Before the advent of social media, reaching consumers was simple and broadcast. But with the rapid changes in communication, connecting with current and potential customers has never been so challenging. While consumers spend more time on social platforms than ever before, they are also becoming more easily distracted. It’s a tough environment for trying to build a brand.

Nowadays the majority of brands understand the need for developing a social practice, but each must make the decision about what role social media will play within the company.  There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this, and we often see businesses adopting one of two approaches.

The first is the thought that social media is just a channel, not a behavior. People are following a fad that will eventually end. Brands can use the channels to post information, but broadcast communication has and always will be the best solution.

On the other end of the spectrum sits the social die-hards who believe social media is the only strategy, that there’s no longer a role for traditional marketing practices. All efforts go to using technologies and emergent platforms regardless of the broader business ambitions.

The truth is neither is absolutely correct. There’s a middle ground. Yes, social media is a communications channel that deserves it’s own strategy, but beyond that it should be fully integrated in support of building the brand, reputation, and business in a socially-enabled world.

But developing this type of social practice is a process, an evolution we call the Social Growth Curve. Brands generally experience three distinct phases in their growth:

Disjointed – Emphasis is on channels, with small ideas that tend to be tactical, stunt-driven, or opportunistic. Activities are disjointed with enterprise customer service, sales, or CRM teams and platforms.

Attached – Social is often an afterthought, with ideas attached to social or social attached to ideas. While there is integration with the business it’s often in an ad hoc manner.

Assimilated – Impact of social media beyond social platforms is taken into consideration. Social has been considered throughout and assimilated with every step of the customer journey and brand planning.

While full assimilation is the aim, that does not mean that the early phases are wrong. Brands may not have a structure in place to support full integration. Or in some cases, even if a brand has developed to this phase, they may at times employ social media in a tactical manner or as an add-on depending on their needs at a point in time. The takeaway here is that social can, and should, be considered as having an integral role across all aspects of the business.

For years, people have debated the impact of social on business. This debate may continue, but it’s clear that brands are figuring it out and seeing real results. But it all starts with understanding how social media can support all aspects of the business. And it’s those companies that develop the understanding and apply it to their social practice whose brands, reputations, and businesses will thrive in our socially-enabled world.

 

By Thomas Crampton, Global Managing Director - Social@Ogilvy