Microsoft Advertising recently shared insights from a social marketing study that the company conducted with more than 700 social media advertisers. The resulting report Social Advertising & Word of Mouth, the Social Advertiser's View aims to assist marketers in understanding the benefits, challenges and insights on what lies ahead in social media by outlining top-of-mind opportunities and risks for social media marketers. 

Without a doubt, social media is on the rise. Consequently, many are convinced that it will get a bigger share of the advertising spend and will definitely increase this year. Still, it begs the question if social media marketing is, in the end, the way to go and worth the bucks.

"Brands must listen and engage", states Microsoft's study and it shows that managing word of mouth (29%) and enhancing their brand (29%) are the main reasons why brands in Singapore invest in social media, followed by reasons to achieve a direct response (25%), i.e. for sales purposes or to build traffic on a website. These findings are actually consistent with those coming from the rest of the globe with an average of 27% for word of mouth, 26% for branding and 21% for a 'call to action'. Other reasons for investing in social media include customer support and engagement, and to garner feedback.

"Social media is a platform for people to communicate with each other, whether it is one-to-one, or one-to-many. It allows brands to engage with their audiences in ways that were previously not possible. However, brands must understand how social media has changed word of mouth communication," said Bruno Fiorentini Jr., General Manager, Microsoft Advertising & Online APAC, adding: "Social media has the power to make or break a brand" and it made clear that marketers cannot control what's being said about them on their social platforms, but they have to listen and then respond in a way that's seen by fans as engaging, rather than telling.

The study also highlights that virtually all Singaporean marketers surveyed (97%) have a presence on at least one social media platform, since they believe that it is equally important as advertising. While social media engagement is vital to build and strengthen relationships with current fans, it must be complemented with other marketing channels, such as paid advertising, to not just assist in engagement, but also to attract new consumers. According to the study, some 40% of online marketing resources in Singapore are currently spent keeping fans engaged, and even 60% of the respondents mentioned that they were not satisfied with the appropriateness of their fan or follower base, while half of online advertising resources are spent on attracting new consumers. Less than half (46%) of social media marketers find it too expensive to grow their fan or follower base, and almost two-thirds (62%) of the respondents said their fan or follower base has a higher turnover, i.e. people like their page, but leave very soon after.

"Many marketers tend to look at using social media platforms with the highest reach. This has to be one of the biggest mistakes marketers make. Brands need to think about social media marketing in the same way that they look at traditional, and cannot overlook their target audience. It's vital that brands connect with the right people, with the right messages, using the right platform" said Andrew Pickup, Chief Marketing Officer, Microsoft Asia Pacific.

The results of the study show that brands cannot run an ad-hoc social media plan without a proper social media strategy. For a brand to be successful in social media, marketers need to realize a few things:

  • Firstly, social media is a way to help them achieve their goals, and that it is not a goal in and of itself;
  • Secondly, marketers need to be authentic and understand how to lead conversations with their audiences without dominating them;
  • Lastly, they need to think about how to be involved and which platforms are best used to connect with their target audiences.

"When an advertiser's objective is to be social, it's critical to help them understand that no social marketing strategy can succeed if it only runs on one site. Customers are everywhere and brands need to connect with them wherever they are", revealed Bruno Fiorentini Jr. "To succeed, brands must build a strategy that combines both paid and owned media. When used together as part of a well-planned digital marketing strategy, brands can create greater awareness and drive consumer engagement," he added.

Microsoft aims to help brands in telling their stories at scale, across screens and at every stage in the purchase cycle by understanding consumer behavior and advertiser practices. The study's insights will definitely be useful for a brand's efforts to integrate their messages in more relevant and impactful ways, since social media has become an invaluable tool.

So, if you want to test how good you are, join Microsoft's creative storytelling contest - The Microsoft Advertising Story Awards (MSAs) - which invites marketers from 30 countries across the world including Japan, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia to submit a campaign idea for a brand or non-profit of their choice using Microsoft Advertising's storytelling platforms. The winners will also be awarded an exclusive VIP trip as Microsoft Advertising's guests to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2012 taking place from 17-23 June in Cannes, France.

Marketers are asked to submit a hypothetical digital media plan and creative idea for the brand or non-profit of their choice that addresses a 'key business challenge' for that organization's 2012 or 2013 calendar year. Unlike other industry award competitions, this contest does not judge work that has already been executed, instead it challenges marketers across the globe to tell a brand's story using Microsoft Advertising technology and solutions - including MSN, Mobile, Windows Live, Xbox, Messenger, etc. - to solve real marketing challenges.

Do keep in mind, if you are game for the challenge, the following checklist for submitting a strong and successful entry:

  • Combine a strong creative idea with storytelling at its heart;
  • Innovative use of Microsoft Advertising's storytelling assets within the media plan;
  • Place a strong emphasis on measurability and the extent to which the brand or non-profit's target audience could be been reached and influenced.

It might be helpful for you to take a look at a short video starring Felicia Day, actress and creator of The Guild web series which Microsoft Advertising created as a benchmark, before you start working on your entry for the contest? Or check out the Microsoft Advertising Story Awards website, or follow the competition on the Asia Community page, Facebook or on Twitter using #MSAStoryAwards. May the best digital player win!

By Daniela La Marca