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Social Media Helps Companies Be ‘HAPI’

HAPIWould it be fair to say that we are experiencing a major shift from traditional advertising methods? From television, radio and traditional publications, brand and content is expressed to the consumer in one direction. Modern and emerging media provide a more interactive, involved and engaging experience through a bi-directional channel. This is at least the case for the young, connected, and digital savvy generation who are becoming harder to penetrate through traditional advertising for a variety of reasons. These range from physical and technology factors including email and spam filters, connected communities such as Facebook, mySpace, browser pop up blockers, on-demand TV filters such as TiVo and voicemail to text services such as SpinVox, it seems the only way to connect with your audience is to join them in their space on their terms.

This is what I like to call The HAPI Strategy – The Human Application Programming Interface (API) – where companies implement people focused strategies to integrate with their customers, partners via an employee engagement framework that build engaging, relevant and useful relationships through reviews, opinions and recommendations. After all, it is this medium that will build greater trust in a brand and in turn, improve a company’s reputation and services. It is no longer what you are being told by marketers that resonate, but what peers are recommending or reviewing on your behalf.

Measuring Success of the Social Marketplace

Just look at successful marketplace sites such as eBay, Amazon, www.Dellideastorm.com or Zopa (social lending) or sites such as Digg.com, LinkedIn, Trip Advisor and Yelp, where the main drivers behind their continued ascendancy are reviews, opinions and recommendations by a connected community who pride themselves on credibility and reputation by being engaged – What is the value of this engagement? How do we measure this? And ultimately what is the ROI of creating such a social marketplace. The question remains; how do you drive the value of engagement and how is this impacting your business and reputation online?

Lord Leverhulme, the soap powder magnate, once famously said: “I know 50% of my advertising budget is wasted – I just don’t know which half”. This was of course in the context of traditional TV advertising. In contrast, today we have the benefit of digital content and interactive media which allows us to measure customer engagement in real time through analytics, digital footprints and online monitoring – making it, in theory at least, possible to measure 100% of spend accurately although I challenge any online business to actually be dedicated to making this happen. However, there is a continued frustration with traditional web analytics, in that the measurements employed define success via traditional click-based and time-based metrics, instead of genuine engagement and influence based metrics. We probably need to see an evolution into Social CRM solutions providing analysis on real engagement.

Be Engaged with Your Customers Where it Matters

Engagement is a holistic characterisation of a consumer’s behaviour, incorporating more detailed behavioural characteristics such as loyalty, satisfaction, involvement, word of mouth promotion and complaints, but very few businesses or organisations are measuring this let alone actually integrating it into any of their digital marketing strategies when building a social marketplace.

The days when a customer’s only touch point with a brand was the URL of a website are well and truly over. Now it is increasingly important to have knowledge of how your customers have interacted with your brand. Who has subscribed to your news RSS feed and product offers, downloaded a podcast from your website, reviewed your book or product on Amazon and eBay, downloaded a news or product widget and blogged or commented about your product or brand, while sharing this with friends and family through facebook, or MySpace. This new shift in consumer behaviour enables people to engage with your brand, which allows them to collectively shape and influence your reputation. It is this that requires monitoring and understanding in the new social marketplace.

[Next: How to Flourish with the Social Marketplace]

Tough Times Call for Innovation and New ways of Communicating

We must also start to consider that as we face one of the toughest economical times in our lifetime, any competitive advantage or social marketing strategy must include an engagement framework that allows businesses to filter through the noise and focus on the important digital influencers that are either positively or negatively impacting reputation or success in the connected world. In times like these it’s increasingly important to be engaged with your customers by working smarter to maintain an ongoing relationship – it’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than to attract new ones as many CEOs and business development executives always tell us.

Flourish with the Social Marketplace

Social Marketplaces and the strategies that guide them are developed by organisations to gain trust from customers, prospects, and partners. Closing the gap between business objectives for customer satisfaction and customers’ actual experiences and perceptions requires metrics that account for engagement and influence. Analytics, digital footprints, and online monitoring are part of the benefits of investing in digital content and interactive media. ROI that is customer-centric must become part of measuring the opportunity, satisfaction, and loyalty the Social Marketplace allows. Converting awareness, engagement, and online interaction into leads and pipeline is a core objective. As online relationships bloom into a new phase of online interactivity, customers and prospects will share information, seek feedback, and create content pertinent to the business cycle.

Organisations that see the value of Web and mobile interaction with their external stakeholders can preserve market share, accelerate pipelines, cultivate customer loyalty, and reduce the costs of frontline customer service. Customer engagement and proactive peer-to-peer support and recommendations; development and solidification of communication and recommendation channels; ability to spot and react to new opportunities for markets and prospecting; and community engagement with your brand to build loyalty and customer commitment—these are the fundamental values the Social Marketplace delivers to business. The Human API or HAPI strategy is what I believe to be the most powerful form of social business.

Spot Opportunities in Unexpected Places

The rise of personal and consumer social networking sites provides opportunity for people to converse, collaborate, and discuss a range of topics, interests, and preferences. Word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted peer networks carry a heavy weight when consumers or businesses are looking to invest time and money in products or services. Capitalizing on this peer-to-peer interaction and providing timely education to prospects is impossible and risky without becoming fluent the conversation of the Web.

Exploring new online pockets of prospects and targeted audience can be a tremendous competitive advantage for the organisation willing to extend its Social Marketplace to where interested and informed people congregate. Understanding the online landscape of personal and professional networking sites, use of social media communication tools, involvement in association or industry discussion rooms (taking one’s products, services, and brand to the online worlds in which their audience resides can uncover unexpected benefits) and risks. The Social Marketplace—even as it moves into the less moderated open Web—succeeds only when authenticity underpins the development of this extended trusted network. Ensuring prevention of unauthorised disclosure and consistency of message and brand with Social Compliance mitigates the risk of inappropriate communication or inaccurate representation to new markets and prospects.

Giving some serious thought to planning how to measure your reputation and success through a social marketplace based on measuring Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence is a fundamental step towards developing a HAPI Strategy has engaged with your visitors will be a huge leap forward for digital marketers. If this all seems to make sense, then why not turn your business into a social marketplace where being engaged through customer networks will bring success in the modern web.

Article originally authored by Craig Hepburn, Director of Social Media Strategy, Open Text.

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Cuneyt Uysal

Cuneyt Uysal

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