Social media is a possibility to grow during recession

English version of a debate article published at Dagens Media last week.

The recession hit the world hard this week. It is time to point out that companies can grow during the recession by diverting more of their marketing budgets to social media. Consumer generated media supports one of the core values of being human: the possibility to share values, experiences and standpoints in a constant, ongoing dialogue. Social media has emerged as a technological tool that supports this profoundly human behaviour. No matter of age, gender, geographic location, cultural or social background or political values. Social media cuts through all this. It is our responsibility to help companies embrace this.

We as communication consultants and brand strategists need to be pedagogues and visualize the benefits of social media clearer in the times ahead of us. We need to focus more on inspiring and giving companies the courage to integrate and initiate a dialogue with consumers. Many companies still hesitate. At a time when consumers need to feel that promises are kept and that they are given thorough support in their decision-making a honest and open dialogue with consumers is important and is given by participating in the conversation through social media channels. This is the way to find your invaluable brand advocates.

The map for marketing communication is becoming more and more invalid for every new social media channel there is. The map needs to be re-drawn by us constantly and communicated to CXOs. We are not suggesting that everything should be removed but digital media marketing channels—but the focus must be on building communication starting from the ongoing dialogue. Integration must be more default in marketing choices and will lead to that even traditional media choices will become more efficient, better optimized and thus cheaper.

Undoubtedly, social media carries two great opportunities during depression. Purchasing decisions made by customers in bad times, whether they are in the consumer segment, or in the B2B segment, need even greater decision-making and the need to discuss with each other before making a purchase. The core of social media is based upon exactly this dialogue. The second possibility that social media carries is that it consists of extremely fast and cost-effective tools to be used as support in crisis management.

For the diversion to become reality, from traditional to digital channels, courageous CMOs are needed who know the art of fighting for their budgets. And CEOs that are clever enough to learn from the last recession and the mistakes carried out then. The absence of marketing eroded many brands’ value. To build everything again after the recession meant loosing valuable tempo. In August 2008 Epsilon interviewed 175 leading CMOs in the U.S. on the shift of marketing spend. 63% said they would increase their choice of interactive/digital channels and 54% said they see a decrease in traditional marketing spend.

When the wallet is thinner the threshold for a purchase will be high. People continue to talk to each other even during a recession. The dialogue will be decisive. Social media is a cost-effective tool for this and the fact that consumer opinions are important is already verified in several studies i.e. by Nielsen. It is Interesting to also note that some products are more immune than others to recession. All CMOs will look for cheaper channels, e.g. online videos in comparison to TV-ads and social networks in relation to print ads will be variables juggled with. Mark Baynes, CMO of Kellogg’s has recently in Advertising Age stated that advertising investments in digital media more than doubles ROI vs. TV. Kellogg intends in the coming year to reduce their TV advertising spots with 10-20%. ”Maybe the biggest opportunity over time is driven by what the digital environments afford, and we are working Thursday Embrace this aggressively.” But, Social media requires time and this is a possible intriguing interplay between the effects of recession and yet another example of how social media can change roles within a company. With harsh cuts in market budgets, it will be difficult to have all marketers remain. At the same time, it costs a lot to sack employees. We suggest to use the marketers for the company’s brand-building by letting them carry out the dialogue with consumers in social media. It also creates an opportunity for companies when the next boom comes to have a significantly higher knowledge and presence for the brand among consumers—and this for a cost-optimized use of the human capital that the company already has. Can it get any better?

Another important aspect of social media is how they are cost effective and speedy communication tools in crisis communication. Blogs, micro blogs, social networks, on-line videos, wikis etc. are all quick and efficient channels for dissemination of knowledge and latest facts. We would like to emphasize blogs as central in times of crisis from both the employer’s and the employee’s perspective. A company blog can of course be an excellent channel for communication with employees, journalists and other stakeholders. One aspect that will be completely new for companies to handle in this recession is the fact that employees also blog. It will be crucial to monitor blogs both as an early warning system for reputation management and in the long run as part of employer branding perspectives. One must bear in mind that only 7-8% of companies have blogs in Sweden today. Truly an undiscovered treasure amongst companies for their external communication (in total there are 220,000 blogs in Sweden).

We are in a communication age where employees and customers as ambassadors and brand advocates control both the setting and the feel of a brand. A company is only a partner to its trademark. Employees, customers, critics and competitors determine as much about the brand image. Brand managers and brand strategists must stop acting as gate-keepers concerning everything that the brand communicates. We would much rather see a recognition and a permanent pedagogically effort on the brand identity; it’s the basics for every ambassador to live the brand.

But let’s face it, in recession time long-term social media activities will not be initiated. There is absolutely no time to wait for the ROI. Based upon experience we encourage small, cost-effective, agile and measurable social media activities with clear objectives for testing the new marketing channel. That will then give the arguments, inspiration and results that will support the fight for digital marketing strategies. What CMO would really say no to a channel that gives them what they constantly have been grasping for: the ability to listen to the ongoing discussion around a coffee table amongst friends. OK, we all know that there are all too many still that haven’t said yes, because it is new, it is frightening at times and it does require a shift of thinking from control (that they never had) to conversation.
Brit Stakston, Communications Consultant JMW Communication
Niclas Strandh aka deeped, Creative Planner at Heimer & Company Advertising Agency

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