Facebook is too often just another tick in the box; a place to pitch, not enrich.
Major brands could be wasting valuable budgets by not involving customers and fans more as a critical part of the sales journey.
Some brands and marketing disciplines continue to treat social media as another (cheap) broadcast channel. Messages, imagery and videos are sent out in the vain hope that they are one of the few that go viral. Meanwhile, opportunities to realise commercial values from social communities are not being grasped. Consumers continue to be dismayed by the lack of real content or opportunities to contribute to brands' Facebook pages.
More than 25 per cent of consumers we recently surveyed said they would contribute more to a brand if asked their opinion. By treating consumers as insiders and giving them a say, brands can capitalise on the Hawthorne Effect - a psychological effect that boosts advocacy by asking advice.
Showing fans that their favourite brand is listening, and giving them the privileged status of an insider, can trigger the desire to buy and stimulate online and offline word of mouth. Our starting point is that it isn't enough to integrate activity, you need to involve customers and potential customers.
We advocate giving consumers an opportunity to guide the future of the brands they love in an engaging and social environment, and in doing so create real recommendations that drive sales growth. Thinking and acting in a 'social' way, rather than just using it as a convenient tagline.
This can be done while simultaneously accessing customers' creativity through open innovation.
An example of this is a six-month, proof of concept pilot on Facebook that we developed for Unilever,called Unilever VIP, which brought together its Carte D'Or, Cif, Comfort, Domestos, Dove, Flora, Magnum, Persil, PG Tips, Surf and Wall's brands. Combining consumer engagement and deep brand involvement with crowd-sourced innovation, it delivered a significant increase in 'definitely will buy Unilever products' and 'likelihood to recommend', attracted more than 76,000 consumers and drove huge cross-brand product trial.
To access the exclusive content and rewards on offer, we developed a custom application for people to instal, which allowed members to interact with the brands at a deeper level. This ensured some content was private from the general Facebook population.
Members were offered the opportunity to guide the future of the brands by asking for advice and ideas every month. We also provided members with exclusive access, before other consumers, to products, promotions and marketing initiatives, and the output of co-creation exercises.
An 'Ideas Wall' for each of the 11 brands allowed any member to post an idea or comment on others. This allowed the community to determine which ideas Unilever should consider. It provided another layer of interest, crowd-sourced new product ideas, identified business improvements and gauged reaction to Unilever ideas.
Members were also offered the chance to trial new and existing products. They were then invited to write a review. All the reviews were published on the Unilever VIP community for total transparency and to build trust.
With increased propensity to buy and recommend, the results exceeded client targets at every level.
In practical terms, social needs to be social. It's about listening, discussing and having a good time. Making sure those pixels turn into pounds can be as simple as treating customers like friends, not just fans.
Views in brief
Pinterest: the online equivalent of a teenage girl's bedroom wall or useful corporate resource?
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BMI Pinterest Lottery was an interesting brand example, John Terry infiltrating famous scenes after the Champions League a witty consumer reaction. Many adverts with UGC look as if a lot has been done to make them look 'authentic'.