The impact of social on business

Today, the use of social media by brands tends to fall into two camps:

1. An activation channel for campaigns;
2. A platform for brand engagement and relationship marketing that doesn’t rely on collecting consumer data. (This will become particularly important in the advent of the new GDPR rules and regulations coming into force in May 2018).

So why is social important to people?

Social has evolved to become the most popular way to use the internet in everyday life. As quoted by Global Web Index, “the average time spent in social networks per day is now 2 hours and growing”.

Social is best considered a consumer behavior, rather than a set of channels or social networks, which gives people much more than the ability to connect with other people.

>See also: Social media and the effects on workplace mentality

First, it matters because it’s an emotional outlet for people and can provide the closeness and support that’s lacking in our distributed communities.

Second, it gives consumers power. A great example of this is when the public brought back the Cadbury’s Wispa through a user-initiated Facebook and MySpace campaign in 2008.

Third, it gives people a voice – for the trivial and ephemeral, as well as the big global, political and social debates. For example, campaigning communities such as the ‘Sum of us’ or Avaaz are great illustrations of how people are using social to get behind the causes that are important to them.

Social is also a fantastic way for people to engage with like-minded people around more niche or local interests and causes.

A provocative example is the London feminist group called ‘Wolf Whistled’ who have organised themselves as an underground group through Facebook – you can’t just follow them, you have to DM them to be invited. Perhaps something to consider if you’re in charge of customer engagement for an exclusive or luxury brand.

And people are even building careers out of their presence in social media. Everyone knows about the hipster startups like Pact Coffee, which launched and ran most of their marketing for their subscription coffee through Twitter.

>See also: Earth 2050: future social and technological developments

However, less suspecting Tricia Cusden, 68 years old, launched her own beauty brand @lookfabulousforever through social media, challenging the big beauty advertisers to really connect with older women. And she’s made a huge success out of it.

So, if brands want to commercialise these social behaviours and build relationships with people then they need to think about these key principles:

1. Be insight driven
2. Be where your consumers are
3. Define your strategy
4. Test and learn

Why social is important to your business

First, consider your customers and where they are spending their time. If you want a conversation with Gen Z-ers then Snapchat, Houseparty and Instagram are the places to be.

But if you’re talking to Baby Boomers then Facebook is quickly becoming their platform, causing youngsters to move on.

Then consider how social might support your customer experience and how the business could meet specific objectives along the journey thanks to being ‘socialised’.

To do this, PSONA uses six consumer drivers grounded in research with the Foresight Factory, to map across the customer journey, and define the strategy at each point: Support me; inform me; recognise me; inspire me; entertain me; connect me.

>See also: Addressing social challenges with digital technologies

Some great examples of how brands have used social against each of these drivers are as follows:

• Support me: Domino’s pizza went over and above in customer service to deliver a pizza to a train platform for one (famous) hungry customer who got caught out with no snacks and a closed buffet car on a 5-hour train journey from Glasgow to Sheffield.

• Connect me: LEGO Ideas is a co-creation platform for enthusiasts to share their ideas for the next LEGO set, where they can canvas for votes and drive their idea up the rankings to become a reality.

• Entertain me: There are too many to choose from in this category, but Volvo’s Interception is one of the best disruptive TV ad, Tide’s Super Bowl ad, which leveraged the power of social, and Game of Thrones Snapchat selfie lens, which reached 45m people, are all standouts.

• Inspire me: Mailchimp found out through social listening that people were totally getting their brand name wrong, and played on this fact in a humorous way, to make sure whatever variation people thought it was – mailshrimp, nailchamp etc – they’d always come back to the original brand name.

>See also: Why social media should form part of any customer service strategy

Another example is Addict Aide’s campaign which raised awareness of alcohol addiction by creating a fictional Instagram character, Louise Delage; which was widely applauded by the industry, winning 17 Cannes awards.

As an aside, the reported success of the 50,000 Instagram followers she received was largely driven by a ‘bot farm’ website called Instagress (subsequently shut down by Instagram). These fake followers make profiles seem more popular than they actually are, messing with the fabric of the platform and eroding trust of users.

• Inform me: Ted Baker’s “Meet the Bakers” sitcom story was a multi-channel campaign, but used Instagram Stories alongside physical stores to immerse people in the story.

• Recognise me: For the British Airways January sale campaign last year, the brand built a chatbot that was driven by emoji combinations – e.g. Palm Tree, Couple Kissing and Cocktail – which would serve you up the Caribbean on sale and offer holiday advice to customers using emojis.

Despite this, technology, guidelines and law around social media can change overnight, which can make it difficult to stay ahead.

Therefore, you need experts in your team or agency to make sure you’re using the platforms responsibly and with the ‘people’ always front of mind.

>See also: UK businesses as anti-social networks?

But the most important considerations when thinking about running a social campaign, is the operational infrastructure needed to ensure it runs smoothly and is tied into your wider social presence – social media management tools.

If your brand has a presence in social then you need to fully commit to it in order to meet consumer expectations.

Social platforms and technologies

You only need to look at the buddy media graphic to see how complex the social media marketing landscape is, but big brands need to keep it simple and look at the social networks that their consumers are using day to day for maximum efficiency in terms of reach and engagement.

The top social platforms are well reported, but below are the platforms that Gen Z consumers in particular are using right now and how they see them.

• YouTube: This is for watching videos (usually when they’re bored) or want background noise. They also use it to learn, or if videos are shared with them as links by friends.

• Instagram: This is a platform that they regularly use every day because all of their friends use it and are posting content consistently.

• Snapchat: Gen Z use this at least every two hours as their main messaging service. This is used instead of texts and phone calls which can take longer to create.

• Facebook: This is checked once a day mainly for events and parties – this is the platform of serious FOMO. However, grandparents are now using it so many young people are leaving.

• What’s app: This is used a couple of times a day, normally for bigger group chats.

• Houseparty: This is Skype (video chat) for large groups of mates (no parents allowed!).

>See also: 1 in 5 SMEs have fallen victim to social media hackers 

And unsurprisingly (or maybe surprisingly for some) is that 16-year olds reject Twitter because they see it as “impersonal”, ” for celebrities” and “it’s not a place to connect with mates”.

The future…

Social will become even more embedded into how brands engage with their customers on a day-to-day basis throughout the whole customer experience, and will be considered less of a separate “channel” to consider and more of a brand-consumer behavior to embrace.

And social is already disrupting and transforming every sector – from business model disruption (AirBnB and the sharing economy), customer service (GiffGaff’s community service) and merchandising (ASOS merchandising being fueled by popularity, or’s Unboxed crowdsourcing platform) – publishing continues to been shaken up with social brands like BuzzFeed and the LadBible dominating people’s feeds.

Meanwhile, Google is on the verge of disrupting the travel market even further by socializing the whole research and booking journey with Google Trips and Google Destinations.

>See also: The week of social media and communication outages

There’s a lot to take in, and a lot to consider when thinking about social.

But it is imperative that you start by asking yourself (and your social listening tool), “what matters to my customers?” and look for the insights along their journey where social could enhance their experience, your relationship and your business.


Sourced by Ellie Gauci, executive strategy director, PSONA

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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