Social Media Survey 2009: Reality check

Many companies are still cautious about social media, according to the first annual PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey.

Despite the perceived prevalence of the use of social media in the marketing world, there are many companies that are still cautiously entering the space, according to the first annual PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey.

When General Motors introduced its reorganization as the “new” GM in June, it looked to social media as a way to reach stakeholders, create a dialogue, and demonstrate that it understood the worries of its audience. Working with MS&L, the company used Facebook and Twitter, even offering up its CEO to answer questions via the microblogging service.
 
“We were an extremely big piece of the communications plan around the Chapter 11 filing and the reorganization,” says Christopher Barger, director of social media for GM. The company used Twitter primarily, tweeting nearly 200 times within 24 hours, answering questions and concerns. “People respected the fact that we were out there and trying to be open.”
 
Social media has definitely become part of the everyday consciousness of consumers. Though several companies like GM are fully embracing the phenomenon as a marketing tool, the first-annual PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey found that many companies are still behind the social media curve.
 
Of the 271 marketers surveyed, 37% report that their company does not include any social media tools as part of marketing efforts. Of the 63% that do use social media, 67% use social networking, 46% use digital video and audio tools, 45% use blogs, 33% use micro-blogging services like Twitter, 28% use RSS feeds, and 16% use Wikis.
 
“[With] Twitter on the cover of Time, social networking on the cover of BusinessWeek, and President Obama as the marketer of the year, social media is a seminal topic,” says Jim Tsokanos, president of North America for MS&L. “But despite that, 66% of communications professionals have not made changes” to products or marketing based on customer feedback gleaned from social media, according to the survey.
 
The survey also found that 49% of companies do not have a specific approach regarding the use of social media on behalf of the company. Ten percent discourage employees to use social media to communicate on behalf of the company, while 22% allow only marketing and communications employees to use social media on behalf of the organization. Twenty percent of companies encourage all employees to use social media channels to share messages on behalf of the company or its brands.

Opportunity for everyone
“I don't think it's a discipline, strategy, or tactic that needs to be run by a specific discipline, because I think social media has the chance to open up entire opportunities across an organization,” says Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media at PepsiCo, citing how HR professionals can use social media.
 
“When we live in the world of the empowered consumer and everyone has a point of view, and they share it at the speed of light, for companies to not have policies in place to guide how social media can be utilized by their employees, I thought was very interesting,” Tsokanos adds.
 
For the companies that are using social media in marketing, there are different reasons for doing so. When asked about the top three uses of social media within their companies, 47% manage and monitor customer feedback, while 40% reach key influencers. Other uses include understanding the consumer and competitive landscape (39%), creating brand communities and fan pages (32%), media relations (31%), lead generation (31%), product launches (28%), product reviews (19%), and monitoring conversations (6%).
 
“Twitter, Facebook, these are our branches,” says Jim Kelly, COO of ING Direct. “These are the ways we're having the conversations that people in an office or a branch might have with customers on a daily basis.”
 
ING Direct started using social media about a year ago as a way to communicate with customers who had worries about the economy and finances. As a virtual bank, the brand was able to use social networks to engage customers in conversations about financial issues and topics. Earlier this year, the company hosted tweetups, connecting with consumers off-line at the bank's café in New York.
 
“Almost 85% of our transactions are done by customers over the Web,” says Kelly. “The last thing I want to see is an ad for a mortgage on Facebook. There is a dialogue going on there and we have a voice – I would say it's consumer-friendly – and we want to be a part of that dialogue if we can do that.”
 
Handling social media internally, the brand has a presence on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. It also offers savings widgets on iGoogle, reviews of its cafés on Yelp, and financial advice on a We the Savers blog. The survey found that 91% of companies manage social media strategy internally, compared to 9% that use an external partner.
 
Marcy Shinder, VP of brand management for American Express Open, says the company saw social media becoming more popular around September 2008. The brand launched the New Economy Blog in response to the economic situation at the time and worked to provide more information about social media to its small- business-owner members.
 
American Express Open, which works with AOR M Booth, launched a specific social media campaign in July, promoting the official launch of its Open Forum, a social network for small business owners.
 
“We're seeing that business owners are becoming more engaged with social media,” adds Shinder. “Our marketing was almost entirely viral.” Twitter is the site's third-highest ranking driver of traffic, and the brand worked with Federated Media to get blogs written about the launch, distributed videos virally, and used a count-down clock to the launch to build buzz.
 
Ford's social media outreach also takes into account the global nature of its business, explains Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager. “Our social media strategy is pretty simple,” he says. “It is essentially to humanize the company by connecting our constituents with our employees and with each other when possible, to provide value along the way.”
 
Local focus

According to the survey, 64% of respondents say their social media focus is local, compared to 36% who say it is global. Additionally, 55% take a long-term approach, versus 45% who prefer a short-term one, and 55% work to shape the conversations about the brand, compared to 45% who use social media to listen to conversations about the brand.
 
“Like PR, social media is very local,” Tsokanos says. “So as the marketplace shifts and changes, being able to provide global scale is really going to be important. That's where we want to be with social media.”
 
“The objective for us is to be where our members are, so that's why we're not just in one place,” adds Nataki Clarke, director of marketing for AARP, which last year relaunched AARP.org and got more involved in social media. “The strategy is to really use these vehicles to have a two-way conversation with them, which is a risk because you're not always going to love what they have to say.”
 
In companies where funds are being shifted for social media, 48% is coming from advertising, 40% from direct marketing, 29% from media planning and buying, and 18% from PR.
 
A majority of companies, 59%, reported that there is no specific funding for social media activity, while 31% said funding is being shifted from other marketing and communications budgets, and 10% are establishing additional funding and new budgets specifically for social media. On average, 6.7% of marketing budgets are being dedicated to social media programs.
 
As far as where social media activity falls in the marketing mix, both American Express Open and AARP say PR or corporate communications leads social media, while Kelly says marketing leads it at ING Direct. GM's Barger says communications led social media in the past, but with the company's reorganization, marketing is helping more in that space.
 
In the future, 56% of respondents believe marketing will manage social media activities going forward; 18% say PR; 6% say digital; 6% say a separate social media group; and 14% believe it will be a new hybrid department of marketing, PR, and communications.
 
Tsokanos tells PRWeek that he sees resources and funding for social media “coming from everywhere.”
 
“Both business and communications are going through a revolution, if not a complete transformation,” he adds. “While it is more of a communications mind-grab today, in the future, social media will certainly be focused on business generation.”
 
And being able to accurately measure how social media impacts a business is an important element for a brand getting into the space. “People either don't have a clear knowledge and understanding [of social media] or they don't have the necessary tools to measure ROI,” he says.
 
Indeed the survey shows that 43% of respondents report a lack of knowledge or expertise as a barrier to using social media, and 39% report that they are not convinced of the value or ROI. Other barriers include lack of internal resources or time (53%), lack of clear guidelines or policy (38%), lack of awareness of social media within the company (37%), and fear of negative reaction from consumers (16%).
 
The ROI question
Sara Greenstein, SVP and CMO of product safety company Underwriters Laboratories (UL), says, “It's the kind of thing that instincts tell you it's the right thing to do and you've got to be there, but we've yet to prove how to measure that return on investment.”
 
UL did its first social media campaign in the fourth quarter of 2008, reaching out to mothers of young children. The company, working with its consumer AOR MS&L, used Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and blogs to spread the message of public safety.
 
The timing of introducing social media worked because the campaign “had a big push and some momentum,” adds Greenstein. “Our thought was, ‘We're doing a comprehensive, integrated campaign; let's try to feed them some information they can feed each other.' ”
 
She says UL saw a lot of customer response to its presence on social networking platforms, but nothing that she would deem a true measurement of ROI.
 
“We'll do it this year and see how it can compare to last year,” notes Greenstein. “But that's not what I would call a true ROI.”
 
The survey found that companies are using a wide range of tools to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Fifty-four percent of companies that have done a social media campaign in the last year monitored impact on Web site traffic, while 42% measured impact on sales and revenue. Others measured impact on brand awareness and favorability (37%), share of online discussion (37%), and pickup in mainstream media (19%).
 
Beyond proving ROI, Greenstein adds that another barrier is that companies aren't ready to have that kind of risk around their reputations. AARP's Clarke agrees.
 
“I honestly think the biggest barrier is that lots of companies aren't used to having that two-way dialogue,” she says. “It is risky to the brand, but I think the rewards far outweigh the risk.”
 
Shinder at American Express Open sees how small businesses can be afraid to get involved with social media. “I think barrier number one is that they don't know what's in it for them,” she says. “And since they don't know what's in it for them, they don't make it a priority.”
 
She says American Express Open works to explain the value of social media, including using it as a way to promote their businesses, stay connected to customers, and keep up with competitors and trends.
 
The survey sought respondents' opinion about how important social media activity is to several aspects of business and communications. Of those who use social media at their company, 65% said it is very important for connection to customers, compared to only 35% of those who do not use social media at their company.

Sixty-three percent said it was very important for building company or brand awareness, compared to 34% of those who do not use social media. As far as managing corporate reputation, 49% at companies that use social media in marketing say it's very important, compared to 34% at companies that do not use social media.
 
Only 29% of respondents who use social media said it was very important for crisis communications, compared to 18% of those who do not use social media. The disparity in response between these groups clearly shows that those who have not used social media are not quite convinced of its value or purpose.
 
“We find it a very positive vehicle or medium because basically we're interacting with consumers and guests in a genuine, real manner,” says Mark Chmiel, EVP and CMO of Denny's. “It's real time; it's real comments. Even the negative ones, we want to hear it and make it better.”
 
Denny's started getting involved with social media a little more than a year ago. As a hospitality brand, the ability to connect with its customers was a huge draw. The restaurant chain particularly turned to social media for its All-Nighter program, engaging with a younger demographic around music and food using social media like Twitter and Facebook. Denny's works with Filter, the AOR for the All-Nighter program, for social media support. Hill & Knowlton helps the company with more traditional PR.
 
Maintaining ethics
No matter how much social media work a company engages in, Chmiel emphasizes that integrity and ethics are of the utmost importance.
 
“The biggest barrier is maintaining a real integrity,” he says. “We identify who we are. Some companies, they may go into it with an anonymous masquerading. We do the exact opposite. We're a company that engages and wants to converse in this social environment.
 
“You have to remember,” Chmiel continues, “as much as we can use social media to build our brand, build sales, and so on, it can just as quickly boomerang on you if you're not sincere and straightforward with the consumer.”
 
According to the survey, 54% of respondents believe the marketing industry is following ethical guidelines in social media the same as it did a year ago, with 20% reporting that companies follow guidelines less, and 27% say that companies follow guidelines more.
 
“I believe the industry is working harder to follow guidelines in what seems to be a changing-by-the-day landscape of social media,” says Paul Rand, president and CEO of Zócalo Group and president-elect of the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). “But I do think giving people continued clarity and direction is really a good thing.”
 
The survey asked respondents about several practices within social media that could be considered ethically questionable. Though 57% of those surveyed say they have not engaged in any of the listed activities, 21% have positioned company-generated content as consumer-generated content, 13% have changed content about the brand on sites like Wikipedia, 11% have removed negative comments or content from social media, 7% have offered gifts for company or product blog reviews, and 4% have offered payment for company or product blog reviews.
 
“The first two are surprising to hear,” Rand says. “Anything that really smacks of a lack of transparency or a lack of disclosure automatically goes into the realm of ‘use your head and don't do it.'”
 
WOMMA has been working to update its Ethics Code Guidelines, and even recently clarified its point on providing any type of compensation for product reviews or endorsements.
 
Tsokanos says MS&L works with WOMMA guidelines. “It's something that the industry should develop together as guiding principles,” he notes. “It should be something that is enforced and supported by the industry and not the government.”
 
Looking ahead
Going forward, social media will continue to be an important part of communications and business, according to the survey. The majority of respondents say that social media will have more of an impact on the following aspects over the next year or two: connection to customers (79%); building company or brand awareness (76%); generating sales and revenue (63%); increasing or maintaining market share (62%); managing corporate reputation (61%); and managing stakeholder opinions of the company or its brands (48%). Crisis management was the only aspect where more respondents believe the impact will be the same (49%) than more (41%).
 
UL is already planning the next phase in its social media strategy. After not allocating enough resources to keep the program ongoing, “We are launching again in Q4 and it will be in a sustained fashion going forward into 2010 and beyond,” Greenstein says. “We are going to be adding resources this year in order to take it to the next level.”
 
“The best value I can describe from what we've done so far is that customers are happy that we're there and that we're engaging them using this medium,” ING Direct's Kelly says. “I think there is a time for selling and there is a time for conversation. And where we're going to keep our focus is on the conversation.”
 
The PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey was conducted by PRWeek and CA Walker. E-mail notification and invitation to complete the survey was sent to approximately 7,385 marketing executives. A total of 271 respondents completed the survey between June 25 and June 30, 2009.
 
Results were not weighted. At this sample size, results are associated with a +/-5.1 margin of error. This article only offers a summary of survey findings. Full results are available for purchase for $150 by e-mailing Erica.iacono@prweek.com.

Evolution of social media strategy: PepsiCo
“It's amazing, the shift that we've seen,” says Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media for PepsiCo. “Now you can actually openly have a conversation, an actual live conversation with companies about almost anything.”
  
Bough, who joined the company in September 2008, says PepsiCo started off by getting on a variety of different networking sites for each of its brands.

It is currently working to really integrate social media into the overall “ecosystem of communications and marketing,” and shift impressions into connections, and campaigns into conversations. Recently, its Gatorade brand combined a Michael Jordan broadcast TV spot with social media, encouraging fans to post their memories of Jordan and his legacy on Facebook.
  
The company continues to evolve by bringing in perspectives from the outside. PepsiCo is “constantly bringing thought leaders in the space to sit down with us and collaborate with us,” Bough explains. “It's making sure that you're bringing a lot of new thinking into the organization on a continual basis to collaborate with you.”

Evolution of social media strategy: Ford Motor Company
Though Ford has been using social media in various forms for a number of years, “it wasn't until last year that we really started to get serious about it and put a strategy in place to really address it,” says Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager.
  
Monty came on in July 2008, and the brand started looking to sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as a way to humanize the company, connect with constituents, and be where customers, and potential customers, are. Ford also introduced TheFordStory.com, a social media hub, bringing together Ford-generated and consumer-generated content. 
  
The plan is all about incorporating social media to reach various company constituents: retirees, dealers, and suppliers, to name a few. And within the brand, work with social media is becoming more integrated. Monty says, “We're seeing more of a synergy between PR and marketing than we ever have before.”

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