Making Social Media Matter: Top Strategies For Meaningful Connections

BY Fast Company Expert Blogger Michael Lazerow

(This blog is written by a member of Fast Company’s expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.)

How do you fuel connections that matter? Every day we see the ability of social media to power connections between brands and consumers. And if you work in digital or social marketing, PR, or advertising at a brand or agency, chances are you’re constantly trying to figure out where your brand or clients fit in. To help connect the dots, Buddy Media and Booz & Company recently released a research report titled “Campaigns to Capabilities: Social Media & Marketing 2011.”

The research report reveals insights into how leading companies are transforming from social campaigns to enterprise marketing capabilities, in an effort to successfully incorporate social media into the mix.

Here are some of the biggest highlights and insights from the report:

The data says: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the top three preferred social media platforms for brands to utilize.

What it means: With 850 million users, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that 94% of respondents regard Facebook as one of their top 3 social media platform priorities. Twitter comes close in 2nd place with 77%, while YouTube came in at #3 with 42%.

This information does not denigrate the functionality and utility of other social media platforms, including blogs, company-owned platforms and location-based social media. Facebook, Twitter–and to a lesser extent–YouTube, however, are the clear favorites among respondents.

Does this mean you need to stay laser focused on the top three platforms and nothing else? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that large brands have come to an unspoken consensus for a reason: this is where their consumers play and where they need to be. It also indicates, however, that there is room for brands to shine using other platforms. For example, most TV networks turned their back on YouTube years ago in favor of their own embeddable widgets. It worked because they had the content and an eager audience.

The data says: Community management and content creation is a top priority for companies.

What it means: Things change, platforms change, inertia will likely change, but one thing remains the same: content is king. Companies are looking to bulk up on content creators and social media teams. Community management and creative talent already make up most of these teams, and 72% of companies plan to hire full-time creative talent in the future, while 59% plan to hire community managers. While 96% of respondents say they expect to be increasing their investments in capabilities related to social media, 57% are concentrating their efforts on hiring new people. Additionally, hiring full-time employees is the number one investment being made in social media, well above media buys and IT systems.

Companies recognize that while bells and whistles are fancy and flashy (as evidenced by a high percentage of investment in services provided by partners), ultimately, consumers want to engage with unique and interesting content. It’s the reason companies care so much about metrics for engagement and participation, and why tangible results such as ‘likes,” and “retweets” are so valuable to social media community managers. Software and products can provide a good-looking vehicle to deliver the content, but ultimately, community managers and creative talent create the content. Companies see the logic behind this and are hiring accordingly.

The data says: Social media now grabs the attention of executives and lands on the agenda of a number of CEOs.

What it means: Social media is no longer a trend. And while 81% of respondents said that the marketing department is responsible for social media, more than one-third of companies interviewed have a senior executive who is responsible for social media company-wide.  And, interestingly, that number jumps several percentage points among those who consider themselves “best in class” or “strong.” This means that there’s a correlation between the perceived strength of a company in the social media realm and the structure of that company’s social media team. Even more impressive is the percentage of CEOs who have social media on their agenda – nearly 40%. Which in the simplest of terms means we’ve made it, folks.

The data says: Advertising, PR, and customer service are where companies are capturing the greatest benefits from social media.

What it means: The primary use–96% to be exact–of social media platforms is advertising and promotion, followed by PR (88%), and customer service (75%), but there are a number of emerging uses. Additionally, social media’s benefits span a spectrum ranging from brand awareness (90%), customer insights (81%), interactivity (89%) to tangible sales leads.

There is no single formula for brands to utilize social media. Each company has its own objectives and goals, and social media’s flexibility allows companies to utilize these platforms in a way that best suits the individual brand.

Additionally, companies are finding value in a large number of areas. Some benefits are tangible to the bottom line while most value is placed in the upper stages of the purchase funnel. The benefits claimed by the greatest number of companies include brand building, interactivity and consumer insights, but numerous companies cited speed of execution, lower cost and the ability to generate sales and leads as benefits of social media.

I encourage you to download the full report and let us know your thoughts.

Michael is currently Chairman and CEO of Buddy Media, Inc., a New York-based company. Buddy Media is the social software solution of choice for eight out of the top ten global advertisers. Michael is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded four successful internet-based media companies. He has a passion for creating, managing and growing companies from the ground up.