Amex decided to allow reviews on its website
The risk paid off. "We've seen a 41 per cent uplift in acquisitions for people who've interacted with reviews...," Barkey said. "They are incredibly important for us."
As businesses are learning, complete control of the brand is not just impossible, attempting it is deeply unhelpful because brands miss out on the awesome craziness that is social media, said Ford's Monty.
"Take this story
for example," he said. "Nana's a 71-year-old grandmother who bought a Ford Mustang in 2010 so she could race her grandsons. You can't make this stuff up!"
There often seems no rhyme or reason to the videos that go wildly viral online. Pointing to Norwegian music video "What does the fox say?
" with 16 million views, Monty demanded of the audience "Why is this video viral? Why? Nobody knows!" adding that it's therefore pointless for brands to try to quantify and control every detail. "Ninety per cent of social media for brands, is just showing up, but make each interaction worthwhile."
No brand for example could replicate the genuine success of 17-year old YouTube 'Guru' Bethany Mota who has more than 3 million subscribers to her YouTube channel MacBarbie07
, which she started at age 14. her Twitter account has 800,000 followers and Instagram has 6 million. The one-woman social media machine has brands like Forever21 knocking down her door for promotional tie-ups.
Twenty-two sessions later, Nike's vice-president of marketing in greater China, Simon Pestridge, echoed Monty's belief. Social media, he said, is a party, and the brand can be the virtuoso, the entertainer, or the host. But ultimately, it's a party and the guests will do what they will. When Nike China organised a night-run for women as part of its Summer Nights campaign, 500 ladies showed up, but Pestridge said the event or 'party' would have gone ahead as planned if only five had attended.
Coke too has surrendered much of its social media control to its fans. "Only 10 per cent of content on Coke's Facebook Page is created by the Coke team, the rest is by consumers," said Leonardo O'Grady, the brand's director of integrated marketing communications for ASEAN. "We realised, when the Coke and Mentos videos started sweeping the internet, that we had lost control. That the FB page created by us was a dwarf in the face of the FB page created by our fans. So we shut down our page and gave it to two guys in the middle of nowhere... we're now mere citizens on our own page," he said.
While laudable and successful in North America, this tactic may not be working out so well for Coke's engagement rates in Asia-Pacific as the "two guys in Atlanta" cannot keep global coverage of the brand rolling, pointed out Jan Rezab, CEO of Socialbakers during his talk.
The volume of content and interaction that brands have to deal with on social media is staggering, said Rezab. In 2009, FB users on average were fans of five pages, which put out an average of seven posts a month. Today, users follow an average of 40 pages which post an average of 36 posts per month.
"And if you have 10 pages for your brand that's 100 operations you have to do... all the time. That's crazy," said Rezab concluding that brands cannot afford to have tiny teams on social media and that the teams have to span marketing, communications and customer service to thrive. '
While Facebook, Twitter, RenRen and Weibo were all discussed and featured, the new social media stars were clearly mobile messaging apps like Line, WeChat and Kakao. With 230 million users on Line, 200 of whom follow at least one brand, and 235 million users on WeChat, it's not hard to see why.
In China, Nestle has started a branded portal on WeChat and Weibo, connecting newly pregnant moms with expectant mothers a little further along in their pregnancies so they could turn to each other for support and advice. "Women in China are so distant from their mothers, who grew up in another era," explained Hannalore Grams, head of digital and social media for Nestle Greater China. "That coupled with the single-child policy mean that they don't have older sisters to turn to when they're expecting."
Because WeChat is so personal and direct, Nestle is also increasingly using it in its customer service and engagement strategies. Nike took relationships one step further by inviting Chinese consumers to send photos in via WeChat to receive the design for a customised NikeID sneaker
which they could bring to life by purchasing.
Apart from customer service, Line has had success in driving in-store sales via its promotional stickers or emoticons. When Lawsons ran a promotion that gave Line users special-edition stickers when they bought products in-store, the campaign had a redemption rate of 16 per cent, said Shintaro Tabata, executive officer and general manager for Line's advertising business group.
The success of these mobile messaging programmes in Asia and that of feature-phone platform Bubbly is a clear sign that advertisers cannot afford to neglect mobile in the region, pointed out Esther Dyson, venture capitalist via EdVenture and WPP board-member. "The role of mobile is different here," she said. "In the west, it's a toy, a supplement. Here, it's often capital equipment, a vital part of everyday life."
Rather than taking out billboard after billboard to reach the rural consumer, brands are better placed being creative
and reaching them via their mobiles, she advised.