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The best innovation in social media is a return to basics

16 May 2016

By Augie Ray, Gartner Research Analyst Innovation has become a way of life in marketing, particularly in social media, as marketers jump from one strategy (fan accumulation) to another (SoLoMo) to another (six-second videos) to another (messenger bots), hoping to find the right innovative strategy to improve brand health. The social networks continue to innovate as well, striving to earn more consumer attention and marketing dollars with live video, algorithmic timelines and buy buttons.

But even though consumer adoption of social media remains strong, brands still struggle to put social media to good use that drives demonstrable results. This is because marketers have approached social media innovation from the wrong perspective–they have embraced idea-centred innovation rather than need-centred innovation.

Social media is an inherently consumer-oriented and -controlled channel, and this suggests brands need a different approach—a customer experience approach. The best innovation for brands’ social media right now is to return to basics: Understand your important audience segments, probe their needs and social behaviours, identify how your brand is performing and innovate in a way that satisfies customer expectations.

Take, for example, the concept of advocacy. Marketers knew they wanted advocacy and assumed that “fans” and “followers” delivered it. As a result, marketers deployed a variety of ideas to gain (and game) fans and followers with innovations such as social media contests, sweepstakes, giveaways and fan-gating content. This idea-centric approach resulted in large Facebook fan lists full of disengaged people who were not, in fact, advocates. Brands did not win, nor did their customers.

Innovation processes based on understanding needs end in a very different place.  Consumers and marketers both want advocacy, but consumers want it in a different way and for a different purpose. People don’t care if their friends participated in a contest that resulted in a brand “like;” instead, they want to know what others think of your products, and they value when friends speak from a perspective of experience to endorse your products. A needs-based approach that earned the right sort of advocacy focused not on amassing fans and followers but probed for customer satisfaction, identified happy customers, captured their stories and endorsements, and ensured this trusted word of mouth was available to prospects and customers.

The needs-based approach to social innovation resulted in stronger advocacy and increased trust, as well as improved business results. For example, Turtle Wax aggregated their strong product ratings to e-commerce sites, lifting year-over-year sales by 50% with some retail partners. Tagg, a GPS device that attaches to pets’ collars, probed for happy customers, asked for comments on Amazon, and increase ratings and ranking by 63% in three months. And in B2B, SAP supports the SAP Mentor program, where technologists, business people, consultants and others are nominated by the customer community to work with the company, inform SAP strategies and offerings, and offer support and guidance for customers.

Customer experience methodologies can help marketers reorient their social media innovation, focusing it on customers and their needs rather than ideas and brand desires. Gartner clients can learn more in our new report, “Use Social Media to Power the Entire Customer Experience.” This report explores how social media can lift customer experience throughout the entire customer journey—the Buy, Own and Advocate cycles—resulting innovative strategies that deliver business and marketing outcomes and not just retweets and shares.

By flipping your perspective, starting from the outside in and considering social media innovation to furnish what consumers need, you improve your customer experience and deliver stronger social media marketing outcomes. By Augie Ray, Gartner Research Analyst

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