There’s a narrative in adland that says the pendulum is on the move, swinging back to traditional media as marketers reconsider their use of social media and short-term thinking. 'Long-term thinking' is a popular strategy being discussed and yet the findings of NZ Marketing’s Agency Perceptions Research with TRA tells a different story.
Published in the latest issue of NZ Marketing, the research surveyed 27 of the country’s top marketers and of those, 48 percent said they would be spending more on social media in the next five years and 44 percent said their spend on it wouldn’t change. Comparatively, seven percent said they would be using it less.
When the same marketers were asked to express irritations with their agency partners, “a clear understanding of which channels are driving what outcomes across our objectives” was a theme.
A solution to this frustration could be the Zavy’s ‘Understanding the role of social media in driving sales’ white paper report.
Speaking to David Bowes, CEO of Zavy, about the thinking behind the study, he says social media is a young marketing channel compared to established traditional media, such as TV and radio and because of that, there’s not a lot of marketing science that sits behind it.
And for marketers who are increasingly needing to justify spend, that lack of science has raised many questions about whether or not social media is driving sales and growing business.
“There is still that lack of understanding if it’s going to grow your business,” Bowes says.
“Once you are able to get that understanding and know what works, you are able to get the best return on your investment in spend on social media channel.”
The study began last year and is based on three years of daily social media data for 2,500 New Zealand business matched against daily sales data from the same period on the Paymark electronic network.
Bowes says putting the two data points alongside each other allowed it to see the relationship between social media activity and a business’ growth and revenue.
Across all industry models and all levels of social media activity conducted, social media contributes, on average, a 1.7 percent uplift in sales.
The strongest social media practitioners see an uplift in sales to nine percent.
But wwhat does strong use of social media look like?
Last year, Michael Goldthorpe, Hunch managing partner, called out the industry for its temptation to post anything they like because of the low-cost nature of social media in an op-ed on StopPress.
“… are we posting, sharing, blogging and crafting content to build brand, drive sales and engage our customers? Or have we become an industry of digital litterbugs?”
Goldthorpe wrote the answer to both questions is “yes”.
Zavy's study found the optimal number of social media posts, according to its sample of businesses, was in the range of eight-12 posts per week. On top of this, engagement in terms of positive comments and shares was found to be the most significant driver of sales activity.
Because of this, Bowes says more important than the number of posts is the quality of the content being shared. It’s not just about being active, it’s about posting content that will engage people.
“You can post numerous times a day but if it’s not relevant and doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t matter how many times you post,” he says.
“A large telco we work with for example doesn’t post frequently but they enjoy success because they produce excellent content that is well thought out and is relevant so it gets fantastic engagement results.”
But how do you get engagement?
The study found there are five distinct categories of content shared by brands on social media and of these, ‘cultural relevance’ creates seven times more engagement than the other types.
Bowes explains that having cultural relevance is about sharing content that taps into a moment that is topical and relevant to people at a particular point in time.
He gives the example of Spark’s post about Matariki last year featuring a video explaining the meaning behind it.
“It’s around relevance. If you want to make an impression on me and for me to remember it, it has to be relevant to me and the world that I live in.”
While Matariki is an annual event, Bowes says not all cultural moments are around events or a day. It could be what New Zealanders care about — like encouraging people to move away from single-use plastic bags.
Last year, Zavy recorded New World boosted its brand positive sentiment by +45 percent by promoting its move away from single-use plastic bags. A post saying 'Bags Not' to single-use plastic bags had a positive sentiment of 70 percent and it was its most positively received post of 2018.
However, it’s not as simple as a brand selecting a topic of cultural relevance and posting about it. Bowes says companies that see the best results weave the brand narrative into the cultural moment in an authentic way.
- Click here to read Bowes' thoughts on how brands responded to the Christchurch mosque attack, as well as other social media practitioners.
He also says this doesn’t mean brands can’t post about their products. The thing to be mindful here is finding a balance because if a brand continues to drive its products it will see lower engagement rates.
“Ultimately it about getting a much engagement per post as possible. That’s the key take away.”