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Online retail therapy

Published on Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013
Illustration: Bay Leung
Matthew Kwan
Thomas Crampton
Nick Jones
Virginia Ngai

Social media is helping create new careers for marketers

Social media has created a wealth of new opportunities for companies of all sizes and industries to promote their brands and market their products and services.

As social networking sites increasingly influence purchasing decisions, one of the challenges for marketers is how to evaluate data and trends to gain an understanding of online behaviour and reach target audiences.

Martin Cerullo, managing director at global talent acquisition and management solutions firm Alexander Mann Solutions, says marketers need to plan and think strategically to gain measurable value from social media.

“So many marketers have jumped on the social media bandwagon and blindly use sites such as the latest ‘hot’ property Pinterest, which simply doesn’t work,” Cerullo says.

Social media analysts claim Pinterest has not done enough to separate itself from the pack and the platform’s user base is already declining.

According to Cerullo, successful use of social media requires business buy-in from senior management. “Many company leaders are from a generation which is still to engage fully with social media. Marketers need to convince the sceptics. The winners will be those who can think strategically,” he says.

Another challenge companies face centres on skill set availability. “Although creative and technical skill sets exist, there’s a huge lack of strategic thinkers in social media marketing in Hong Kong and across the rest of Asia,” he says.

For Nick Jones, senior consultant in the sales and marketing division of executive search and consultancy firm Robert Walters, there are two key issues surrounding the way marketers use social media. They need to ensure their brand is presented in the way they want it to be received, and make sure the return on investment is clearly communicated to senior management.

He adds that it is crucial for marketers to identify the social media channels favoured by their target audience. “A challenge for in-house teams and third-party providers is the way they look at functions, patterns and trends, and the campaigns they can use to trigger marketing campaigns,” he says.

Jones adds that as companies continue to set up or expand their social media capabilities, the career prospects for analysts and marketing professionals look encouraging.

“The way that social media and online marketing is rapidly developing is creating employment opportunities for data-focused employees,” he says.

This includes analysts with traditional skills and those who focus on social media.

Jones says that companies seeking to expand their social media capabilities are also generating demand for social media community managers, consultants, strategists and copywriters.

 “One thing very apparent is that the use of social media in conjunction with traditional marketing requires a lot of cross-company cooperation,” he says. “Regardless of their individual skills, people need to be prepared to work as a team member and be involved in a lot of cross-company functions.”

Matthew Kwan, principal consultant at Adams Company, says the question for all marketers is whether their marketing message can reach target customers. He adds that marketers, while ready to advertise, are often unprepared to engage.

“To a certain extent, we are talking about senior management, who should be the people running at the front to lead the engagement in order to create an impact on social media networking,” Kwan says. “In a lot of the success stories we see, it is the leaders in the organisation who drive this to happen.”

Thomas Crampton, Asia-Pacific director of social media for Ogilvy & Mather, has seen the way millions in Asia have integrated social networking tools into their lives in just a few short years.

“Social media continues to have a major impact on the way companies structure their business models. The dynamics of marketing is expanding,” he says.

This is particularly evident on mainland China, where Crampton says social media has achieved a level of importance found nowhere else in the world. “Social media is filling a void which was once dominated by the state,” he says.

Around the Asia region, companies that have successfully used social media have been able to build platforms and technologies to integrate a range of activities, including marketing. In addition, he says companies use social media channels for internal communications, research and development, and building brand awareness.

Crampton adds that the use of social media does not guarantee a successful marketing strategy. There needs to be concepts and innovations that can be nurtured and built on to engage with diverse audiences. “The key is company willingness to plan and strategise campaigns, and maintain audience engagement,” he says. “Interesting marketing content will get you everywhere; dull content will leave you dead in the water.”

Virginia Ngai, director of digital and consumer marketing at Hill and Knowlton, says there should always be a strategy in place when using social media platforms, with clear objectives listed. “The ease of communication in the online world means there is the risk of negative comments being made, which can quickly escalate into a crisis,” she says.

With a growing trend towards integrated marketing, entering the social media marketing profession is done in much the same way as entering a marketing position. “We are seeing that social media skills are an additional asset to becoming a marketer, but they are not the be all and end all,” Ngai says.

To build a career as a successful social media marketer, she adds, individuals need curiosity and have an interest in exploring new platforms and technology, and good business and commercial acumen.


Case study: Airlines, football and nappies

Identifying what works and what doesn’t for social media is one of the biggest headaches for companies seeking to embrace its power.

Martin Cerullo of Alexander Mann Solutions says that if you look at social media marketing in Hong Kong, brands such as Cathay Pacific are doing some great work, but the best practices are still to be found overseas.

“The recent Superbowl campaigns in the US are a good example,” he says. “Social media marketers can learn a huge amount from the thinking, techniques and tactics used in the US and the UK.”

Thomas Crampton of Ogilvy & Mather says a good example of social media marketing was seen when nappy producer Huggies tapped into Hong Kong parents’ love of sharing baby photos.

“Through a campaign using the Facebook social media channel, Huggies offered parents the opportunity to make their babies stars, not just online, but on large billboards and on buses across town,” says Crampton.

In the following six week, Huggies reported record sales of diapers and was able to secure new customers who previously used rival brands.

Crampton also cites a toy company client which exceeded its goals using a campaign involving small redemption prizes for visitors to its social media pages. “The customer base went crazy over it,” Crampton says.

Tim Ho, founder of social media creative agency SALT, says although the trend is slowly improving, many marketing executives in Hong Kong still see social media as a low-cost “alternative” in their marketing mix.

“It can cost very little to create accounts on social channels, but like any other ways of communication, it is the message, creative idea, and execution that are crucial.”

He says unlike other occupations such as finance or law, social media is rather new and many employers are still trying to figure out the “qualifications” for positions focused on social media.

“There seems to be two groups of talent in the Hong Kong marketing industry – marketers with very traditional marketing knowledge such as advertising and PR, and the new media ‘digital guys’. They both need each other,” Ho says. “They need to learn from each other and collaborate closely. This is when marketing integrates and benefits brands the most.” 


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Know your audience. Understand that social media…  

  • ... is not everything – it is part of a balanced marketing plan
  • ... is not just for tomorrow – it is relevant today (the data shows the audience is there)
  • ... is continually evolving – he channels, the tools and the products are growing and transforming
  • ... requires a plan and a strategy – don’t just jump straight in
  • ... needs dedicated knowledge and resources – these can come from within a business or from external sources
  • ... is fully measurable and needs to be reported on continuously – business stakeholders must be convince and re-convinced
  • ... needs understanding, sponsorship and support – the most senior members of the business must be onboard
  • ... needs smart marketers – they have to be on the ball from day one

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