In addition to monitoring and responding, when necessary, to customer feedback, the Italian restaurant chain now uses social media primarily to highlight particular meals depending on promotional time periods, such as its signature pasta menu items.
“Everything we do naturally communicates that pasta menu, and we use social media to communicate that in the online space,” Miller explains.
With the help of its PR AOR MSLGroup, the company created a Facebook app in the form of a quiz called “What's your pasta personality?” Its Twitter feed features “tweets from the kitchen,” which include fun food facts, as well as pasta sauce recommendations.
“MS&L provides us with starter content and we hope that content stimulates a conversation,” says Miller. “Ultimately, we want Carrabba's to be part of the decision-making paradigm for consumers when they go out to eat.”Miller is happy with the company's progress, but its first steps into social media illustrate how many marketers have approached the channel with trepidation and confusion, if they are even approaching it all.
According to the second annual PRWeek/MS&LGroup Social Media Survey, 71% of the 262 marketers actually use social media tools in marketing efforts. Respondents report using social networks (48%), blogs (34%), digital video and audio tools (32%), microblogs such as Twitter (26%), discussion forums (25%), social bookmarking sites (15%), and mobile-based services (13%).
So, 29% of companies don't use any social media in their marketing, a decrease of eight percentage points versus last year's survey. And while 79% of respondents consider social media engagement and reacting to customer needs in real time a competitive advantage, far fewer, 64%, think companies that don't engage risk irrelevancy.
“With all the discussion and news stories about social media, you would think this would be a big area of investment by now. But social media is still causing a lot of con-fusion in the marketplace,” says Jim Tsokanos, president of the Americas for MS&LGroup. “Even of the companies using social media, almost half (48%) believe their company is lagging behind what others are doing. If marketers feel they are behind the curve, it's because they feel overwhelmed by it, don't get it, or don't understand how to use it.”
The power of listening – and acting
The survey shows that just 33% of companies have made changes to products or marketing efforts based on the feedback gathered from social media. In other words, almost 70% of companies using social media do no more than listen.
Rob Harles, VP of social media at Sears Holdings, where he is responsible for community sites for Sears, Kmart, and the Craftsman brand, says that is a missed opportunity. “I've learned over the past three years that the very basic purpose of social media is to get to know your customers,” he explains. “It's not just about listening, but actually doing something about what you're hearing.”
Early on, Sears treated social media channels as a pro-motional tool, and the number of negative responses – and the lack of positive ones – showed it wasn't the kind of dialogue users wanted.
“There is always the inclination to say, ‘This is an inexpensive way to advertise,' but you have to be careful,” warns Harles. “If you're just trying to get a message across without listening it can be damaging. It's like saying to them, ‘I have these wonderful pink shirts for only $50.' And they're like, ‘Great, but I'm not interested.' And then you make another post: ‘Now the shirts are 10% off.' Again, not interested. You can see how absurd it can get, but that is how traditional marketers have typically engaged consumers.”
Sears has found most success “when we've tried to create a conversation, to really get to know our customers,” he adds. Last Christmas, for example, the retailer asked its Facebook community to name their favorite holiday movie. The question generated a record 400-plus responses in just a few days. (The overwhelming vote-getter was A Christmas Story.)
“We hadn't actually thought beyond that answer, but that night the team worked with our online business unit and got an offer out on that particular movie. The next day, it sold out,” says Harles. “It doesn't always work that way, but you can see when the conversation is meaningful and engaging, it can make a difference.”
Still, 26% of companies have no specific approach to how employees should use social media to share messages about their organization or brand. And while 72% of respondents say social media should be used to allow more company employees to function as an extension of sales and marketing, only one in four respondents say their companies encourage employees to use social media.
As part of its shift from being a hardware manufacturer to a consumer-led mobile device services company, in early 2008 Nokia created guidelines for its employees to blog during work hours. (It now has almost 1,000 bloggers.) Laurie Armstrong, director of communications for Nokia North America, says, “We also designed and maintain the Nokia BlogHub, an internal aggregation site that allows everyone in Nokia to search, read, and comment on all our various blogs. By the end of our first year, internally we had nearly 2 million visits with each visitor reading on average of 10 pages.”
Externally, Nokia uses its own devices to create videos on its YouTube channels about its products and services, which have become among the 50 most watched clips. Its external blog, Nokia Conversations (http://conversations.nokia.com/), generates more than a million unique visitors per month.
“The feedback we've received so far, both internally and externally, is helping shape our products and our approach to the marketplace,” Armstrong says.
The importance of creating guidelines in terms of social media communication is particularly key in highly regulated industries such as pharma, where companies must be careful about not just what they say, but also what others say. The FDA has yet to clearly outline how pharma companies can communicate using social media, but that hasn't prevented many players from developing their own internal policies.
Earlier this year, Boehringer Ingelheim used Facebook and Twitter to support its largest unbranded campaign aimed at raising awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, for which it makes several medicines. The company also procured a YouTube channel for possible future distribution of video. “As the generations change, we know more people will communicate this way,” says John Yonsky, associate director of online and social media communications. “We knew we had to get involved.”
To ensure campaigns follow legal and regulatory restrictions, Boehringer requires all social media communications to undergo an internal review process. “We've formed a social media team within the company that reviews everything anyone in marketing or PR wants to do with social media. We didn't want to create a heterogeneous way of getting things approved, but a homogenous one,” says Yonsky. “We want to make sure we follow the guidelines, that we've figured out how to handle it internally, and that everyone in the company is going down the same path.”
Managing/monitoring customer feedback and creating communities are the primary business uses of social media (39% and 26%, respectively). But respondents also report using it for media relations and market research (both 25%), understanding competitive landscape (24%), reaching key influencers (21%), lead generation (18%) product launches (17%), monitoring conversations (14%), and product reviews (12%). “The potential for social media is unlimited,” says MS&LGroup's Tsokanos. “And while there is a lot of testing and learning going on, a lot of sophisticated clients are utilizing social media across the board.”
Carrabba's uses social media to monitor what people say about competitors, as well as for market research purposes around menu changes, says Miller. Nokia uses it as a tool for media relations and influencer outreach. In August, for example, it invited mobile enthusiasts and Nokia fans (including bloggers, media, and pundits) to join Niklas Savander, EVP and group executive board member of its social media business council, for a one-hour Twitter Cafe.
Sears also leverages social media for influencer engagement. “We know not everyone who comes to our community sites will be totally passionate about it,” says Harles, “but we hope to be successful with a core group who gene-rate a lot of our content online and help other customers.”
To help further encourage user contribution, this year Sears will reward online community members with points toward its loyalty program. “If you can link not only stuff you buy to the rewards you get, but also things you contribute as a customer, that has a lot of value we're willing to recognize,” he explains.
For measurement, respondents say the biggest challenge is the inability to link social media activity to sales/revenue (45%), followed by the inability to isolate the impact of social media from other activities (41%), and the lack of appropriate tools (39%). A quarter of respondents don't even have a system to measure social media tactics.
Product safety company Underwriters Laboratories only launched its first social media campaign in late 2008, using Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and blogs to reach moms concerned about creating a safe home environment. It has since unveiled other social media-driven campaigns and increased its outreach to mommy bloggers.
“Initially, we looked at things like how many fans we had on Facebook and the number of people who responded to blog posts,” says Suzanne Lavin, corporate marketing VP. “We found that is not the most effective way to look at it.”
In addition to examining feedback more closely in terms of what is actually being said in those posts, Underwriters Laboratories has implemented a measurement system that evaluates brand awareness and familiarity.
So far, the results have been encouraging for social media. After it ran a three-month holiday campaign – in which 85% of the elements consisted of digital tactics – both awareness and familiarity of the brand increased by 10%. “That kind of combined increase is unheard of because typically familiarity lags behind awareness,” explains Lavin. “Because our integrated campaign leaned on social media, it allowed us to have a personalized dialogue with these moms.”
According to the survey, the primary ways companies measure the impact of social media are by website traffic (39%), sales/revenue (32%) and brand awareness and
favorability (25%). “Measurement has become very sophisticated,” says MS&LGroup's Tsokanos. “You can now measure share of voice, share of mind, and even understand impact on product sales.”
Where's the budget?
The good news is that one in three communication pros say their overall marketing budget has increased versus a year ago. However, 44% of respondents have no budget allocated for social media whatsoever. Of those that do, only one in 10 companies report a separate budget dedicated to social media.
Nearly half of all respondents (47%) say social media is funded through their overall marketing budget – a view shared by most of the companies interviewed for this article. Though 30% of respondents say their social media is managed primarily in PR/communications, only 20% believe that is where it will be managed in the future. Thirty-two percent of respondents expect social media will become primarily managed by a hybrid department that combines PR/communications and advertising.
“As social media has become more and more integrated across various disciplines in Nokia, there is not one single budget just for that within marketing,” says Armstrong. “I manage our entire communications practice in North America. While a couple of years ago I may have carved out a separate line item for supplemental social media activities, it is now quite integrated.”
Last year, Underwriters Laboratories hired Katy Buddhiraju, a Web content developer, to oversee its social media activity. “We found the social media interaction we were having was really effective,” says Lavin. “We wanted to make sure we had some resources in place to continue that.”
Buddhiraju adds, “Often times when we approach a subject matter expert to provide and create safety information on a particular topic, it helps if they understand the social media tools we use when dealing with customers.”
In terms of designating resources to social media, Underwriters Laboratories is in the minority. The survey finds that most companies redefine existing employee roles to include social media responsibility (46%), rather than hire new staff (13%) or outsource to external agency partners (5%).
In fact, one-third of respondents (35%) say no staff or external agency partner is responsible for social media activity. When companies look to hire an external partner, they think of direct marketing agencies (21%), ad agencies
(20%), digital agencies (17%), and then PR firms (16%). Media buying/planning agencies ranked last at 12%.
“Education is still the biggest obstacle for marketers, and that is where there is a big opportunity for PR firms,” says MS&LGroup's Tsokanos. “PR firms are only five percentage points behind direct agencies. We're well positioned and suited in this conversation economy to lead education, strategy, and engagement of social media. We understand conversations and how to build narrative and story.”
Lisa Bartlett, AVP of marketing for Maurices, says when the fashion boutique first sought help launching its Facebook page last fall, it initially thought of an ad agency. “I come from an ad agency background, so initially that was where my head went,” she explains. “Once I did more research, I felt like a PR firm made more business sense.”
Maurices ended up hiring MS&LGroup. “Over the last 12 months, we've become more comfortable with utilizing Facebook and getting into the insights and metrics. So we have taken over a lot of the postings,” adds Bartlett. “That is a natural progression as a new brand on Facebook.”
MS&LGroup is now helping Maurices grow membership of its Mobile Style Club, an SMS text-message service that provides style advice, fashion tips, and promotion alerts.
Sears' Harles agrees companies must be closely involved with social media PR. “I wouldn't exclude any agency provider from engaging with and helping us,” he says, “but if your goal is to really connect with customers, make sure the bulk of the heavy lifting is done internally. Real people inside the organizations need to be having those conversations.”
The survey reveals that in the next two years marketers expect social media to become even more important to fundamental business areas. Of this year's respondents, 58% say social media will have more of an impact on aspects such as generating sales/revenue, 55% on managing corporate reputation, and 50% on increasing or maintaining market share in the next year or two.”
When asked what efforts will have the most impact on a company's success in the next 12 months, 17% say mobile platforms, 16% say Facebook presence, 14% say blogger relations, and 12% say location-based mobile services.
Carrabba's, which is testing a number of mobile platforms, recently partnered with Foursquare, which allows users to “check in” at restaurants and locations via their smartphones. The patron who checks in the most at a particular location is crowned “Mayor of Carrabba's,” which earns him or her special discounts and offers. “Right now, the reward is a complimentary dessert, but I am also testing $10 off and a free appetizer,” Miller says. “We felt this was a good way to recognize the customer who comes in regularly, but is quiet about it.”
To date, Carrabba's has had 5,987 check-ins and 178 mayors. Of its 232 locations, New York and Florida have proven the most competitive for the mayor title. Moving forward, he says the company plans to release more control of the Foursquare partnership to the managing partners of its individual locations, so they can tailor the promotion to their needs.
So despite a nervous start, social media has opened up all kinds of communication opportunities for Carrabba's, says Miller. “I've become a strong proponent of social media and playing in the online and mobile space,” he adds.
“We see it is as an exciting new way of doing old things.”
The PRWeek/MS&LGroup Social Media Survey was conducted by PRWeek and CA Walker. E-mail notification was sent to about 5,949 marketers. A total of 262 completed the survey online between June 1-9, 2010. Results were not weighted and are statistically tested at a confidence level of 90%. This article only offers a summary of findings.
The measurement question
Measurement remains a major hurdle when it comes to social media, according to results from the PRWeek/MS&LGroup Social Media Survey. Here are some ways companies are tackling the issue:
Conversation monitoring. Carrabba's Italian Grill uses software that measures positive versus negative sentiment, including that of competitors. “It also allows us to get an idea of potential trends,” says marketing manager Jamie Miller.
Engagement. Rob Harles, VP of social media at Sears, says the engagement metric ties its social media activity to ROI. “We try to answer these questions,” he explains. “Do people who are engaged look differently than folks who aren't? Are we having any impact on their behavior?”
Website traffic. Boehringer Ingelheim has just started using social media to drive awareness of specific medical disorders. “We look at the whole spider-web effect – what other sites are we impacting?” says John Yonsky, the pharma company's associate creative director, online and social media communications.
According to this year's PRWeek/MS&LGroup Social Media Survey, 52% of respondents believe social media will have more of an impact on managing stakeholder opinion in the next year or two.
One of the ways companies are helping manage opinion is by addressing customer complaints via social media.
Laurie Armstrong, director of communications for Nokia North America, says social media is increasingly being used by its customer care division. “We have several individuals in our customer care organization who are active social media participants,” she explains. “It's less about promoting so people can see how we're handling it and more about ensuring we're listening, engaging, and responding to customers.”
For fashion boutique Maurices, social media enables its sales associates to come to the defense of the company when complaints do arise, notes Lisa Bartlett, AVP of marketing for the company.