There remain some significant challenges for brands, such as control and ROI, before they invest more heavily in social media, according to new research from the Internet Advertising Bureau – the trade association for digital advertising and ISBA, the Voice of British Advertisers.
In order to address these concerns, the two trade bodies have forged a partnership to help brands bring more sense to their social media strategies.
The IAB conducted an open-ended, anonymous survey with around 50 ISBA members to identify the real barriers for marketers in the UK in terms of investment in social media.
The results will help shape the programmes of both trade bodies to help educate marketers about where the opportunities lie, and how these challenges can be addressed.
In terms of general usage, the most popular use of social media amongst ISBA members was found to be as a PR tool to reach bloggers and online influencers (69%) with the second most popular use was to extend brand websites via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter (63%). Over half (52%) were using social media as a research tool to find out what people are saying about their product or service. At the other end of the scale, still only around a third of respondents (30%) are using social media to perform a customer service function.
The qualitative part of the study found the five biggest challenges for brands in social media were:
• Monitoring and control: Many brands felt that once they invited consumer interaction, that the risk of ‘losing control’ of conversations was too much of a risk, particularly in the absence of any ‘rulebook’ to show how to deal with this effectively. With a number of monitoring tools currently on the market, respondents felt the need for greater reassurance about what conversations to listen to online, and how to respond.
• Measurement and ROI: Whilst social media has been proven to shift key brand metrics such as advocacy and appreciation, for a number of brands there remains a need for more robust sales or conversion numbers to further convince senior management of its effectiveness. ROI was found to be a clear concern, and whilst the IAB social media measurement framework is a useful step in making sense of the number of KPIs available, further work is still needed to show how social media activity can impact upon the bottom line.
• Policy and regulation: Brands were asked if they already had a social media policy in place, with some 31% of respondents stating that they did not. A further 14% were unsure whether their organisation boasted a social media policy, suggesting a real need for greater recognition within client organisations of the legal considerations within social media – both internally and externally. In addition, greater education regarding new developments in self-regulation was also cited as a real need from UK brands.
• Social media strategy: For those brands who feel ‘behind the curve’, there was a general uncertainty with regard to which elements of social media were right for them, and how to incorporate this within the overall strategy. For some, areas such as setting objectives and briefing social media were also found to require more guidance.
• Where social media sits within organisations: Brand respondents acknowledged the wide range of skillsets required for social media activity, but many were unsure of which department should be driving activity – for example PR, marketing, customer service or within ‘brand’ teams. Often it became the role of a ‘social media evangelist’ internally, or different departments were both working on social media, without activity being completely joined up.
The IAB and ISBA are planning to work closely together, via combined events, presentations and focus groups to educate their members about the opportunities available within social media, as well as pointing out some of the pitfalls. ISBA is working on a top tips guide to Social media – covering the meanings of social and how to develop a solid strategy – which is due to launch before Christmas 2010.
Amy Kean, head of the IAB social media council said: “For the IAB, the evangelism stage of our support for the social media industry is very much over, and now is the time to take real steps to address the concerns that brands have about entering this space. Real work is required, by us in partnership with ISBA, to reassure advertisers about the results they can expect from social media activity, and how they can manage the risks.
“This survey of ISBA members has provided absolutely essential insights we have been waiting for to drive our programme of education and initiatives – our role is to set about addressing the challenges, whilst leaving the general promotion of social media to other areas of the industry.”
David Ellison, marketing services manager for ISBA said: ‘Social Media continues to both interest and concern our members, and the IAB/ISBA survey certainly captured their attention. The response to the survey proves that social media is high on the digital agenda and that there is a great deal of uncertainty, even as to whether brands feel they should get involved at all.
“The IAB’s Social Media Measurement Framework should – in the long term – provide our members with industry standard measurement to aggregate the hundreds of metrics currently available. Social Media will continue to be one of the major issues discussed at ISBA’s Digital Action Group next year.”
Alex Tait, Head of Digital Marketing at the Post Office and Chair of ISBA’s Digital Action Group, said: ”This study adds context to the IAB’s Social Media Framework, which was launched in July to help advertisers and agencies start to measure the success of their campaigns, as there are currently over 200 metrics available. Although the framework is very much work in progress, it marks the start of an attempt to establish an industry standard measurement for social media.”