Harvesting the Potential of Social Networks

Harvesting the Potential of Social Networks

Published: October 24, 2012 (Issue # 1732)

Andrei Makhonin / vedomosti

Social networking sites like Vkontakte offer marketing opportunities for forward-thinking businesses and can facilitate dialogue between companies and consumers.

Of the wide range of tools available in modern marketing, Internet promotion is becoming more and more popular, as online communication and social networking account for approximately a quarter of people’s daytime activity, according to research carried out by several agencies, including Nielsen market research agency.

As a part of online marketing, social media marketing (SMM), which transfers business-consumer communication to the highest level of interaction, is one of the branches with most potential for growth in the sphere.

“You need to communicate with your clients on their territory, and social media such as Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter and others are the perfect places for this dialogue; they help to get feedback and increase customer loyalty,” said Valeria Ivanova, a former SMM-specialist for the Molinos.ru agency who now works in the development department of the Losevo agricultural enterprise.

The development of social media has brought business and consumers closer together than ever before, and it is understandable and natural for companies to want to know their audience and communicate with it. But while in many countries, SMM is now a common part of marketing strategy for almost every company, the Russian market has only tentatively embraced the idea.

“Everybody is talking about SMM, but no one can really say what it is and give an accurate definition,” said Ivanova. “Many companies. when recruiting SMM specialists, can’t even say what exactly they want,” she added.

Put simply, SMM is the promotion of a product or service with the help of social media, aimed at certain target groups. Experts agree that it is a strictly individual issue and not every business needs SMM.

“Companies usually don’t fully understand their target audience and cannot formulate the purpose of their presence on social networks,” said Artyom Kudryavtsev, SMM-specialist for the Altera Internet agency.

Kudryavtsev spent a year in Baltimore, U.S., working for the IMRE advertising and PR agency.

“For Western companies, new media have become a serious marketing tool, a source of valuable feedback and analysis, while in Russia instant sales are still more important,” he said.

“A big problem for the Russian market is not even that new media are not taken seriously, but that many Russian companies have problems with marketing in general,” added Kudryavtsev.

According to experts, many Russian businesses still focus primarily on maximizing web traffic and web search optimization rather than the socialization of their business.

“Of course, the peculiarities of promoting business socially in Russia are more than ever based on people’s mentality and the level of social media penetration,” said Yevgeny Aleksutochkin, a lecturer on SMM courses at the Edukor education center and the author of an educational blog and a public profile on Vkontakte.ru.

The growing recruitment market in the sphere of SMM shows that such services are in demand and many businesses want develop their presence on social media, but very few companies really understand why they need such exposure, if they need it at all.

“There are very few SMM professionals who can answer those questions. In most cases they just offer to create an online community or a public profile on a social network for an enormous amount of money,” said Kudryavtsev.

The growth in relatively qualified personnel has become a problem in the sphere of SMM. Increased competition has resulted in a cheaper market that disappoints applicants seeking the high dividends they are often promised.

“There are many self-taught SMM specialists now, many courses and SMM workshops, but it is impossible to learn all the peculiarities in a short period of time, because in this sphere technology is much less important than psychology,” said Ivanova.

“The main skills of an SMM specialist are the ability to write appealing texts, follow the news and be a real psychologist while communicating with consumers, plus an ability to transform any negative view into something positive,” said Aleksutochkin.

Some SMM specialists use social media to promote not only their company but themselves as well.

“That is not, of course, the initial purpose of SMM. To avoid that, we run Losevo’s Twitter account under the name of a cow called Ryazhenka; we communicate with our audience in the form of a game,” said Ivanova.

Another problem of SMM is evaluating its effectiveness, which is a substantial issue for all public relations work.

“You can count the number of ‘likes’ or discount coupons, but all in all it is impossible to count how many people have bought the product after discovering it via social media,” said Ivanova.

This leads to the conclusion that sales growth cannot possibly be the main purpose of SMM. In fact the purpose of SMM is rather lofty, as far as this is possible in marketing — the establishment of friendship between business and consumers.

“I believe that our consumers are mature enough to say thank you and we should give them an opportunity to do so,” said Ivanova.

“The problem is that Russian people are not used to seeing brands and companies online who can answer their questions and solve their consumer problems, as is the case now abroad,” said Kudryavtsev.

“But it is just a matter of time,” he said.

“There is essentially a two-year difference between the Russian and the foreign market, since Facebook was launched in 2004 and Vkontakte in 2006,” he added.

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