Social media caught the world's attention during a recession, which is perhaps why some brands still make the mistake of considering it the "budget" option rather than investing in quality, as they would with their above-the-line media.


However, there's no doubt that social media now plays a significant part in the lives of consumers. Our adoption of social media and the volume of data it offers bring brands closer than ever to their consumers. But few have been bold enough to convert this opportunity.

In its infancy, social media was a broadcast tool for brands. They used their pages to talk about themselves and every comment ended up looking like a short press release. Chief executives were focused purely on fan acquisition, with little thought as to why people were following their brand, who they were or what to do with them.

Then came the childhood years. Brands decided to entertain the fans they had accumulated. The battle moved from acquisition to engagement, and "likes" took over from fan numbers. Content strategies sought "likes" for the sake of it and still no-one asked: "Now we've got these people engaged - what are we going to do with them?"

Ever since Oreo wowed the world with one standout post in its "daily twist" campaign, brands have been asking their agencies for "an Oreo moment". However, results have not been so impressive for the hundreds of copycats. A bit like microwaving pizza - it's never going to taste as good as the real thing.

Focusing on sporadic bursts of activity is missing social media's greatest opportunity - building mutually beneficial long-term relationships with your audience. There's nothing wrong with trying to entertain the masses, but it's a means to an end, not the end itself.

This brings us to the new age of social media - the value exchange. Social has grown up. Bold brands are starting to realise that they need to go beyond content calendars, offer something new and decide what to do with the fans they have been aimlessly collecting and amusing.

When money is tight, consumers are even more aware of marketing tactics. They demand more from brands and they are vocal when they don't like what they get. The focus for social strategies needs to shift to delivering long-term value for audiences. Brands need to find their social value proposition.

Creating your SVP forces you to answer a simple question: when it comes to your social media, what's in it for consumers? People need a reason to follow your brand - you need to create something they can't find anywhere else. Most people don't follow products on social media, but they might follow a brand with values.

Your SVP also needs to link back to your business objectives. Getting the most followers or the most "likes" just doesn't cut it any more. As new measurement tools are created, we will start seeing the true impact of social media on core brand metrics - most importantly on sales. Understanding your audience's needs, interests, fears, motivations and social behaviour will help you find your brand's SVP and bring it to life.

Until you define your SVP, you will continue to appeal to only those who already love your brand. So be brave. Start investing in smart, authentic work that delivers value and makes a difference in your customers' lives. The opportunity is there for forward-thinking brands to own this new era of social media marketing.

Jerome Courtial, head of strategy, We Are Social

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Applied Thinking 2013