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Battle of social media

23 сентября 2009

Every day, legions of new websites appear, each competing for eyeballs and dollars. This presents an acute problem for companies. As consumers are presented with a vast array of online campaigns vying for their attention, businesses are grappling with the best way to target and engage them.

Many are increasingly adopting an aggressive web-based strategy around sub-branding. Rather than plaster the internet with, say, glossy blue-and-white logos, Ford, the motor company, is creating online communities for each of its vehicle lines.

While the platforms for these communities vary, they have one thing in common: they are not based on the company’s website. Instead, marketing executives are creating hubs for sub-brands on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Ning.

Such a strategy works best for large companies with diverse product lines, according to Scott Monty, Ford’s director of social media. He uses social networks to promote Ford’s sub-brands, including the Fiesta, the Mustang and the Ford Drive Green promotional campaign. “The Ford Fusion Hybrid page speaks to a different audience than the Mustang page,” says Mr Monty.

‘There’s so much noise in the marketplace, you need to get into narrowcasting’

Jason Rosenthal, senior vice-president of business operations of Ning

He maintains multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts for each sub-brand, often updating them several times a day and interacting with hundreds of fans and customers in a week. “It’s an opportunity to share specific content with them and to get their private opinions,” says Mr Monty. “It’s like an advisory board.”

He is most active on Facebook, the largest social network. Each of his Ford sub-brands has a Facebook page with a vanity URL, such as Facebook.com/fordfusion. For each community, Mr Monty posts pictures, videos and links, each of which attracts dozens of comments from fans of the product.

Promoting sub-brands through social media is proving successful for two reasons. First, the companies are reaching consumers where they already are, as opposed to taking them to an external site. Second, by presenting the opportunity to opt in to a community, the companies are reaching brand evangelists – consumers who are already passionate about a product and want to interact with the company and other fans.

“Most sub-brands have existing websites but they’re often built for e-commerce or information rather than enabling customer communication,” says Sean Corcoran, a social media marketing analyst with Forrester Research. “Social tools give brand advocates a place to share with other customers – it’s word of mouth amplified and it lives for long periods of time for other customers to see.”

On Ning, companies are creating self-contained social networks for sub-brands that inspire particularly loyal fans. They can customise the look and feel of their page, and add a range of applications to promote products and interact with members of their network.

Businesses’ use of Ning is prompting the social media site to adapt to their needs, says Jason Rosenthal, senior vice-president of business operations. “We’re evolving rapidly around how we are thinking of brands,” he says. “There’s so much noise in the marketplace, you really need to get into this narrowcasting approach where you’re getting people involved in a narrow product that they love rather than an umbrella company.”

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the lifestyle media company, recently launched a Ning page for its “Dreamers Into Doers” brand. The competition last year took on a life of its own when contestants and fans connected with each other to discuss entrepreneurship on Facebook and online forums. The company had not had any plans to continue the discussion and had been caught off-guard by the viewers’ enthusiasm.

So this year, the company seized the initiative itself, rather than leave it to the fans, and developed a strategy to keep the sub-brand alive well beyond the end of the competition. Rather than cultivate a community for a few months, then leave them hanging as it had done the previous year, Martha Stewart sought to keep this newly energised audience engaged. Its Ning page has a modest 3,000 or so fans, but they are more active than those on Facebook or Twitter. Every day, fans upload content of their own, participate in forums and communicate with the company.

Dell, the world’s second-largest personal computer maker, also uses social media – and Twitter in particular – to reach different business segments. It has one Twitter account for home sales in Mexico, and another for laptop users who travel a lot. The company uses the various accounts to send out targeted announcements, publicise promotions and interact with customers.

Brands also use Twitter to track mentions of each sub-brand. When a Twitter user mentions the product, social media representatives follow them and reach out with an invitation to follow the sub-brand account.

“It makes sense to see brands leveraging a wide range of social media tactics for their sub-brands since the audiences are often different and, therefore, use social media in different ways,” says Mr Corcoran.

“A lot of marketers just want to start using Facebook or Twitter right away without thinking about how. But understanding your audience and setting objectives are crucial for success in this space.”

By David Gelles

Источник: Financial Times

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