Want More ROI From Your Social Programs? Take A Look In The Mirror

When it comes to telling your brand’s story, your customers often do it best. Columnist Jordan Kretchmer gives some examples of brands that are successfully integrating social into the customer journey.

Marketing Tips, Tactics for Top Social Media Networks

A decade after social networks burst onto the marketing scene, new research from Altimeter Group has confirmed a shift that experts have predicted for years: Marketers are no longer too worried about scaling their social media programs.

Instead, their number one priority today is integrating that social content into their existing digital marketing programs: websites, mobile apps, in-store and e-commerce experiences and so on. In fact, 82 percent of businesses report they’ve already begun the process.

The hard truth is that as the majority of marketers still struggle to measure the ROI of traditional social media programs, more nontraditional social strategies — like using social login to gather valuable consumer data or driving product exploration by adding social elements to the customer experience — are quickly proving their worth.

That’s because they connect with people in a way that feels natural to them.

Consumers don’t just want more branded content thrown at them. They want content that adds value, content that is relevant, authentic, trustworthy and makes their lives easier.

And in a lot of cases, real-life customers are better at creating that content than brands themselves. All marketers have to do is surface that content at the right parts of the customer journey.

So for a little inspiration, here are three brands that are already weaving social throughout the customer journey, and what you can learn from each of them:

Pottery Barn’s #mypotterybarn: Spark An Emotional Connection

Most of us like to think we decide what to buy (and what not to) based on rational decision-making, but that’s not exactly the case. Neuro-imagery has shown that we actually use emotions — like past experiences and feelings — to make decisions instead of features and facts about a given product.

Not only that, but positive emotions have a bigger impact on brand loyalty than trust or brand attributes.

Enter the Freudian genius of Pottery Barn’s #mypotterybarn. Knowing that its couches, tables and other furniture were core staples of many family homes, Pottery Barn invited its audience to share the meaningful moments that turned their houses (and the Pottery Barn furniture inside them) into homes.

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People submitted images of families gathered around kitchen tables, kids piled on couches waiting for their dad to come home from work, summer barbecues and more — all coupled with a heartwarming story and beautifully styled with Pottery Barn merchandise.

The effect was twofold. On the one hand, people who uploaded the images were reminded of the key role that Pottery Barn furniture plays in their homes and families, thus building brand loyalty and that emotional connection. And on the other hand, the photos they uploaded help browsing customers imagine those pieces in their own homes, and more importantly, in their own lives.

Starwood Hotels: Surprise And Delight Your Way To An Army Of Loyal Customers

Every month, Starwood Hotel guests upload 45,000 user-generated photos to Instagram. And since most of them are from people bragging about how awesome their vacations are, Starwood puts them to work.

When you go to book on starwoodhotels.com, you’ll find an expansive gallery of user-generated photos in addition to the professional gallery, like this one from The Royal Hawaiian.

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A team of customer advocates also scours the socialverse 24/7 for clues about how they can improve someone’s stay. Their surprises range from the simple (like getting them into a restaurant they mentioned on Twitter) to the more elaborate (like custom room decor, birthday cakes and personalized bathrobes).

But Starwood doesn’t stop there. It’s also tapped into the power of user reviews to crowdsource hotel recommendations.

By asking specific questions during the review process (If you could recommend this hotel for one thing, what would it be?) and enabling reviewers to tag hotels for specific trips (e.g., romance, family, business, guys’ getaways), Starwood is able to make smarter recommendations for customers looking to book.

Its system also targets review content based on what the customer is searching for, so for example, a person looking to book a suite will see reviews containing the word “suite.”

This doesn’t just help customers find the perfect hotel, it gives Starwood’s team the data they need to market each hotel based on what real guests love about it.

Kraft: Foster A Self-Sufficient Community

Kraft has a long history of serving time- and budget-strapped cooks. Since the company has been putting recipes on its packaging for decades, a recipe site was a natural content marketing extension.

But Kraft knew that if it wanted to build a community, it’d need to offer more than just static recipes.

So it built Kraft Recipes, an online community, available in both English and Spanish, where Kraft fans can find recipes from Kraft, expert Tastemakers (well-known food bloggers and personalities) and fellow home cooks. The home page makes it easy to discover new recipes, with featured recipes and cuisines plus trending apps that show what’s popular on KraftRecipes.com and Pinterest.

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Fans can also share their own recipes, save their favorites to a personal Recipe Box, follow their favorite contributors and talk directly to each other. By adding social elements to what could have been a simple recipe site, Kraft turned a static content destination into a thriving community.

And in fact, the site gets so much traffic that Kraft is able to sell advertising to help offset the cost.

As you read this, your customers are out there telling your brand story for you through the billions of Instagram photos, tweets, reviews and blog entries they post every day. It’s the most authentic and trustworthy marketing asset at your disposal. Use it or lose it.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)