Making the most of those online tags
Is the marketing industry’s increasingly imaginative use of social media the best way to recruit new customers – or is it just getting on people’s nerves?
ONE’S LEVEL of social engagement online is a very personal thing. Believe it or not, this journalist still knows quite a few people with no social network profile at all out of either sheer disgust or fears for privacy.
Whether you “like” a friend’s holiday snap or the fact that your favourite brand of Irish whiskey has told you to “Enjoy your day”, the decision to do so indicates more about your own personality than you might think.
“If I was to be fair I’d say that the motivation behind tagging anything online is to do with the sociability among friends and associates and fans, that social networking induces,” says John Fanning, lecturer in marketing and communications at UCD’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. “If I was to be honest, I’d say it’s ludicrous exhibitionism.”
Whatever your motivation, the number of “fans” or “likes” a product or service may have on Facebook or any other social networking service may not give a true representation of its actual popularity.
“I ask my students how many brands do they think they ‘like’ or are ‘fans’ of online,” says Dr Laurent Muzellec, programme director for the Msc in Digital Marketing at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. “When they check they usually find they are fans of a lot more products and services than they thought they were. They just cannot remember ‘liking’ them.
“On the flipside, the marketer might think he has 16 million fans. In actual fact, the people who call themselves fans in tagging that brand probably don’t even remember doing it. The ‘like’ button has become meaningless. You can now buy 1,000 fans for your product or service for €150 from a specialised online marketing company.”
“I think it is a good idea,” Muzellec says. “The arrival of tools like MySmark really reflects a genuine need on the part of the consumer to express their feelings in a more complex manner as well as the need for brands to understand their consumers better and quicker.
“It’s more data, which might also be good in terms of seeing how a particular message is being received by consumers from a campaign,” he adds. “Does a new ad correspond with the effect the brand wants to trigger? You might want to trigger surprise but what you’re actually triggering is disgust or fear.”
Like all market research, though, it can be tricky finding a representative sample of people to volunteer responses to any marketing campaign. Personality differences will affect whether or not any individual is prepared to give up their time to talk about something that isn’t very close to them already. It may also be perceived as an infringement of privacy.
“Any apps that you might use that have a Facebook connect option will have a privacy setting through which brands ask consumers whether they can access private information or not,” Muzellec says. “I’m always fascinated how so many people don’t seem to be concerned about their privacy online. Either they don’t realise private information is being accessed or they simply don’t care.”
User age would be relevant to this also. Younger generations will be more likely to engage in online social media as well as possibly caring less about their own privacy.
“You always wonder who really engages in any questionnaires when it comes to brands,” he adds. “Expressing your feelings when a friend posts something is one thing, but when it comes to tagging a brand, it seems to me there’s a minority of people who actually ‘like’ the brand and others with too much free time on their hands.”
Despite the integrity of online marketing samples, “tagging”, “liking” or “being a fan of” anything online now serves as an extra sales force for any brand.
Fanning says it happens in a variety of ways online. “Anecdotally I have heard of companies, who effectively recruit online ‘volunteers’ to act as a proselytising force for some brand or another. It’s a modern form of ‘rent a crowd’, I suppose.
“Extending the ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ options to users to broader emotionally-based possible answers is potentially a useful tool but it’s not a replacement for traditional forms of market research.
“The digital age may continue to throw up alternative forms of information about how people view products or services. But they are simply alternatives rather than substitutes for existing models.”