On Message: Social media means tearing up the marketing model

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

It’s always encouraging to see a brand invest in social media – but the word ‘channel’ can ring alarm bells, says Danny Rogers

P&O Cruises, the leading cruise brand in the UK market, recently created a full-time social media post because it wanted to “assess the value” of this marketing channel.

The company’s head of brand marketing Philip Price said last week he could see a time when the cruise line “would co-operate with agents in social media marketing activity” as well as traditional marketing.

While P&O is right to start focusing on social media strategy – indeed it may actually be well overdue – viewing social media as another marketing channel is a misjudgment.

Interestingly, at the same event, one of the company’s sales chiefs, Mark Pilkington, made the crucial observation that agents who are monetising social media best are “the ones who have not actively gone out to push deals but to use it to enter a conversation with customers”.

Herein lies the secret to using social media appropriately. As the world’s most powerful marketing services executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, said this week the communications world has seen a permanent shift away from top down, advertising-style marketing.

Underlying the trend away from advertising is the fact that it is no longer appropriate for companies to view their relationship with customers as a one-way channel of information, and no longer appropriate for marketing teams to simply broadcast how great their services are.

What the new world requires is for companies to enter true conversations with their customers, indeed all their stakeholders.

Such social media conversations will not only alert companies such as P&O to what customers really want and what they think of a group’s services, but also will act as a powerful promotional platform.

According to a survey of 1,000 people released last week by PR consultancy Skywrite, 16 per cent of people who encounter positive endorsements on sites such as Facebook and Twitter will go on to buy the product or service discussed.

The survey, carried out in conjunction with research house Vanson Bourne, found that two out of three consumers investigated products further following a recommendation on social media platforms. Of this group, one in four went on to make a purchase.

This confirms that consumers are starting to build meaningful relationships online and are turning to social media for authoritative and immediate advice.

So the advice to travel brands is to avoid the temptation of viewing social media as just another channel through which to sell and, instead, reassess the whole of a brand’s interaction with the outside world. This is what social media enables companies to do.

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