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A Holistic Approach to Social Media Marketing: Part 1

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In this first of a series of articles on a holistic approach to social media marketing, Raj Anand provides an overview of why social media are only channels of communication and why they require a wider board-level strategy to be successful.
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Social media have seen a phenomenal growth in interest and expenditure from brands. According to research conducted by King Fish Media and Hubspot, 72 percent of companies in the first half of 2010 had a social media strategy; and out of the remaining group, 80 percent will have one in the following 12 months.

In November 2010, Facebook revealed that out of 500 million registered unique users, 350 million use the messaging (inbox) feature, with more than 4 billion messages sent everyday.

The adoption of the Facebook messaging system has the potential to become an email killer because the uptake for the messaging tool is already more than Gmail's 193.3 million and Yahoo mail's 273.1 million users—as reported by comScore. These two statistics reveal that social media might replace other forms of digital marketing like email to interact with customers.

Brands are already using social media for a variety of purposes. For example, many Fast Moving Customer Goods (FMCG) brands are using social media to launch their products or brands and gain market share. Skittles, Pringles, Cadbury, and many other household names have adopted social media to launch new products or marketing campaigns.

Many companies, such as Starbucks via MyStarbucksIdea.com and Zappos via Twitter, have also used social media to recruit, get feedback, and get product ideas.

Zappos, which is a shopping website for shoes, was recently sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion based on the forward-thinking customer interaction strategy deployed by its CEO. Companies such as Ikea and IBM have also used social media to streamline and increase internal communication.

Based on these applications, it is fair to say that using social media has several advantages for a business in building value and reducing costs.

Most social media case studies we hear showcase their success in isolation, without explaining the interaction with other factors within the company.

It would appear on going through successful social media campaigns that social media are solely responsible for the success of a campaign. Although in reality social media are just channels of communication, they are effective when used in combination with other digital and non-digital platforms.

The most important aspect of social media is the underlying strategy and decisions of stakeholders who plan the complete approach to solve a problem.

Case Study of MyStarbucksIdea.com

MyStarbucksIdea.com is Starbucks's first—and one of the most successful—social media campaigns. The website allows customers to suggest improvements to the Starbucks coffee experience.

Launched in March 2008, the site just announced the 100,000th idea submitted by a customer in November 2010. The site is dynamic with customers posting one new idea on average every hour, ranging from new product suggestions about technology to techniques to improve the coffee beans.

At first sight, it might appear that social media were the drivers for the success of this campaign, although the forward-thinking nature of the Starbucks board and a cross-channel marketing approach via in-store, website, and other channels of marketing cannot be overlooked for adoption of the website. Starbucks' 2009 annual report states "The Company expects to use its cash…to invest in its core businesses, including new beverage and product innovations."

It is this investment, which was partially used in developing a social media channel via the sales force's force.com, that was used to develop mystartbucksidea.com.

In reality, Starbucks's innovation has nothing to do with technology; it is entirely based on Starbucks's laser-like focus on customer needs. The company opened its mind to a multiplatform approach that includes in-store, website, and other areas where the company has contact with customers.

Social media took off because they provide one space to collate all the ideas (unlike in-store campaigns, which were geographically distributed). This wouldn't have been possible without the company making a conscious effort to start listening and getting feedback from customers. Social media just accelerated and showcased this strategy better than the other initiatives.

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