People can be a little like magpies. They’re often attracted to shiny new things and, before you know it, are diving towards them without thinking.
This somewhat abstract analogy makes sense to me when I think about the evolution of social media and its role in business. During 2011 I spoke with hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses about their marketing, customer and growth challenges and I’ve concluded that social media is still a shiny, new thing for most.
It’s free (or close to it), takes little time to activate and in most cases is simple and easy to use. Oh, and in many cases your customers are probably already using it. But surely, that’s not enough of a justification to ‘be’ on social media as a business?
In late 2011 we conducted the inaugural wave of the new Social Media Benchmark – our definitive guide to how businesses are grappling with, adapting to and getting value from social media. On 15 February we’re launching the results and findings, and we’ll reveal that my magpie analogy isn’t as tenuous a link as you might think:
- Almost one third of UK businesses using social media are still just experimenting
- Only 6% of businesses say they have the optimal skills to leverage and manage social media effectively in 2012
- On average, less than 15% of UK businesses say their social media activities have been effective over the last 12 months
Add to this a somewhat shaky use of social media metrics, and it’s no surprise to me that barely a quarter of UK marketers feel that senior management understand why their business is investing in social media.
So what do I mean when I talk about ‘growing up’ in 2012?
Well, over the last few weeks we’ve been filming interviews with a range of senior marketing and communications leaders, discussing challenges and opportunities in social media this year – businesses such as Psion, Financial Times, Arsenal FC, LinkedIn, YouTube, to name a few. Many of our interviewees have discussed the issue of ‘maturity’ with us, and it’s a theme which has resonated with me.
Consider the context we’re all facing: in times of economic turbulence, budgets face ever-greater scrutiny and senior management apply a laser-like focus to metrics and ROI. If leaders don’t understand the role and value of social media, will this not create tensions and perhaps affect investment decisions for the wrong reasons?
In short, the time for experimentation is over. Social media adoption by consumers is reaching saturation and businesses are broadly past the tipping point also. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter now all have established UK and European operations and are investing in providing education and guidance in the same way our forefathers did with radio, television and the origins of the internet.
I predict that 2012 will be the year that social stops being a bolt-on… that marketers move away from what some see as a distraction and instead embed these new channels at the heart of how we go to market and engage our customers, consumers and other stakeholders.
If nothing else, I believe we need to establish clarity around the purpose of social media, the role it plays in driving or supporting growth, and the best route to measure it. Add to this recipe a little internal education and engagement, and we might just move the perceptions of social media from ‘fad’ to ‘fundamental’ and really begin to drive value from these tools.
Social Media Benchmark – Microsoft’s Allister Frost on culture
I recently interviewed Allister Frost, Microsoft’s Head of Digital Marketing Strategy, and he shared his thoughts on this very issue. Take a look at the video below – and you can also find out more about the research and see more interviews at www.smbenchmark.com or follow the debate on twitter by searching #smbenchmark.
This article is written by Thomas Brown. Thomas is Head of Insights for The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), where he leads the development of world-class research, knowledge and insight into critical marketing, sales and business issues – although any opinions in the above article are his own. Thomas is presenting results and key findings from the first wave of CIM’s new Social Media Benchmark on 15 February.