When Facebook (News - Alert) first launched back in 2004, nobody could have imagined it would grow to more than 1.5 billion active users today, driving the emergence of an entire social media industry. But, despite its massive growth, social media as a business tool remains segmented at best, and largely misunderstood.
We’ve witnessed two passing stages of social media utilization among businesses. In its early days, it was something of a novelty, as people were somewhat entertained by and found it fun to tweet or post comments to their social media sites. But it didn’t really create much of a business benefit because no one had really understood how to fully leverage social conversation. In stage two, largely driven by some early proponents in the vendor community, businesses began to realize social media could have real benefits, allowing them to listen to what customers say about their brands and products. But a full understanding of what to do with that information was elusive.
I had a chance to catch up with Livefyre’s CMO Dave Scott recently, during TMC’s (News - Alert) Editor’s Days in Santa Clara, who is understandably excited about the current third stage of social media and the potential it brings as a customer engagement tool – after all, that’s what LiveFyre is all about.
“Social media is here to stay – five years I probably wouldn’t have agreed with that, but I’m really excited about what’s happening today,” he says. “What I really like is it’s really become pervasive as a real part of the marketing mix.”
How much consumers have ever really trusted brand marketing could certainly be questioned, but the simple fact is there was little choice. There was word of mouth, but that has traditionally been limited to an intimate circle of friends and family. When a restaurant boasted it has the best ribs in the state, or an athletic footwear brand claimed to have the most comfortable soccer shoes available, unless they knew someone who could either confirm or refute the claims, customers were left to decide on their own how much weight the claims carried.
Social media, however, has brought about a democratization of brands, in that today, customers trust pure marketing claims less than ever, because they have access to social feedback sources – not only Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, among others, but also specialized apps, like Yelp (News - Alert) and Trip Advisor. Today, instead of being on their own to create brand identities, companies must co-create their brands by augmenting their internal efforts with sentiment from customers, fans, and even detractors, to create a complete brand image.
For instance, the restaurant might find pictures posted by customers talking about the fantastic rack of ribs they are about to devour, or an ecstatic soccer player boasting about the game-winning goal he scored with his new cleats. It may be identical messaging, but the source – real customers – carries much higher weight, and there are some two billion pieces of social content being posted every day.
“All that user generated content represents moments in time that brands can’t manufacture,” explains Scott. “These are great authentic moments that are being produced every single day – what amazing content to harness
Historically, many brands have struggled to integrate social media into their marketing campaigns for fear of negative feedback. Scott notes, however, that Livefyre’s research shows clearly that the majority of social commentary is overwhelmingly positive, and it’s just a matter of brands learning how to amplify that user-generated messaging.
Content marketing has become a major buzzword. The reality, though, is that so much of the content that can help brands build their identities is user-generated, and smart companies are finding ways to leverage that content, such as building social media walls into their websites. The irony is that social media shouldn’t require specialized training or skills – at its core, social media is the modern version of word of mouth, the oldest form of marketing.
What does help, though, is software to help collect and organize the social data in a way that makes it easy to integrate them into marketing agendas – and that is Livefyre’s specialty.
“Our tool allows companies to sort all those authentic moments, to republish them across different marketing vehicles, amplifying those great stories that help build brand,” says Scott. “It helps fill out your content marketing strategy, and it does it all with the voice of the customers themselves.”
Be sure to check out all the video interviews from our Santa Clara experience at www.tmcnet.com/tmc/videos (click the Editors Day Santa Clara 2015 link in the left margin).