Social Influence: How 'Friends of Friends' Are Key to Earned Media

With social media marketing becoming the staple of communication between businesses and their customers, content creation and a well-developed and executed strategy is vital in order to increase your brand's social reach and grow your customer loyalty.

A survey conducted by DDB, a leading global ad agency, states that 75 percent of Facebook users who follow a brand have made more than one online purchase recently, and 84 percent of them use the brands that they follow. According to a survey by Market Force, 79 percent of consumers 'like' a brand page to receive discounts or other incentives, and 70 percent of them are looking for details on sales and events.

These figures should easily tell companies one thing: Consumers on social media platforms like to be informed, and like to receive things in return for their loyalty. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are platforms for brands to have a far more targeted reach than traditional advertising, and when a consumer likes or follows a brand, it means that they want information, and that they intend to take action with the knowledge provided to them.

Consumers apply what they see on a brand's social page to either purchasing decisions, or more importantly for brands, the purchasing decisions of others through personal recommendations. This is a vital insight that marketers should begin to pay better attention to, especially with words like "social influence" and "social reach" becoming more of a marketing objective as opposed to a marketing term.

When a brand posts content and a fan likes or retweets it, it's not just giving an increase to the company ego, it's providing a huge boost to their visibility. Continuing with the Market Force survey, 81 percent of U.S. respondents said that posts from their friends had a direct impact on their purchase decision, while 80 percent of them stated that they tried new things based on friends' suggestions.

With that said, posting unique content for the sake of posting unique content is a trend that ended almost as quickly as it started. It's no longer just about unique content; it's more about how this unique content can add value to your company with respect to your brand's social reach, visibility and most importantly, ROI.

The trouble with a content creation strategy is that it's very difficult to define how much content should be posted in order to promote your brand and how much should be to drive engagement, and maybe even how much should be a combination of both?

Promoting Your Brand

Like traditional marketing and advertising, social media marketing should have an underlying goal of promoting your product, driving website traffic, turning leads into conversions and all of those great marketing objectives. But, how can you do so in a way that is both engaging and not overly "sell-y"?

By giving your social following exclusive access to new products or promotions, such as holiday specials or seasonal product lines, your customers will begin to realize that there is value to them in following your brand. That is the key: They are your advocates and your most loyal customers, so give them something to show your appreciation. This will not only promote your brand, but will drive website traffic, and with every like, comment, retweet or @ mention, your visibility will increase with the hopes that some of the 80 percent of the aforementioned consumers will try your brand based on their friends' social recommendation.

Driving Engagement

The idea of "pull marketing," isn't a new concept, but continues to hold clout for any brand looking to drive fan engagement. Instead of pushing all of your content, why not mix it up and ask users to promote your brand for you? Ask your fans for content in the form of pictures or videos that are unique and relevant to your company, locality and industry.

For example, if you were a retail store in New York City, ask your fans to post pictures to your wall of them wearing the latest summer collection. "We want to see how our fans are keeping cool this summer with our 2012 Summer Collection. Show us how you keep it real in this NYC heat."

Not only is this a good way to show off your customers by featuring all of their posts, or shooting these photos or videos up on your branded blog, but every time a fan responds and posts their pictures, all of their friends will see that they posted or Tweeted to your page, in response to your post. It doesn't guarantee any more fans, but it immediately boosts your visibility to "friends of friends" -- 80 percent of whom might try your brand because of it.

Combining the Two

Social loyalty comes in many forms such as sweepstakes, contests, polls etc. The combination of promoting your brand and driving engagement can come in the form of one of these loyalty tactics. According to Hubspot, 70 percent of those surveyed participated in a brand-sponsored contest or sweepstakes, while 24 percent actually produced content in order to participate in a contest, or in other words, posted a picture or video per the request of the brand contest rules.

Key Takeaway

Consumers looking to follow their brands are doing so mostly for exclusive deals or promotions, the latest news and to be advocates for your brand. Those consumers looking for exclusive deals on social media are very likely to register for contests and participate in them if they see some kind of value in it, maybe coupons or access to exclusive online-only products. Loyalty programs are the best way to drive engagement, promote your products and ultimately increase your brand's visibility.

This should drive home the fact that brands of any size, industry or location should focus on creating a content strategy that produces content worthy enough to be shared or to be interpreted as adding value to the consumer's purchase decision. What your brand is posting on a daily basis will impact not only the consumer who follows your brand, but has the potential to influence all of their friends and followers as well.