Social media is fast becoming a mature marketing option for South African business. Organisations should embrace social media to engage their market, build their brand and promote their products and services, however, companies do need to be wary of diving in head first without professional assistance.
According to a 2015 report from market watchdog, World Wide Worx, South African social media use has skyrocketed. Facebook jumped from 9.4 million local users a year ago to 11.8 million currently, while Twitter soared from 5.5 million users to 6.6 million over the same period. Other social sites and apps have also seen significant growth over the past year.
With social media, businesses of all sizes can enjoy tremendous online exposure and lead generation at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing. They can also create personalised customer experiences unlike anything available offline, and because responses can be measured in real time, they can curb spend on unprofitable campaigns at a moment’s notice and fund the winners instead.
However, there is a disturbing trend in social media marketing that could hurt the adoption of the platform as a viable alternative to traditional efforts.
Many major brands are opting to use an internal marketing team for social media. Only 16% employ the services of professional third parties. While it’s critical that organisations take a hands-on approach, it’s a mistake not to leverage the experience that digital agencies have gained from working daily in social media since their inception. Digital agencies have much to offer businesses, large and small, by merit of their focus and experience in this specialised field.
What is being seen is that most companies don’t have the know-how to exploit social media effectively, nor create a positive ROI against their social media spend. The result is that many companies who have delved into social media marketing in the past have been burned, and some even pulled, their social media budgets prematurely.
The dynamics of social media that cannot be ignored include long-term reputation management and complex analytics that protect brand image, financial investment and market share. These underlying elements require a level of technical sophistication not easily acquired by employees managing social media in addition to other projects requiring different skill sets.
In terms of brand protection, there tends to be a blurring between personal and business etiquette, as evidenced by a common use of coarse language in online exchanges. Social media is a very open platform where people are less inhibited in their personal interactions. Unfortunately, some employees bring these bad habits to commercial social communications. So companies risk undermining their brand, as has been seen in the past. Digital agencies give good PR and communication management practices the highest priority.
Companies also need to understand social metrics. Again, it’s more than adding up ‘Likes’, anyone who has worked with tools like Google Analytics will know that there are a vast number of variables at play on the web that constantly impact one another. Social media is no different. Companies need the right reporting tools and a deep understanding of metrics to succeed. Digital marketers can offer guidance on both.
When it comes to DIY social media marketing, companies should not underestimate agencies as powerful change agents and enablers of business success in the social media space. They have a handle on the entire online landscape and the digital marketing mix so they can offer vital assistance to companies who are limited by the number of resources at their disposal and the fact that they must split their attention between multiple marketing concerns.
Clinton Muir is managing director of Johannesburg-based digital marketing agency, Black Snow Digital.
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