Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Meet "Dave", a 37-year-old from Durban, who liked or followed your brand a few years ago on social media.

For now, that’s all you know, because Dave isn’t engaging with your brand beyond that. He’s not entering your competitions, and hasn’t signed on for your off-platform loyalty programme. Whether he is actively buying or advocating for your brand with his peers is also a mystery.

The rise of social media promised a marketer’s dream — a direct relationship with customers and potential clients, and a ready-made audience for brands through the creation of brand content. Big corporates invested heavily in content creation and teams of social media "gurus" who promised to convert the crowd into customers, and to create engaged and captive audiences for branded content.

While there are several successful campaigns built on these concepts, the truth is that social media has also led to increased competition for attention.

As Douglas Holt, in the March 2016 Harvard Business Review, writes: "In fact, social media seems to have made brands less significant. What has gone wrong?"

His answer is that the real content stars that have created loyal audiences tend to be independent individuals rather than the slick brand machines that have invested in the space.

Content itself has proliferated, and audiences are more discerning, demanding, and more brand-cynical. It’s also become the age of crowdsourced product and service reviews, shifting power in the direction of the customer.

What social media platforms have been able to offer, though — and very successfully — is segmentation. So, with Facebook, a wedding venue marketer can choose to target their ads to, for example, women between certain ages, in a defined geographic region, down to the level of whether they have changed their relationship status to "engaged".

Another trendy tactic has been the use of so-called "influencers" to market a brand or product. This could be a high-profile sports star who, in addition to starring in your shampoo ad, now tweets about your product.

Or, increasingly, influencers are a new breed of social celebrity — fairly normal, noncelebrities who have amassed a significant following on a social platform, and could be paid to feature products in their Instagram feed or on Snapchat.

So, the big question that many start-ups are trying to answer in various ways is: how do you go from access to a social network to creating brand fans, and ultimately to sales?

A local company, Platinum Seed, feels it’s created a social segmentation and lead generation tool to rival global competitors. Product manager Richard Nischk describes Continuon as a social media analysis tool and "personalised marketing platform".

It is segmentation meets customer relationship management, scraping data from various social networks, and collating it into advanced customer profiles.

The real magic lies in bringing together information from across various social platforms into a single view that is dynamic, updating in near real time. Then the platform lets you drill down to the individual and their various actions — the exact post they shared, the exact time, a summary of all engagements, a ranking of most engaged customers — divided into those who are within your opt-in community and those outside it.

And it lets you group people by interests, like "petrolheads" or "foodies", so you’re not just pumping out branded content based on instinct and anecdotal customer info.

Now, suddenly, you can see that Dave is following you on Twitter, follows and retweets your influencers, especially posts involving cars and racing, and last engaged with the brand online around your viral video campaign in June 2016.

Or, you can see that your paid influencer John isn’t even mentioning your product half as often as your most engaged fans. This kind of granular view — or so the theory goes — lets you talk to the Daves of the world with a hyper-targeted conversion campaign or perhaps make a strategy decision to dial down the influencer budget when you can see the return on investment just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

With certain advanced set-ups, you can even see if Dave is buying products and how often. Given this, Nischk assures, they have gone to great lengths to ensure that access controls are well-managed, and audit-trail available, so they stay ethical about data use.

Continuon clients can choose how deep they want the integration to run, so pricing is variable, but starts from R10,999 per brand per month, for six-plus brands.

It’s a bold product from an ambitious local company — incorporating data and sentiment analysis, powerful segmentation and customer management, among other features. It’s taking on big international competitors like Sprinklr and Crimson Hexagon.

Measuring the real effectiveness of these tactics is the next step. Digital tools can track pageviews, click-throughs and website entry paths and exit points — but the true effect of influence remains nebulous and the subject of much ad-man thinking.

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