Talk to the Brand: Keys to a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

This post was written as part of a research blogging assignment for Stanford’s Networked Rhetorics class.  For more about this assignment, click here.

The astounding growth in the popularity of social media has made it easier than ever before to spread information through word of mouth, and businesses have begun to take advantage of this to improve their marketing campaigns. However, not all companies have been successful in adopting a social media marketing (SMM) strategy. For my writing and rhetoric class here at Stanford University, I am investigating the impact social media has had on corporate marketing strategies, as well as the keys to a successful SMM strategy. What differences in strategy are there between companies with a strong social media presence and those without one? What social media applications are most effective for marketing purposes, and what qualities make them effective? Can social media marketing ever hope to replace more traditional forms of marketing?

One interesting article I’ve come across is titled, “How do the most successful companies use social media?” by Nora Ganim Barnes. For the past three years, the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, led by Barnes, has conducted a study on the use of social media by Inc. 500 companies (the Inc. 500 ranks the top 500 U.S. private corporations by revenue growth). Through interviews with chief marketing officers or other marketing professionals at many of these companies, the Center has tracked the rapid growth of the use of social media at the fastest growing corporations in the United States.

The results show that more and more companies are recognizing the importance of social media in their marketing strategies. 43% of the 2009 Inc. 500 reported that social media was “very important” to their business/marketing strategy, as compared to just 26% in 2007. Also, more and more companies are willing to give social media a try. 91% of Inc. 500 companies are now using at least one social media tool, up from 77% percent in 2008.

The social media tools of choice are also changing. Use of social networking and blogs is up, while use of message boards, online video, wikis, and podcasts has leveled off or declined. The Center for Marketing Research chose to add Twitter to the study in 2009, and already, 52% of Inc. 500 companies are using it for their businesses.

Overall, this study has reinforced my belief that social media is becoming an essential part of any successful company’s marketing strategy. It has also pointed me towards social networking and blogs/microblogs as being the most effective forms of social media. I hope to use the knowledge gained from this study and other research sources to pinpoint the keys to a successful social media marketing strategy.

Christopher Sung, Stanford University

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5 Responses to Talk to the Brand: Keys to a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

  1. Hi Chris,

    I think your topic is really relevant, especially as social networking becomes an increasingly important part of our lives. It’s clear you’ve done some research already, and the numbers seem to support your argument. I think that it may also be useful to look into social media marketing platforms, like Facebook Beacon (which failed) and AdMobs (which is now the leading mobile advertisement platform). These platforms are perhaps more ubiquitous than links to Twitter accounts or Facebook, but they can help the companies reach out to a wider audience. It would also be interesting to see whether companies that do end up using a generic advertising platform perform worse than those who maintain an active Facebook, Twitter, or blog account.

    Keep me updated!

    Frank

  2. Jake Smith says:

    One aspect of your post that isn’t clear is how these companies are using online social media to market their services and products. You specified during your presentation, but I don’t believe it’s as apparent here. These companies could be using social media to create their own profiles, and engage with customers on the same level. They could be taking advantage of the growing popularity of social media sites and placing highly viewed advertisements on these sites. Or, they could just be using social media sites as a marketing research tool to gather data about customers.

    Do you have access to the list of Inc. 500 companies? You could compare the social media strategies of the number one company with the number 500 company and so on and see what role it has played in their success. You could also try to see if social media could be an effective tool for all kinds of companies, or if it’s more successful for companies with a particular customer base, a specific kind of product or service.

  3. Emily says:

    Hi Chris,

    Every time I hear more about your research project I’m intrigued. One question that keeps coming to mind for me is, how are different social media tools used differently? It’s probably true that some tools are more effective for marketing than others, but might it also be possible that they fill completely different niches? It would be interesting to see how much overlap exists between followers of a brand’s blog and its twitter feed – have you found any sources that address this?

    Another thing that would be interesting to look at is how brands with more “old-fashioned” reputations have coped with this new need for social media tools. It’s easy for “youthful”, “modern” brands to incorporate twitter into their marketing strategies – it seems natural. But how did brands like The New York Times (with a reputation for being sort of untouchable) find success with social media marketing? Are their strategies different from those of “younger” brands?

    I did find a blog post that includes two presentations given at The New York Times explaining the purpose of twitter. Sadly, all the juicy stuff’s been removed from the presentations – as in, “what the Times might actually do with Twitter” – but it’s still interesting to see what was deemed important/relevant when explaining new technology to an old brand.

    Link: http://mediamemo.allthingsd.com/20090127/the-new-york-times-explains-twitterto-the-new-york-times/

  4. christinealfano says:

    Your statistics are very compelling — and I like the way that you are narrowing your focus to social networking and blogs/microblogs as a point of interest.

    A question that occurs to me: are you a “fan” of stores on facebook or do you follow any stores on twitter? There seems to be a fundamental difference to SELECTING to be a a fan/follower, and the traditional model of advertisement which is a relatively indiscriminate broadcasting of information. It might be interesting to contact a local company that employs facebook (or twitter in this way) and interview someone about if they’ve seen a noticeable increase in sales or customer loyalty since they instituted that practice.

  5. Mollie says:

    Chris,
    I’m interested to hear how your work turns out. I think this is a great topic that is important for companies to understand to stay competitive in the day to day market. I wonder if it would be helpful to tie in historical examples of how marketing has adapted to utilize technological advances. For example I know the radio became important for political campaigns, but how did it affect the marketing world? Other ideas that comes to mind that may be more related to your paper is the internet itself. Just some thoughts, good luck with your work!

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