Now that social media usage has become prolific for both brands and individuals, we're starting to learn a little bit more about where brands fit in the user journey online. Though brands using social media is by no means new, don't underestimate just how many lessons are still being learned - and mistakes being made. As new social technologies develop, there are continually more and more touchpoints for brands to reach consumers. But that doesn't necessarily mean that every one of these new technologies is open to brands, or indeed that the entire social platform is open for brands. We're starting to learn just where/when we want brands to get involved, and where we don't....
Gaming might seemingly be one of the areas that brands are least wanted, as people are there to play and not to engage in conversations around a product or service. But this is huge potential for brands that want to get involved in social gaming, provided it's done correctly. While you're hardly going to want to play against a company for example, or enter into an entire game that is built around their brand experience, there's elements brands can add to enhance the gaming experience. This in turn reflects positively on the brand, because you're understanding the space but not trying to own it. This is supported by research into social gaming from Saatchi & Saatchi, who found that 2 in 5 active gamers preferred to find out about new products within the game itself, as opposed to more traditional forms such as emails from companies. Of course what this depends on, is how you're using the gaming platform for notifications. Making this part of the actual game play might only work to a point, as user's can perceive this as interfering with what they're actually there to do. Instead, look at dedicated ad spots within the game, or how you can add a product that is native to the game experience itself and made to fit your brand, instead of finding a way to make the game fit around what you want to offer.
In the Newsfeed, not on the Page
While your Facebook brand Page might be the place that you start engagement with customers, this might not necessarily be the place that it ends up. Indeed, you might be completely unaware of the majority of conversations that you may well have started within Facebook, because your fans will talk to their friends on their own wall, not within your Page. The analytics provider PageLever recently released stats that show Pages receive the most engagement through the newsfeed, as opposed to the Page itself :
So while many fans may well be joining Pages to get updates, or simply to show an affinity with a brand, they may not be returning back to the Page all that often. The stats above show that for certain Pages of a particular size, unique newsfeed impressions are up to 6 times higher than pageviews. Now while this information has to be taken into context, as unique impressions count slightly differently than unique pageviews (i.e. counting if your friends saw a Page update that you engaged with), the findings show that focusing on tabs and apps is a lot less important than focusing on the content that's actually going on in your newsfeed. This is perhaps an indication of the fact that users are quite unwilling to leave their newsfeed to go to a branded space on Facebook, preferring to interact intermittently by Liking or commenting a Post. This forces brands to think about the content that they're sharing on their wall. Making your content instantly accessible within the update is preferable to hosting it on a tab and could actually get you much better results.
As content providers
Niall wrote an insightful post on the role of content curation and this is a something that brands should be looking at. Our time is precious to us online, so we are going to look favourably upon the brands that provide us with the content that we need. This isn't necessarily to say that all brands have to find funny videos to share, that bear no relevance to their brand overall. This dilutes the brand identity and only serves to confuse people about what your brand actually is, or what they can get out of you online. We still want promotions and discounts from brands, but we also want the content that is going to make our lives easier online. If we're a fan of a travel brand for example, we expect a good mix of regular offers, but also interesting content that we wouldn't find ourselves. And the brand doesn't necessarily need to own this content, but they can act as syndicators, alerting users to the content that they know they will like. This can also become increasingly personalised. Instead of just sharing one video guide for example, with all of your fans, follow the individual conversation within your community and post the links that might only be relevant for one person. It may seem like a lot of work, but the effort won't go unnoticed and it will create real talkability around your brand.
In the purchasing decision
With more people using social media to discover new brands or products and source opinion that will ultimately convince them whether to purchase or not, brands have to be aware of how they can benefit from this user journey. It is not necessarily the brand's place for example, to jump on a conversation thread between two people on Twitter and start trying to force their brand in to influence the decision. But what brands should be doing, is making themselves visible across different social platforms, to encourage people to look at what you're offering. So have you got well-optimised videos on Youtube, an active Twitter account, regional Facebook Pages for example? By placing these pointers, you can hope to encourage people towards your content and make yourself part of the purchasing decision without having to force it. Brands should by now also be able to intelligently analyse the conversations going on, actively listening through a sophisticated monitoring tool and get involved where they can actually help their customers. So if someone has a genuine question about your price points for example, it is your place to help them and point them in the right direction for the content they need, without the hard sell.
In our phones
According to Eric Schmidt, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, mobile retail payments are going to explode this year. He predicts that a third of all restaurants and retailers will offer mobile payment options within a year, showing the huge growth rate of this market (though this prediction may somewhat be swayed by Google's recent investment in NFC for payments). This does present a real opportunity for brands, as they can add something to the process that individuals can't. As we rely on our smartphones more and more to get us through the day, not only a place for contacting people we need, but our entire online life in our pocket, brands can utilise this and start offering something that enhances this experience. They are in a unique position here, to get in early and really give consumers what they want. If we're spending more time browsing on our phones and want the option to complete payment either in-store or through the mobile, then brands can facilitate this. But more importantly, rather than adopting social media when it was well established among individuals and trying to make it fit the brand, with mobile the opportunity is there to shape the consumer demand. If you build the next big technology, service or offering before people even know they want it, the sentiment towards your brand is going to be phenomenal. Our mobiles are functional in a way that our social communities aren't, and brands can utilise this to a great advantage.
Ultimately what we really want out of social media is to share or start something that gets conversation going amongst our community and gets people talking back to us. Brands should recognise this and realise that their role isn't always in the conversational part, but in the stage that actually starts a conversation. So while we may not want to talk to brands about what's happened in our day, or what we thought about xyz, we do want the latest thing that they've developed, that is going to entertain us and give us something to talk about. So while many brands approach to social media is purely competition based - offering a great prize and a fancy app around it - this only reaches a certain portion of your potential community. Instead creating something, whether it's an app, video or microsite that people can actually use and that will entertain them is going to be far more valuable. This comes down to one of the most important aspects of brands using social media - to give their users something that they can't get anywhere else. We can get a conversation from any number of friends, but we can't build apps or make videos ourselves that are going to wow us and and our communities. Many brands are recognising this and creating enviable experiences for their communities that hopefully get shared, and allows your brand to spread through social technologies.