23 Jan 2019 16:59 IST

Co-opting the consumer in marketing communications

Social media audiences can be segmented as cohorts, with specific content created for each group

Social media’s strength is clearly the opportunity it provides for consumers of the brand to be players its marketing, albeit unpaid and intended. This comes through the affirmation of the brand by consumers and discovery of such affirmation by other consumers. Social media marketing (SMM) is the ability of the marketer to discover these ‘moments-of-experience’ and harness them to the brand’s marketing plan. Of course, this is a double-edged weapon, for a negative experience can be as easily expressed and widely propagated, with potentially damaging consequences for the brand.

The recent experience of Zomato, the food delivery service, is fresh in our memories. (As an aside, it should also be said that Zomato’s handling of a potentially damaging situation, was very deft and mitigated the potential damage to its service quite effectively, though it did stir up debate on the social impact of the ‘gig-economy’.)

This does not mean, though, that social media is effective in marketing only when consumers provide the positive strokes.

SMM can use the traditional tools of marketing and advertising quite effectively by understanding the context of social media. Merely repurposing traditional advertising to fit social media channel requirements will, at best, irritate viewers, and at worst, in the hands of digitally-savvy netizens, provoke the creation of memes that mock and invite derision.

On the other hand, advertising using traditional techniques but purpose-created for the social media environment will yield rich dividends. In a recent campaign, using paid search and social media, the latter yielded 3X more conversions than paid search, at one-fifth the cost per conversion.

Principles that work

The principles that provide meaningful returns using the tools of traditional advertising seem to be:

~ Consumers do not want to see content that is not relevant to them. Marketers should take the effort to tailor the message to the contexts of their audiences instead of just rehashing the advertising they use in traditional media.

~ It is not one kind of ‘catch-all’ impact, like the approach of traditional advertising, but multiple micro-advertisements that appeal to different consumer contexts.

~ It makes sense to segment social media audiences as cohorts and create content and strategies that are mutually exclusive between such cohorts. Most social media platforms provide extensive opportunities to create these cohorts. Besides, influencers and hashtags also provide opportunities to cater to unique cohorts.

~ Apply the practice of peer-to-peer marketing by refining audiences based on those who convert vs those who do not.

~ A big opportunity exists in applying psychographic segmentation in SMM. Traditional media do not lend themselves to psychographic segmentation as they cater to mass audiences. Social media, on the other hand, offers the possibility of tagging audiences by their psychographic markers and delivering communications that are psychographically appropriate.

Not just Facebook and Instagram

The term social media immediately evokes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like. While they are the big daddies of social media, there are other platforms such as aggregator sites and ranking sites that contribute in no small measure to the SMM ecosystem.

One way of looking at social media platforms is to classify them by the type of audience they appeal to and the function they perform. The diagram shows this representation.


Network, in the context of the platform, refers to the approach it takes in propagating content through networks of people. Aggregation, by contrast, refers to the approach by which the platforms aggregate content on a particular topic so that anybody who is interested in some information related to the topic can go to the platform. Similarly, General refers to the nature of the content on the platform and can be any topic under the sun, while Niche refers to a particular area of topical interest.

As is apparent, this framework allows for a wider context of SMM and gives the the marketer an opportunity to present content at different stages of decision-making and influencing. Thus, the top right quadrant is particularly appropriate for brand stories and creating a favourable disposition towards the brand, while the bottom left quadrant is perhaps more appropriate in influencing consumption.

It goes without saying that all elements of communication, across all the quadrants, should be consistent to ensure an optimum response.

From buzzword to marketing tool

Social media platforms are in the sniper scopes of public policy experts because of their efficiency and ‘credibility’ in propagating messages.

It is this same convenience that is available to marketers too.

Brands that can harness the goodwill of social media users to provide credibility and positive word of mouth (WoM) for the brand can sharpen their marketing arsenal; brands that use it as merely another medium, are likey to stay ‘bound in shallows and in miseries’, to paraphrase the Bard.