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The 4 A's Of Social Marketing Success

Every month, I get a reminder email from the team at Search Engine Land to tell me that my post is due.

Most months I already have a clear idea of what I want to cover, but some times I find myself staring at the screen, not sure where to start. And in many ways, that’s a similar situation to the one that marketers find themselves in when asked to start integrating social into the communications mix.

It’s for this reason that we at Mindshare developed a very simple process for planning, implementing and reviewing social marketing, with each step handily beginning with the letter A.


Before you start, it’s important to have total clarity on what you hope to achieve. This many sound obvious, but it still seems as if too many brands set up in Facebook/YouTube/Twitter/etc., because someone has told them that they ought to be on Facebook/YouTube/Twitter/etc. And, if you don’t know why you’re doing something, you won’t be able to judge whether it’s gone well.

By setting out clear business objectives, whether that be driving awareness of a new product, increasing sales, improving SEO, or whatever, you are ensuring that everything you do from here on in can be easily measured. If we want to take a real-world example, when Mindshare UK were tasked with highlighting the fact that First Direct was unlike other banks (primarily because people trusted the brand, and even liked it), they did so by surfacing digital buzz, and then turning that into actual marketing.

Because there was a clear objective, there were also clear success criteria (which is probably why the work won a Gold Lion at the Oscars of advertising in Cannes).


Just as it’s essential that you understand why you are entering into social media, it’s equally important that you understand who you’re trying to reach. Are they online? If so, do they actually use social media? If yes, how do they use it?

Although I’ve long felt that Forrester’s Ladder is no longer an entirely valid model for judging how people interact with the social web, it’s still as good a place to start as any. If you have a target audience of women in their 50s, who would probably fall into the category of spectators, it’s probably not a great idea to launch a campaign which involves uploading video clips.

If possible, you should even try to look at exactly what type of social activities your target audience participate in: those over 50s women are, in the UK and US at least, likely to be into social gaming, so 7-11’s use of Farmville to reward real-world purchases was perfect for their core target.

Using tools like Global Web Index you can pinpoint whether an audience are more prone to taking photos, or writing blogs, and from there, plan your activity accordingly. When Ikea planned this piece of activity to raise awareness of opening a new store, it was built round the simple insight that their audience enjoyed tagging photos*.


With clear objectives, and an understanding of your target audience, you can set out how you will approach the activation – this will cover both logistics, semantics & activation.

For a start, you need to decide how social media will fit into your wider web strategy. If you’re building a Facebook page, will that sit at the centre of your web activity, or just act as a way of highlighting action happening on your main website?

You also need to plan who will run your profile, where the content needed will come from and what, if any, CMS you will use (we often recommend Buddy Media, particularly for clients grappling with the issues that come with trying to run global social media portfolios).

Moving away from logistics, you need to consider both the tone of your activity, and your choice architecture. Your tone will decide the way in which you communicate – is it friendly, authoritative, informative? Are you speaking as a brand, as an individual or as a group? Doing this will help you judge how individual communications should be sent out.

Setting out a choice architecture will help you decide how best to get consumers involved whilst minimising the risk of reputation issues. Essentially, you need to plan how to align the interests of the brand with those of the consumer, so that it’s easier for someone to positively interact than to do so negatively.

For an example of this at work, consider Skittles decision to change their homepage into a live Twitter feed. Because there was no reason for most people to say nice things about Skittles, many took the opportunity to fill the feed with bad jokes, swear words, and worse.

Compare this with crisp brand Walkers’ competition to find a new flavour: whilst many might have expected the flavours to be ridiculous, as people raced to send the most inappropriate suggestions, because the winner received a cut of profits from the new flavour, there was a powerful incentive to interact in a positive way.

Finally, whilst many people still hold with the Field of Dreams style approach to social marketing (build it and they will come), there is plenty of evidence to show that you need to have a plan of activation, that might include online or offline advertising, PR, or even good old fashioned SEO. When Nike wanted to use Facebook to launch its Write The Future ad, it did so by spending months building up a large and active Facebook page, with a mix of Facebook ads and frequent content updates.


If you’ve followed this process all the way through, you’ll now need to analyse it. Many pieces of social marketing fall down because it’s impossible to judge success, but if you have clearly defined AIMS, that shouldn’t be a problem.

For those brands lucky enough to have decent activation budgets, you could look at using Facebook’s Nielsen partnership to commission a BrandLift study. For those on smaller budgets, there are still plenty of ways of analysing the success of your activity, and the IAB UK have come up with a nice way of doing exactly this.

By setting both hard and soft KPIs, and by tying these into the consumer journey, you can evaluate every stage of your social marketing which in turn helps you to test and learn as your activity becomes more mature.

As with any relatively new form of marketing, many people will still set out with no clear objectives, and will struggle their way to an inconclusive conclusion. But if you follow the 4As, you should be able to treat your social marketing like any other form of marketing – something that, if approached in a structured way, can always provide measurable effects and insights.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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