How social media is removing the barriers between corporate and consumer brands

Integrating social media into brand marketing campaigns has shifted from a niche add-on to standard practice in a few short years, writes Cathal Smyth, managing director, The Group.

How social media is removing the barriers between corporate and consumer brands

There may be some debate about the value of a Facebook fan to Dove, Guinness or Next, but most marketers accept that digital relationship building for brands is now essential to sales and marketing.

It may surprise some to know, however, that consumers are of their own volition engaging with the corporate parents of these brands in their millions.

By the end of last year, companies listed in the FTSE100 attracted 14 million followers to their corporate Facebook pages and more than one million followers on Twitter.

FTSE100 company YouTube videos attracted almost 35 million views in the last six months of 2011 alone.

These findings are from the latest FTSE100 Social Media Index, a research programme that The Group has been running since 2009 and repeated every six months to monitor how FTSE100 companies use social media.

The audiences we’ve monitored over the main social media channels have increased massively over this period and reveal a fundamental truth about brand marketing and corporate communications: that in the minds of the consumer, they are indivisible.

People care whether a product is cool, works well, will make them happy and gives them peace of mind.

But people also care about where products come from, how they were made, whether that process was ethical and how much damage it did to the environment on the way.

And, crudely put, they want to know that the companies they buy from are good and not evil.

When things go wrong for a company – think BP, Toyota or Carnival to name a few recent corporate crises – it’s not just the corporate reputation that is threatened, but the whole edifice of brand performance, sales and customer engagement.

But social media has of course empowered consumers to care more powerfully and consistently.

The role of marketing therefore is no longer just to sell stuff, it must also sell the company that provides it. Likewise, the corporate communications or corporate PR department can no-longer simply deliver factual information to corporate audiences without considering the wider audience and the brand perception.

Structurally the two departments have tended to operate in separate silos; two different domains of communication, but the huge and growing volume of interaction with corporate channels should necessitate a far closer relationship.

Our research found that many large companies are now actively using social media to communicate, but there are indications that these channels are not always used to best effect.

Twitter has become the leading channel for digital corporate communications.

In January, 61 companies had an active channel (up from 56 in June 2011. However, 42 companies (69% of the companies using the channel) did not respond to direct queries which suggests it is being used as a broadcast tool rather than to encourage dialogue.

Twitter use by sector
Sector No. of followers per sector No. of followers per sector Change
  (Dec 2011) (Jun 2011) (%)
Banking 10,171 4,102 6069 (+148%)
Basic Materials 7,064 4474 259 (+58%)
Consumer Goods 20879 12789 8090 (+63%)
General Financial 1,355 346 1009 (+292%)
Healthcare 18,140 11,159 6981 (+63%)
Industrials 1,859 811 1048 (+129%)
Insurance 4,294 2,172 2122 (+98%)
Oil and Gas 81,124 62230 18894 (+30%)
Real Estate 3,911 1,833 2078 (+113)
Retail 741,273 407,736 3335317 (+81%)
Support Services 2,198 1,032 1166 (+113%)
Technology, Media Telecommunications 43,561 32,972 10589 (+32%)
Travel and Leisure 55,080 36,694 18386 (+50%)
Utilities 10,562 47,26 5836 (+124%)
Total 1,001,471 583076 418395 (+71%)

Source: The Group

While the number of Facebook fans of corporate brands has seen a massive increase (up 25% in the second half of last year over the six months to June 2011), demand for information from Facebook could be outstripping supply, with only 39 FTSE100 companies running an account (up just 2.5% since June).

Facebook use by sector
Sector No. of fans per sector No. of fans per sector Change
  (Dec 2011) (Jun 2011) (%)
Banking 44,905 27,916 16989 (+61%)
Basic Materials 562 465 97 (+21%)
Consumer Goods 52102 47,865 4237 (+9%)
General Financial 292 156 136 (+87%)
Healthcare 23,178 13,937 9241 (+66%)
Industrials 272,373 196,624 75749 (+39%)
Insurance 58,316 44,147 14169 (+32%)
Oil and Gas 177,393 69,524 107869 (+155%)
Real Estate 64 41 23 (+56%)
Retail 11,432,021 7,625,043 3806978 (+50%)
Support Services 19,440 8,990 10450 (+116%)
Technology, Media Telecommunications 517,762 433,793 83969 (+19%)
Travel and Leisure 1,490,996 853,835 637161 -75%
Utilities 642 537 105 (+20%)
Total 14,090,046 9,377,671 4712375 (+50%)

Source: The Group

Our study found 53 FTSE100 companies with an active YouTube channel, up 10% since June and these attracted 34.7 million video views, an increase of 11.6 million.

Blogging – which we see as potentially the most engaging of all social media in a corporate context – is still a relatively neglected art.

The number of FTSE100 blog posts rose by 26% in the second half of last year but we found only 16 active corporate blogs in the FTSE100 (an increase of 33% from June 2011) and 75% of these were from technology, media and telecommunications companies.

There were no corporate blogs in the industrial, basic materials, healthcare, general financial, and real estate sectors.

Of course the relationship between consumer marketing and corporate communications varies widely depending on the company, its business and the way it interacts with customers.

Within the FTSE100 there are many businesses, such as British Land or Balfour Beatty for example, which are on paper purely business-to-business entities.

There are holding companies such as Unilever which have different approaches to communicating under their corporate brand; others such as Barclays or Prudential where the corporate brands are one and the same, but brand marketing and corporate communications are delivered via separate channels and initiatives.

For some such as Burberry, the corporate brand is indivisible from the consumer one.

Corporate brands are anything but monolithic entities. They are built on a fluid mix of audiences with varied interests and attitudes including employees, potential recruits, external communities in direct contact with a company, shareholders, professional and amateur investors, journalists and external organisations, for example often NGOs concerned with corporate social responsibility.

Of course all of these have the capacity to influence audiences that never interact directly with a corporate company channel.

There is not one absolutely correct approach to integrating corporate communications, but it is clear social media is dissolving the artificial barrier between the corporate and consumer brand.

Corporate teams and consumer brand marketers should no longer consider their activities and audiences as isolated spheres of influence.

FTSE100 Social Media Index - Top 10
  Overall Blogging Facebook Twitter YouTube
1 Carnival Carnival Burberry Group Burberry Group Burberry Group
2 Burberry Group ARM Holdings Carnival Marks & Spencer BP
3 BP Sage Group Next BP ARM Holdings
4 Marks & Spencer British Sky Broadcasting Group Marks & Spencer Carnival International Airlines Group
5 ARM Holdings Barclays Vodafone Tesco Vodafone
6 Royal Dutch Shell Reckitt Benckiser Unilever Next Royal Dutch Shell
7 Reckitt Benckiser J Sainsbury BP J Sainsbury BAE Systems
8 Aviva Pearson British Sky Broadcasting Group Royal Dutch Shell Rio Tinto Group
9 Unilever Centrica Rolls-Royce Group Unilever Marks & Spencer
10 InterContinental Hotels Group Vodafone BT Group ARM Holdings InterContinental Hotels Group

Source: The Group

Top 10 climbers in last six months

  • In addition to the rankings used for the FTSE100 Social Media Index it is also useful to look at the rate of growth in channel use across the FTSE100 based purely on the numbers of people being reached through these accounts
  • As well as being ranked top in three of the four social media channels in the FTSE100 Social Media Index – it does not have a corporate blog – Burberry is also the top climber in terms of adding new fans, followers and video views

No company appears in every top 10 climber list for the period June 2011 – December 2011.

Top 10 climbers in last six months
  Blogging Facebook Twitter
  (No. of blog posts) (No. of fans) (No. of followers)
1 Carnival Burberry Group Burberry Group
  +90 +3,238,050 +288,498
2 Barclays Carnival Marks & Spencer
  +84 +454,627 +24,289
3 ARM Holdings Marks & Spencer Carnival
  +82 +206,666 +15,753
4 Sage Group BP Next
  +62 +101,740 +14,597
5 J Sainsbury Rolls-Royce Group Royal Dutch Shell
  51 73,122 11,892
6 Vodafone Next WPP Group
  +38 +70,164 +5,637
7 Reckitt Benckiser Vodafone BP
  +35 +44,694 +4,849
8 Intertek Group Reckitt Benckiser J Sainsbury
  31 + 33,88 3,637
9 British Sky Broadcasting Group British Sky Broadcasting Group AstraZeneca
  +30 +28,473 +2,960
10 Experian Standard Chartered Tesco
  +22 +15,975 +2,128

Source: The Group

Cathal Smyth, managing director, The Group