Catching the Social Media Buzz

Social media has hit the market by force. Many businesses have now started using social networks to reach out to their customers, build communities and increase loyalty by engaging their contacts through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace and other networks. What do people use social media for? How can businesses harness its power to better engage their customers? And how does it effect the bottom line?

How big is Social Media?

According to The Nielsen Company, “consumers spent more than five and half hours on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in December 2009, an 82% increase from the same time the year before when users were spending just over three hours on social networking sites. In addition, the overall traffic to social networking sites has grown over the last three years.”

“With 206.9 million unique visitors, Facebook is the No. 1 global social networking destination (Dec 2009); 67% of global social media users visited the site during the month. continued its reign as the fastest-growing social media site in terms of unique visitors (Dec 2009), increasing 579% year-over-year, from 2.7 million unique visitors in December 2008 to 18.1 million in December 2009.”

Who uses social media?

A research study by Edison Research reports on key findings on the demographics of social media users and how people use it:

  • Though social networking is rapidly becoming more common throughout the wider population, it is still most popular among the young (especially students)
  • Women are bigger social media users than men
  • Both usage and the frequency of usage is increasing dramatically, showing a change in how mainstream consumers communicate
  • The biggest social networkers are more likely to be big Internet users and early-adopters of new gadgets. Mobile access to social media is almost certainly a significant contributor to frequency of usage
  • Frequent social networkers are more likely to update their status on those networks and create content online
  • Frequent social networkers are also more likely to follow brands/companies than the average social media user — which makes identifying and appealing to those with social media crucial for brands
  • People who engage in social are watching significantly less traditional television, but potentially consuming (and sharing) more ‘video’ through alternative means
  • The data for frequent social networkers’ usage of podcasts, online video, and online audio supports the assumption that a significant amount of content is being consumed on-demand, potentially at the point where such content is shared.

Why is social media so popular?

The rise in popularity for social media has come about as we have evolved in the way that we communicate and collaborate. Instead of the traditional letter, phone call or even email, we have a multitude of ways that we can communicate with each other.

“The internet has made it possible to share knowledge, easily and instantly,” says online media website SEO Maginifier. “This is exactly what many internet users are starting to realise by adding their own contributions and creativity to the media landscape. This allows the passive consumer to become an active consumer.”

Social media writer and VP of global interactive communications firm Edelman Digital David Armano says that unlike traditional media, social networking sites is incredibly rapid at communicating ideas and requires relatively low time investment. Messages can be sent and received by computers and mobile devices allowing users to stay in touch where ever they are.

David says that part of the appeal is that there is ‘no right way to use it’. People have used social media to share what they are doing via personal updates, ponder random thoughts, coordinate events or fanclubs, chat with each other and swap links.

Does social media have an effect on ROI?

A study by the Altimeter Group and Wetpaint has shown that social media engagement has a positive correlation with financial performance. “While no one yet has the data to determine direct cause and effect, there is a financial correlation between those who are deeply engaged and those who outperform their peers. To be specific, companies that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference. In fact, these Mavens (brands that are engaged in seven or more media channels and have an above-average engagement) have sustained strong revenue and margin growth in spite of the economy downturn.”

How are businesses using social media?

Businesses of all industries have embraced social media and other technologies as tools for engaging with customers. Here are a few examples of companies who have shown best practice at engaging with their client base through social media:

H&R Block

Faced with the problem that their selling wasn’t working, tax consultants H&R Block created a Facebook page to provide tax advice. They didn’t say ‘come and do your taxes with us’ on Facebook; they only offered advice. Their page also featured applications like a Financial Math Quiz (you can compete against friends), and a game called “The Deductor,” in which you collect deductions while avoiding Taxation agents. Now their brand participates in social media sites Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and Twitter.


Skittles’s Facebook page is themed around their marketing campaign ‘Mob the Rainbow’ where they have created a community of Skittle-lovers interacting with one another. The company occasionally steps in with light and fun comments; never with sales talk. A recent series of messages on the Skittles wall:

Derek says: Is it just me, or does there seem to be too many orange ones in the bags now?

Skittles says: Derek despite what you or the Internet may think, we can assure you there is no orange skittles conspiracy – red on the other hand…

Skittle also ran a series of promotions for their ‘Mob the Rainbow’ campaign on their Facebook page including sponsoring a user to achieve their dream to attend Bowling College if 100,000 of their Facebook fans ‘Like’d their campaign poster.

Blendtec Blenders

Blendtec blenders created a series of YouTube videos entitled ‘Will it Blend?’ that is now recognisable by many people. In the video, Tom Dickson the CEO of Blendtec, attempts to blend various objects in their blender. The campaign was low cost and instantly became a hit. This simple idea led to a ‘five-fold increase in sales’ and proves that social media does not always require you to spend a lot of money, you just need a good, original and entertaining idea.


IBM created a network of blogs that allowed their employees to write about their experiences, what they’re working on, or any other topic of choice. This allowed them to capitalise on the intelligence of their employees to give their customers insight into what happens behind the scenes at IBM and gives users a direct connection to IBM employees.

Victoria Secret

Victoria’s Secret’s entrance into social media was welcomed with almost 3.5 million fans on the official Facebook page and another 2.5 million on their Victoria’s Secret PINK page. On their Facebook page, Victoria’s Secret promotes different aspects of their activity and to promote their PINK line, the company has founded another page, reports social media blog BetaLabs.

“The Victoria’s Secret PINK page contains a special tab with their special offers, wallpapers and quizzes mentioning the brand, an icon for their Twitter account and other mobile services, plus photos of their latest collections and from their events. With Facebook, the company has the chance to offer its audience everything that may appeal to them. Judging by the number of fans and reactions the brand is generating, the Victoria’s Secret is doing a great job.”


FCUK launched their own video channel on YouTube entitled Youtique that allows users to shop for French Connection apparel via video. The videos feature fashion stylist Louise Roe recommending fashion items for different occasions. Users can click on the clothing items directly on the video and be taken to FCUK’s website for more information on the clothes and purchasing options.;feature=player_embedded

Fashion Week

During Fashion Week, brands have started taking advantage of many of the same tools used by the media. This year, more than 20 labels, including Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta, hosted livestreams of their runway shows on their websites, often accompanied by widgets that allowed viewers to comment on the looks on Facebook, Twitter or on-site with each other in real time. Brands also produced backstage video and photographic footage, and shared it with their fans through their websites, their mobile apps and various other social platforms.

Fashion labels are also taking advantage of technology such as online event registration and barcode scanning at kiosk stations to receive their seating assignments to streamline and help track their events and campaigns.

Lacy Little, graphics and communications manager of fashion label Tibi, says social media allows consumers to experience a small portion of the work that goes on behind the scenes. “It gives a broader perspective of the amount of work and vision that are put into these shows, and it gives our fans a great opportunity to see the creative environment that we produce the collection in. We’re able to showcase the creative aspects and the faces behind the company, not just the garments you see on the racks.”

Social media is about engagement

Rodney Rumford, a writer for Face Review, says that social media helps shape people’s perception of your brand. We need to use it as a tool for customer engagement, and not see it simply as distribution model for our promotions. It’s important to develop a two-way conversation with your customers. It’s not about selling something anymore. That might be the end result, but to get there, you need to work on the relationship.

What do you think of social media? How are you using it? Is it having an impact?