All but one of 24 marketers surveyed in a new report from the World Federation of Advertisers and WPP research firm Millward Brown is committed to increasing the time and money they spend on social media in the next 12 months, even if they don't think they can accurately measure the results.
Marketers surveyed said their fan pages are about generating insight, advocacy, loyalty and engagement -- but not necessarily sales -- from their fans. Only 23% of respondents said they were convinced that they were getting a good return on their investment, while 18% said they think their ROI is "average" and 9% described it as "poor."
Part of the problem is simple logistics, said Nick Oram, managing director of independent media agency Total Media. "There's a scramble for territory," he said, "between the brand, the PR agency, the creative agency, the digital agency -- everyone's trying to be the one do it."
It's also hard to determine the rewards. "Quite a few clients appear to want an immediate reaction," Mr. Oram said, "but it doesn't work like that. It takes a while to develop relationships and then to see a return. Brands know it's a huge channel where people spend a lot of time, and logically their marketing money should be there, but it can be scary to approach it with a long-term view."
The report includes a checklist of basic requirements for social-media campaigns, and a list of behaviors that are likely to successfully differentiate a campaign.
Every social networker expects, at the very least, contests and giveaways, new product information, regular posts, special offers and trustworthy brand news. But in order to make a real breakthrough, brands also need to concentrate their efforts on less easily defined activities: innovation, interaction, community, variety and fun.
The report is based on interviews with 24 digital marketers from multinational companies and 3,687 brand fans from 24 different fan pages -- mainly global, U.S. and European pages from major global advertisers in the confectionery, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, personal care and telecoms categories.
A "fan index rating" was compiled for each of the sites, which produced the startlingly simple finding that the more brands put into their fan pages, the more they get out in terms of brand response. One 19-year-old male said, "They must provide me with information, good knowledge about the brand so that I could share that with friends like an expert."
Duncan Southgate, director of global innovations at Millward Brown, said the report shows that "marketers' gut instinct was right, that people are open to engaging with brands, and most of the scores were positive, although there was some variation. Not posting enough was the most common mistake, but the real challenge is in how to express a brand's personality."
For some brands, it feels right to produce a stream of chatty posts, where another might be more brash and fun, so that its fans don't mind a more "broadcast" approach. For tech brands that want to promote their innovations, delivering social media content in a groundbreaking way might be the priority.
As expectations grow, brands have to keep pace -- brands that post more frequently generally achieve higher ratings and foster more lively communities, but many fan pages are failing to satisfy even this basic requirement. The report warns that marketers should "beware the campaign mentality" -- pages that are active and then suddenly go quiet can have a detrimental effect on a brand's reputation.
Mr. Oram said, "If you build up a community -- and social media is all about community -- of people who have taken the trouble to show an interest in you and then you ignore them, of course your brand perception is going to be damaged."
The advice from the WFA and Millward Brown is to commit considerable resources to social networking, install community managers and focus on areas that fit most closely to a brand's objectives, because it's tough to deliver strongly on every front.