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Steps to social networking success

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Social networking has set the online world on fire over the past two years, with the likes of Facebook, MySpace and YouTube enjoying explosive growth in revenues and users, writes Jacqui Boyd, online planning director at Acceleration Media. South African Internet users have embraced social networking with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the online world.


Dacebook alone has some 300 000 unique South African users and generates 10,5-million page impressions from South Africa each month, while MySpace boasts 288 000 unique South African users and gets 35-million page impressions from the country each month.
Local sites such as MyVideo, with 20 000 unique users, and CherryFlava Blog, with 115 000 unique users, are also attracting attention from South African users. MyVideo is on a steep growth path – it has doubled its monthly page impressions to 100 000 from 50 000 in July 2007.
Many marketers are starting to look at social networking as a viable channel for interacting with their customers and prospects, but are not sure where to start. What follows are five tips for getting the best results from using social networking as a marketing channel.
1 – Don't get caught up in the hype: Many marketers see the massive hype that social networking has attracted in local and international media, as well as the huge audience numbers, and rush headlong into the fray. But one should step back and ask the following questions: Is social networking relevant for my brand? What do I hope to achieve by dedicating budget to social networking sites? Can social networking deliver a good return on investment for my business? You might benefit from experimenting with a small initial investment into social networking to see if it is right for your brand. Social networking will only deliver the results you are hoping for if you set a sound strategy and clear objectives from the outset.
2- Engage with your audience: Social networking is a cornerstone of Web 2.0, a whole new world where the audience expects you to engage with it rather than blasting out an advertising message. We've found that standard banners don't perform well on sites such as MySpace – in this interactive environment, users simply don't respond to boring banners and skyscrapers. Engaging creative that draws the user into an interaction with the brand works much better – games, competitions, incentives, and applications (such as the numerous widgets and apps on Facebook) often produce good results.
3 – Set the right metrics for success: Many advertisers are disappointed by the clickthrough rates they experience from social networking sites. The average clickthrough rate on MySpace is 0.10% and the rate on Facebook is a mere 0.04%. These numbers are well below the average industry of 0.3-0.4% for major portals and other sites. But in the social networking space, the clickthrough rate is not the most important measure of success. We need to gauge things such as interaction and engagement to get a true feel for how well a campaign on a social networking site has performed. For example, we could measure how much time people spent playing an online game or how many of them actually downloaded a video clip and forwarded it to their friends.
4 – Investigate pricing and audience numbers carefully: The big social networking sites are US-based and many have dollar-based minimum charges for advertising with them. Since South Africa is a small market, many brands might find that the minimum fees might not be viable for the potential returns. One needs to investigate how many South Africa users there are on an international social networking site before committing to the minimum fee you will pay for advertising there.
5 – Don't put all your eggs in one basket: Users might be spending an increasing amount of their online time on social networking sites, but that doesn't mean that portals dedicated to news, entertainment, sports and so have lost their audience. Your customers and prospects won't spend 24 hours a day on Facebook, but will visit a multitude of other sites for personal and business reasons. For certain advertising messages, a travel or news site might be a more appropriate medium than a social networking environment. Social networking is an exciting new environment, but it complements the other online outlets and channels rather than making them obsolete. Advertisers should not put their entire budgets into social networks, but should rather test them upfront to see what works for them and what doesn't, as well as the role social networking has to play in their online marketing mix.
Social networking is a new channel, which means that there's still a great deal of uncertainty about how one uses it to the greatest effect, and indeed, how one can measure success in the channel.
Local marketers can reach millions of users on networking sites and interact with them in rich new ways. But to achieve success, they will need to set clear goals upfront for their investments in social networking and then experiment with the channel to find out what works best for their brands.