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Researching brands on social networks

Social media has arrived, but how are marketers responding to it? I will assume it's no longer necessary to quote "social media gurus" to demonstrate the significance of social media and that soon "optional" will not be an accurate way to describe the medium's marketing potential. A remaining question is: How do we better engage consumers with brands on social media?
Whatever the answer, primary marketing research can and should inform how brands behave online. What researchers need to do is provide brands with an accurate view of who the social network consumers are, what they want from brands and how they would like to be treated on social media. One of the most useful tools to achieve this is through market segmentation. By slicing the market into sensibly defined consumer groups who think or behave in specific ways, marketers are empowered to customise their digital strategies. The popularity of SAARF's Living Standards Measure (LSM) is testament to marketers' need to classify of consumers beyond basic demographics. What is required in this area is a segmentation of digital consumers based on their brand and social network behaviours.

The Columinate Brand Social Profile (BSP) classifies consumers based on how they interact with brands on social networks, and was created based on extensive research on South African social networkers. The segmentation is based on two dimensions: the consumption of brand content and the creation of brand content on social networks. Consuming brand content was defined as reading about brands on social networks. Creating brand content comprised a variety of activities, from simply "liking" a comment about a brand on Facebook (or re-tweeting brand content on Twitter), to more involved activities such as creating fan pages or blog posts about brands. The classification produces a hierarchy of consumer groups ranging from low to high brand interaction. The resulting six segments are described below:
  • Unconnected consumers have internet access but do not belong to any social networks. They make up around 6% of the internet population. They are most likely to be reached via other media and, as such, they do not present a current opportunity for brands on social networks.
  • Uninterested consumers belong to social networks but do not read about or create brand content. This describes 27% of online consumers who tend to be older individuals who avoid brand content. Like the Unconnected segment they are better reached using other media. A key question for brands is whether the Unconnected and Uninterested segments can be convinced to interact with brands in these areas. Regardless of the answer, the next four segments show a better current willingness to engage with brands online.
  • Onlookers read about but do not create brand content on these networks. This claims 7% of the online population which is most likely to believe that social networks are becoming boring. This cluster shows a very low likelihood to take action after seeing a comment about a brand on a social network. Even though these consumers can be exposed to brand information on social networks, it is difficult to convert this into action such as looking for more information, visiting a store or purchasing a product.
  • Lukewarm creators read about and generate brand content infrequently, namely less than once a month, and they comprise 22% of the online population. This segment mostly stumbles upon brand content on social networks and does not actively seek out information about brands. They are highly likely to take action after seeing a positive comment, and moderately likely to take action after seeing a negative comment about a brand. Along with the next two segments they represent the highly brand-involved section of the online market.
  • Eager creators read about and produce brand content several times a month, with 23% of online consumers falling into this category. This segment shows a high level of enjoyment with regard to social networking, and they are likely to belong to various social networks. This group shows a very high likelihood to take action after seeing either a positive or negative comment about a brand.
  • Campaigners read about and create brand content on a weekly basis. This segment consists of 14% of online consumers who are most likely to read about and have something to say about brands on social networks. In fact, this segment does not simply "like" and "re-tweet", but shows a marked likelihood to create fan pages and blog posts. They represent the greatest opportunity for brands they are positive about, and are the biggest threat to brands they dislike.
This segmentation can be used to profile a specific brand's consumer base. The classification consists of a few simple questions, which can be applied and asked to any sample. This exercise gives brand managers information about what their consumer base's social profile looks like and should guide the social networking strategy as part of the broader marketing mix. Brands with a consumer base that consists mainly of Campaigners will create a strategy that focuses strongly on social networking. Conversely, brands with a large base of Unconnected and Uninterested consumers should emphasise more traditional forms of marketing and advertising. The application of this tool reminds that astute marketers use market data to inform their strategies, and this rule will be as important for social media marketing as it is for all other forms of marketing.

18 Jul 2013 11:46


About the author

Henk Pretorius (Columinate co-founder and CEO) is a marketing researcher and registered research psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Henk has worked with blue-chip clients in a diverse range of industries, including FMCG, financial services, media, advertising, telecommunications, online services, pharmaceutical and academic. Henk's academic background includes a B.A. Psychology and English (Cum Laude), Honours in Psychology (Cum Laude); Master's Degree in Research Psychology, a research internship at Harvard University, and he is currently a PhD candidate in Psychology at the University of Cape Town.


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