GUEST BLOG: Use social media to turn your customers into marketing strategists

Now is a unique time for business to respond to the opportunities and challenges of a major social change that is taking place. Mass empowerment of the individual is upon us.

Consumers are no longer a passive audience waiting to be communicated with. The traditional methods of mass communication and audience segmentation employed by the marketing industry over the past 50 years are no longer sophisticated enough. Technology has equipped individuals with platforms to voice their opinion, and with the explosion of digital channels permeating every level of communication, consumers are increasingly savvy and empowered.

Social data collection and analysis now enables businesses to respond to and build a new form of more personal, individualised engagement. Yet our report 'Your Brand: At Risk or Ready for Growth?' found more than 60% of organisations do not have a social media strategy in place - which means many of them are not even listening, let alone communicating with their customers online.

Products or services can become a success or failure almost overnight with the advent of social media. New business ventures can search out and tap into relevant conversations to test ideas and garner feedback in an incredibly powerful way.

The Brand at Risk report showed that 82% of people expressed a positive interest in being involved by companies in developing products and services. Furthermore, 82% thought that being involved in the development of a product or service would make them more likely to tell others about the company. So the power of word of mouth cannot be underestimated!

Social media monitoring can also provide detailed insight into conversations and sentiment taking place online. For example, we at Alterian correctly predicted Matt Cardle would win the X Factor using social media monitoring! It's an immensely valuable tool for businesses or brands to determine customer sentiment and fine-tune communications as a result.

At this time of year, industry commentators are discussing next year's trends and predictions. But with consumers demanding more individual contact from brands, it is becoming irrelevant to categorise them into big amorphous groups.

2011 will be the year of valuable insight. With more time spent listening to customers, organisations will develop insights into individual customer behaviour and use this information to more effectively engage with their customers.

Companies need their marketing budget to reflect the change taking place, and social media monitoring and analysis needs to play a greater role within the strategy. Our Brands at Risk report found that 31% of respondents using social media believe that 'companies are genuinely interested in them'.

This should be a call to action to encourage companies to create a marketing strategy with a clear focus on individual engagement.

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