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Put simply, social media can be great for advertisers. Sites gather vast data that advertisers have never had access to before, allowing them to learn things about consumers and users that are both informative and helpful. But even when they know a lot about potential customers, marketers continue to find it challenging to create appeals that work well and to leverage the information they have in ways that encourage shoppers to purchase from them.

For example, BMW gained in-depth information about visitors to a popular Chinese social media site. Using those data, which included income and prior purchase behaviors, it determined which visitors were likely to be luxury car buyers and targeted advertising at them. That sounds great, except that other visitors, who were not targeted, protested vehemently. By not showing them luxury car ads, they asserted, the car brand and the social media site combined to make them feel like “losers.”

Facebook webpage with glass globe. As of today, Facebook is the largest social media network on the webTo resolve these challenges, some companies focus more specifically on the terms and language that people themselves use in their social media communications. Thus for example, Lowe’s mines Facebook data for mentions of various rooms in a house. If a user mentions the bathroom, Lowe’s forwards an advertisement for pedestal sinks and towel racks. If another user instead describes hanging out in the back yard, Lowe’s likely will provide suggestions for grills and deals on patio furniture.

Another challenge for marketers is determining which social media sites to use, and then defining their distinctive personalities on those sites. Twitter is a popular option for brands that seek to appear clever and a little edgy. Denny’s thus was able to enhance its image by tweeting a mild joke at the expense of the latest color in technological gadgetry, noting that its pancakes were “always available in golden.” But being edgy can also be risky, raising the potential of offending readers and garnering negative press, especially if the company fails to pay close attention to the meaning of trending hashtags.

As some reports suggest that Twitter’s growth is slowing, other options may be gaining in popularity. There is always Facebook, with its unsurpassed user base. In addition, the messaging options available on Snapchat, Kix, and WeChat represent increasingly appealing platforms for marketing communications. The first companies to use these various media effectively for their advertising likely enjoy a powerful first-or early-mover advantage, because they seem creative, and users have not become accustomed to or bored with this type of marketing. As more firms join the messaging though, each social media channel might lose some effectiveness.

Thus, there are no easy answers for marketers today. They have more data than they ever have before, but they still are responsible for finding ways to appeal appropriately to their customers.

Discussion Question:

Consider a social media site that you like and describe how marketers could leverage its traits to listen, analyze, and do in relation to customers and potential customers.


Source: Peter Schrank, “A Brand New Game: As People Spend More Time of Social Media, Advertisers Are Following Them,” The Economist, August 29, 2015