Social Media for Brand Marketers: Still in Experimental Mode

The massive popularity of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter has compelled brand marketers to integrate them into their marketing initatives pronto. But when everyone is an admitted rookie in this game, how do you decide on the best ways to leverage these social media tools for your marketing efforts? 

This was a key question for marketers who participated in a social media panel discussion at the CMO Leadership Forum in midtown Manhattan. But as Matt Goddard, co-founder and CEO of R2integrated, an Internet marketing agency, pointed out, there are four things marketers can count on doing right now with social media:

  • Leverage it to do market research by listening to your customers;
  • Use social media to reach an already existing community;
  • Engage other communities and bring them into your community; and
  • Leverage the sharing power of social media to accelerate your message.

"Look at social media as a framework for developing a strategy," added Goddard. Don't launch a Facebook campaign simply because it's a hot tool. Know why you're using it and for what purpose.

Jeffrey Ajluni, director of marketing and business development for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said his organization launched a Facebook account last year to create a platform where fans could engage freely with one another in a mostly unmonitored environment. However, the Facebook page is not solely for the fans' benefit. "Whenever fans come on, we're gathering their data and measuring who our fan base is, how it's growing and who we need to focus on," said Ajluni.

William H. Lunderman, VP of global strategic brand design for Colgate-Palmolive Co., said that because his company has been around for a long time, it has a counterintuitive approach compared with other brands when it comes to leveraging social media for marketing initiatives. "We try not to let consumers know that we're involved in social media," he said. "We want them to think they're the ones who are chatting and talking about different products."

Colgate-Palmolive's "stealth strategy" vis-à-vis social media was a critical best practice when it came to launching a new product, Colgate Wisp, a mini toothbrush that was launched last year. "The target audience was younger and not your typical Colgate audience," said Lunderman, who stopped short of describing the actual "stealth" social media tactics his company used to promote the Wisp. "We took this to the consumer and didn't invest a lot of dollars. We wanted to know about viral marketing. The idea was to try to appeal to the consumer in a different way—not just for the product, but for our company. If there is a Facebook account, it truly belongs to the consumers, not to Colgate-Palmolive."

And apparently Colgate's relatively low-cost, clandestine social media/viral marketing strategizing had a positive impact on the bottom line: According to Lunderman, the Wisp generated an "impressive" $44 million in sales after only seven months in the marketplace.

But even with that kind of ROI, social media is still a largely unproven proposition for marketers. "We still don't know what the hell we're doing with social media," said Ajluni. "I don't think anyone does."