Social media is fast becoming a mature marketing option for South African businesses. However, companies need to be wary of diving in head-first without professional assistance.
According to a 2014 report from market watchdog, World Wide Worx, South African social media use has skyrocketed.
Facebook jumped from 6.8 million local users a year ago to 9.4 million currently, while Twitter soared from 2.4 million users to 5.5 million over the same period. Other social sites and apps have also seen significant growth.
Clinton Muir, MD of Johannesburg-based digital marketing agency, Black Snow Digital, says that organisations should embrace social media to engage their market, build their brand, and promote their products and services.
“With social media,” reports Muir, “businesses of all sizes can enjoy tremendous online exposure and lead generation at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing. They can also create personalised customer experiences unlike anything available offline. And because responses can be measured in real time, they can curb spend on unprofitable campaigns at a moment’s notice and fund the winners instead.”
However, Muir sees a disturbing trend in social media marketing that could hurt the adoption of the platform as a viable alternative to traditional efforts.
Many major brands are opting to use an internal marketing team for social media. Only 16% employ the services of professional third parties.
“While it’s critical that organisations take a hands-on approach, “ says Muir, “it’s a mistake not to leverage the experience that digital agencies have gained from working daily in social media marketing since their inception.”
The need for specialist expertise can be deduced from the report’s findings that social media management and efficacy reporting is fairly unsophisticated in business.
- 83% of companies measure Twitter effectiveness by number of followers; only 48% conduct sentiment analysis
- 87% measure Facebook effectiveness by number of fans and 79% by number of posts and comments; only 54% analyse sentiment
- 91% agree that social media offers the potential for promoting their business
- Only 19% said they were getting as the desired value from social media
“What we’re seeing,“ says Muir, “is that most companies don’t have the know-how to exploit social media effectively, nor create a positive ROI against their social media spend. The result is that many companies who have delved into social media marketing in the past have been burned and some even pulled their social media budgets prematurely.
“This is unnecessary, and with the assistance of an experienced digital agency, highly unlikely.”
Further, 87% of Facebook users and 85% of Twitter users access these tools with their phones or tablets. Therefore, social media marketing complexity has been compounded by the emergence of mobile device as the main form of access in SA. The two marketing mediums can no longer be managed as separate entities.
“There’s more to social media marketing than posting Tweets and counting followers,” says Muir. “It requires specific technical and strategic management skills that most organisations do not have or cannot afford, and which can’t be gained through training alone.”
According to Muir, agencies like Black Snow Digital have much to offer businesses, large and small, by merit of their focus and experience in this specialised digital field.
Muir believes that companies underestimate the skills required to effectively manage their push into social media. “When a company needs a TV ad, they outsource the project because of the technical skills involved. With social media, the observable skills seem rudimentary so anyone can write or upload an image. This is not the case.”
However, there are dynamics to social media that cannot be ignored, including long-term reputation management and complex analytics that protect brand image, financial investment and market share. These underlying elements require a level of technical sophistication not easily acquired by employees managing social media in addition to other projects requiring different skill sets.
Companies will find themselves stuck with a trial-and-error experience that either works or falls flat. Digital agencies handle a wide range of projects across varying industries and bring new ideas to the table that can help companies reach their goals.
In terms of brand protection, Muir reports a blurring between personal and business etiquette, as evidenced by a common use of coarse language in online exchanges. “Social media is a very open platform where people less inhibited in their personal interactions. Unfortunately, some employees bring these bad habits to commercial social communications. So companies risk undermining their brand, as has been seen in the past.” Digital agencies give good PR and communication management practices the highest priority.
Companies also need to understand social metrics. “Again, it’s more than adding up ‘Likes’”, says Muir. “Anyone who has worked with tools like Google Analytics will know that there are a vast number of variables at play on the web that constantly impact one another. Social media is no different. Companies need the right reporting tools and a deep understanding of metrics to succeed. Digital marketers can offer guidance on both.”
Lastly, it’s important for companies to realise that social media does not exist in a vacuum. It must be managed as an integral component of a larger web-based strategy that includes websites, blogs, email marketing, mobility, photo sharing and much more.
According to Muir, “Agencies have a handle on the entire online landscape and the digital marketing mix. So they offer vital assistance to companies who are limited by the number of resources at their disposal and the fact that they must split their attention between multiple marketing concerns.
“Right now digital agencies are not only service providers but also change agents and enablers that can empower South African business to enjoy success with social media.”
Black Snow Digital works closely with its clients to design robust, integrated social media marketing strategies, to create innovative social and digital media assets, nurture brand awareness and reputation, develop online campaigns, manage interactions with followers, and provide appropriate metrics and analytics. They are experts in online technical, strategic, public relations and communications management.
Black Snow’s reputation as a digital maverick has been recognised since its inception in 2009. “Over the years,” reports Muir, “we’ve established ourselves as the go-to team for organisations who want better mileage from their digital marketing budget.”
“Most importantly, with the figures looking as they do, the question is not why to invest but how best to go about it. This is what makes Black Snow Digital such a valuable social media partner.”
About Black Snow Digital
Black Snow Digital was established in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2009 as a strategic digital marketing company. The agency has grown rapidly by helping clients develop innovative digital identities and brand strategies in the online space. It has formed many successful relationships with small, medium and large brands across South Africa. Black Snow Digital’s unique proposition is that social media is not part of a multi-service portfolio but a core competency to which the company devotes its energies entirely.