The End of the Facebook 'Fan' As We Know It

We Still Lack Technology for Brands to Build Personal Relationships In Social Media

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When the concept of a social media "fan" emerged a few years ago, it held out the promise of enabling meaningful, one-to-one conversations between brands and consumers at unprecedented scale. But that promise has yet to be delivered. Think about it: do you know whether your fans are moms, or sports enthusiasts or country-music aficionados? Do you know which ones are "superfans" and consistently engage with your programs, and systematically use that information to increase word-of -mouth?

Chances are you don't, because there hasn't been a scalable way to capture and use information about the "fans" you're engaging with on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. And because marketers lack a deep understanding of their fans, they've been using social networks as another mass communication channel, broadcasting to "faceless," unknown masses.

Social-media marketing needs to move in a new direction that finally delivers on the promise of personalized interactions between brands and consumers. This will require new technologies that enable marketers to develop rich data profiles of the consumers they're interacting with on social networks.

The model for this transformation will be the social data "system of record." Just as an organization's accounting system is its system of record for financial data and transactions, and its HR system is the system of record for personnel and employment data, social-data systems of record will become the central repository of all social data that is leveraged across other parts of the organization.

With a system of record for social data, brands would be continuously aggregating, organizing and updating consumer data from across multiple sources -- everything from ad clicks and comments to public profile data on Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks. Based on these detailed profiles, marketers could then target content to consumers' specific interests, resulting in increased conversion rates and deeper relationships.

If you are a sporting goods manufacturer, for example, you'd be able to know which of your fans are snowboarders vs. skiers, which are active advocates of your brand vs. passive consumers, etc. -- so you can tailor and target your messages to those different consumers based on what you know about them.

These systems should share social-profile data with other business systems, so that organizations can leverage social data to inform and power business processes through every stage of the customer lifecycle, from pre-sale awareness and consideration, to in-store promotions, to post-sale support and loyalty management. For example, in a customer-support situation, knowledge that the customer is a "highly engaged" consumer and a major influencer in social media could trigger a higher level of support for that customer -- in real time, at the point of interaction -- to ensure a superior support experience and continued brand advocacy by that influential consumer.

The ability to have personalized interactions with consumers would also provide brands with a powerful lever to drive word of mouth at scale. If you know who your consumers are and if you understand their interests and social behavior, you can create content that is highly relevant and engaging, and therefore more likely to be shared with your consumers' personal networks.

In the first phase of social media marketing, brands understandably focused on creating a presence in social channels and building their base of fans and followers. The strategy was largely about growth -- it was a pure numbers game based on racking up the biggest fan count. Today it is no longer sufficient just to build a base of fans and followers. Brands need to focus on engagement, conversion and nurturing relationships with their consumers, by understanding who these people are.

Victoria Ransom is founder and CEO of Wildfire.
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