When we talk about online marketing we clearly have to deal with social marketing, which has already broken through to the mainstream.

The phenomenon started to get attention in the past few years and seems nowadays simply unstoppable. Companies have started to integrate their social media activities into broader marketing initiatives, learned how to scale their efforts, and have demonstrated return on engagement. That’s quite an achievement, taking into consideration that it is not easy to create and maintain a genuine face and voice for a brand.

In 2006, the global marketing communications agency UM, released a report on the scale and impact of social media, called ‘Global Impact of Social Media’ and reframed and expanded it in the following years. What started off as a ripple (Wave 1) in 2006 has really grown by 2010 (Wave 5) into the “biggest” social media study in the world, with 37,600 respondents from 54 countries. The agency unveiled the findings of their “world’s largest and longest-running examinations of the impact of social media on today’s global marketplace” just last week and the gathered data seem to be a real information goldmine for brands attempting to foster connections with their target groups.

Clinton Simpson, Managing Director, UM Singapore said: “The survey title ‘The Socialisation of Brands’ sums up the current landscape perfectly. There is a huge benefit to brands that engage with consumers in the social space, but the challenge is to identify the type of social experience consumers actually want. Wave 5 demonstrates that a deep understanding of these consumer needs is the key to creating compelling and successful social media programs.”

The full Wave 5 survey is a massive report and therefore I present at this point only the ‘10 myths about social media in Singapore’. Although the list of 10 myths has been compiled using Singapore data, it has in many ways global relevance and gives a good impression of the quality of the report.

Myth #1: Social networking sites are only for connecting with friends

Social networking sites are a one stop venue for self expression, entertainment, and content or knowledge sharing. In other words: a social network is not just connecting with friends anymore - it’s much more that. UM expects social networks to become a kind of aggregator with even more built-in functionalities that are employed by digital media users as a gaming portal, a meeting place with friends, and a sharing of points of views, pictures, videos or opinions with others.

Myth #2: Social networking sites are only for young people

The moment we say social network we kind of always imagine young people going to their Facebook profile and doing their updates and simply some chatting. According to Wave 5, however, that probably was still true a year back, but it is across all age groups now. In fact the 45-54 year old age group, for instance, is the fastest growing in terms of penetration of social networks.

Myth #3: Blogs are dying

Nielsen Media Research confirmed that traffic is dipping when it comes to blogs, but what UM surveyed is that there is actually more of a shift taking place from personal and general topics to specialized blogs. The endless talking of individuals about themselves and general topics lost has its glitter, which shouldn’t be generalized for blogging in general. The new success formula is ‘relevance’.

Myth #4: Brand websites are losing relevance

Globally, there is a bit of a dip in terms of numbers of people visiting brand websites, and the reasons are probably more or less the same as with blogs. More interesting is UM’s findings that prove that attraction is still pretty high with 80%; eight out of 10 people are visiting brand websites, which is phenomenal. What is even more interesting is that three-quarters of them are finding brand websites to be an influential source of advertising.

Myth # 5: Social media is just a fad … the bubble shall burst

That’s a fair comment, but what UM found out is actually the sheer opposite, namely that a sweeping majority of users are still upbeat about it, with eight out of 10 saying they will continue visiting social networks to keep in contact with family or friends, to manage their social networking page, or to visit an online message board or forum. So what we call “fad” is actually here to stay and to grow even more - some functions may die in the course of time, but new ones will come up in the meantime, so social networks surely won’t die.

Myth # 6: Singaporeans don’t want brands in social networks

People often use their own personal opinions to make generalizations across media in general, which seems to be the case here. Wave 5 found that consumers don’t really have a problem with having brands in their social network space. Almost half of all digital media users have joined an online brand community and what’s interesting about it is that about four in 10 have actually endorsed a brand, or became affiliated to, or even advocated a brand. These figures are very similar on the global level and contrary to the belief of agencies. Brands just have to figure out how to add value – then people are willing to seek brand communities and share their experiences with friends.

Myth #7: Singaporeans only connect with known brands on social networks

In fact almost half the respondents said they had discovered new brands through social networking, as many as three-quarters of them found the recommendation of a friend more influential, and a good majority liked personalized ads on social networks. The point here is that people really discover new brands through social networks.

Myth # 8: There is a single “Formula” for all brands on all social networks

It’s not quite as simple: for different categories and different products there are rather different solutions and motivations. All have of course some common aspects, such as sharing, but every now and then you will find there are polarizing differences. Keeping an eye on being relevant is crucial in social media, as well as going away with the erroneous belief that what works for one brand in one category is going to work across the board. To give you an example: what works for an FMCG brand on Facebook cannot be exactly replicated for an automobile brand, so you will have to tweak the way you design the page or the way you allow consumers or people to interact.

Myth # 9: Buzz happens when brands go “social”

Wave 5 found out that brands want to play up more buzz, but are not really interest in garnering more buzz. Depending on which category a product or service belongs to, there will be more or less effort to generate that wanted buzz. This means that you may have to walk that extra mile or take those extra steps to ensure that people are buzzing about you. For luxury products, say Gucci or Chanel, consumers typically look at the brand, which they put on a pedestal.  In that case you have to go the extra mile and submit content to the social spaces, whereas if you are releasing a movie, you are just opening a window through which you can allow in pure user generated content.

Myth # 10: Social media’s impact is superficial

Social media doesn’t necessarily have to be superficial, you can make it sound credible, which is of course always the marketers’ or the brands’ efforts. Interestingly, Wave 5 found that half of the people are influenced by what they read and discovered further that people seem to be willing to believe. Such people usually have a favorite blog that they track or read for certain types of information. Another finding of UM was that 35% of people are inclined to think more positively about companies that have a blog. Do keep in mind that everything is subjective, so you need of course to build-up credibility first.

A very interesting point taken from the whole study is that almost half of the Internet universe has already joined some sort of brand community, which proves that there are clearly brand benefits, such as driving loyalty, sharing news or updates, or spreading general brand awareness. What’s needed is just a good understanding on the nature of social media demand, which is the key for its effective usage. So if you are looking for a holistic and social media point of view, get in touch with those who seem to have more information than anyone else on the global social media picture (http://www.umww.com/wave5) in all its forms.

By Daniela La Marca