Web sites. Forums. Blogs. Wikis. Mobile apps. As social media’s ubiquitous conversation recasts the way consumers buy and bond with brands, this package aims to sharpen thinking about the opportunity and how to master it.
In mid-July, US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer suffered personal social media nightmare: hackers from the Anonymous movement found the password to the company’s Facebook account by simple trial and error and defaced Pfizer’s page with derisive content. The hackers’ hoax was only a part of a whole series of difficulties that the medical industry has faced in social media in recent weeks.
At the end of July, the homeopathic company Boiron made legal threats against an Italian blogger and learned the so-called Streisand effect. Computer scientist Samuel Riva wrote on his homepage that Boiron’s largest revenue generator, a cough medicine, contains no drugs according to scientific standards. The Streisand effect worked. It means that any attempt to remove something from the Net by means of a legal action certainly attracts the attention of the Internet community. Indeed, online media and the prestigious ‘British Medical Journal’ eventually picked up the case. The only feasible option Boiron has left is to retreat.
German companies do not get off scot-free either: Bayer had to issue an apology in June in the UK for twitting in the official Twitter account about a new variant of the erectile dysfunction drug, because the tweet advertised a prescription drug, which is illegal in Britain.
Not only many pharmaceutical companies apparently lack competence despite multi-million dollar marketing budgets, they are also hampered by the strict laws on prescription drug advertising. Sanofi Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline have already become the victims of several virtual flash mobs: patient initiatives called to flood the Facebook guest books of the corporations with critical questions about prescription drugs. However, according to the requirements of the regulatory authorities, the pharmaceutical companies cannot answer them themselves. For this reason, the questions from users often have to be deleted. In view of the flash mob attacks, the moderators of the pharmaceutical companies were a little behind.
Moreover, beginning 15 August the new rules apply to Facebook user accounts. From now on the companies, including those working in the pharmaceutical industry, have to authorize comments on their Facebook pages. About 31,000 of Pfizer’s loyal Facebook friends now diligently leave new comments on the company’s virtual pinboard. Since hardly any sensible comment without any reference to the product portfolio is possible on the pages of pharmaceutical giants, only a sea of Pfizer’s advertising messages remains, everything else is removed.
The competitors’ reactions to the change in rules were drastic: more than 30 companies including Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Merck & Co shut down their Facebook pages. Not only do they fear the comments of disappointed patients, but also public descriptions of side effect associated with their products, which they should promptly pass on to the regulatory authorities.
The number of active Facebook users is constantly growing. This community of Germans has now reached 20 million over the period from July 2009 to June 2011. The statistics covers all Facebook users who log in at least once a month. In comparison with Google, a user spends here a considerably longer period of time, over 6 hours/month. Facebook has over 600 million members worldwide, which makes it the largest social network.
A recent study by A.T. Kearney (a global management consulting firm) examines Facebook pages of the 50 most powerful brands in the world. They do not significantly use the interactive capabilities of Facebook’s Social Network. Their communication and conversation in social networks usually goes in a single (one-way street) direction and not by the sender-responder (two-way) model typical for the social web. Over the period from November till December 2010, 89 percent of all user entries had been left unanswered on the Facebook pages of leading brands. In addition, many companies seem to shy away from the open consumer feedback: all the top brands except one use filter for their whiteboards. A.T. Kearney experts see the major reason for the reluctance of the companies in their fear of possible loss of control. The companies that build emotional connection with a user receive positive response on Facebook. Also, the provision of financial and human resources is important.
„With its 600 million users, Facebook today is the largest social network in the world. In 2010, 30 percent of the world population with Internet access were already in Facebook. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Facebook activities of many top brands are still stuck in infancy“, says Dr. Martin Fabel, Partner at A.T. Kearney, Marketing and Sales Practice
Over the period from November till December 2010, five of the top brands had not been present on Facebook at all. 89 percent of another 45 left all user entries unanswered. Altogether, about 1,000 Facebook entries and nearly 61,000 responses had been analyzed in the scope of the study. Only 11 companies replied to more than one user entry. Only 15 percent of responses encouraged the user to continue dialog, and 17 percent of responses used names.
Seven of the analyzed top brands have set up their whiteboards in such a way that only the company can post to it, but not the users. The only available option for the users is to reply to messages from the company. A vast majority of the companies have also decided on a filtered view of their bulletin board with the option to hide individual entries. Only one company has disclosed all the entries.
The analysis of wall posts, with 34 percent belonging to the companies and 66 percent to consumers, has shown the following: 27 percent of the entries were spam, 35 percent contained praise, 8 percent were complaints. Another 12 percent contained replies to posts of other consumers and 11 percent contained questions.
25 of the concerned companies listed three times as many entries from consumers as from businesses. Another 20 companies had four times as many entries from businesses as from consumers. This suggests that these companies have not yet been able to exploit the full potential of social media.
Advertising Made Popular
The company entries containing advertisements have proved particularly popular among the consumers, especially those offering coupons, prises or other benefits and additional services. 75 percent of all company entries with advertisements had their “Like” button pushed. The least attention, however, was paid to the purely informational messages. In total, 71 percent of all company entries were advertising posts.
To Do List For the Companies
The major reason for the reluctance of many companies is their fear of possible loss of control.
„Of course, customer comments can spread across the Internet like wildfire, this can be both a curse and a blessing. This way or another. That is why the companies will not be able to escape from facing this challenge,“ explains Mr Fabel.
Companies should be timely and forward-looking, and take initiative in communication and conversation in social web and use the huge market potential:
- Use emotional responses to consumers
- Get involved in social sponsoring, social funding
- Create transparency
- Motivate consumers to join
- Include social gaming
- Offer incentives
- Use Facebook as a sales and service channel
- Implement faster (real time) response options
- Engage more of qualified staff and consultants
Social media with Facebook is no longer an artificial Internet hype. It is a private business in which approximately 50 per cent of active Internet users want to be picked up. Under the threat of their own (commercial) downfall, the new fields of activity in the social web should be professionally operated and developed.
Facebook now allows conversion of personal profiles into business pages: Profile To Business Page Migration tool is used to help launch small businesses that build up a personal fan base first, then build their corporate identity on the basis of it.
Facebook Deals starts in Germany: Facebook has now started offering its mobile bargains in Germany too. It is an interesting offer for chain stores of any color. It is based on the principle of viral referral marketing: anyone who tells his friends via Facebook that he just bought a t-shirt from Benetton receives a discount or various other goodies from the supplier.
Instructions for businesses can be found here at Facebook Biz. The first deals from Berlin can be found, with examples, on the blog: HM, for example, is offering a one-time discount of 25% on the article of choice.
Most companies don’t possess a summary of the many social media platforms available. A great variety of social media exists already catering to all niches, uses and target groups. Usually social media is understood to be an isolated application limited exclusively to one site, such as Facebook. In addition to that, the popularity of social networks is country-specific. Brian Solis’s Conversation Prism is clear and detailed yet also provides a valuable overview as seen here.
A few of the achievements of Web 2.0 have been the development and implementation of Ajax applications as well as the use of mashup environments. Mashup refers to the creation of new media content through the seamless re-combination of existing content. Tumbleblogs such as Soup make use of this principle. TSC Consult integrates Twitter posts, RSS feeds, YouTube and other feeds into its Social Media Soup. When you call up the domain socialmediasoup.tsc-consult.de you will gain access to many of TSC Consult’s social media activities all bundled into one-also as an RSS feed.