The Drum Network’s Michael Feeley meets the senior management team of social media specialists immediate future, and finds out why the business world is finally waking up to the true potential of social…
Katy Howell, chief executive officer of immediate future, believes that companies and brands have finally moved beyond a basic requirement for a social profile and the use of vanity metrics such as followers and fans. Instead, she tells me, they now want to understand the behaviours behind the social data.
“Put simply, they want results,” says Howell. “And as brands get serious about delivering social ROI, we find there is a perfect fit for a consultancy like ours. We’ve been serious about social for more than a decade.”
Having taken on eight new clients in the past quarter alone, the specialist skills of the London-based agency are in high demand. Howell says: “We’re moving fast at the moment. It seems that the world has finally woken up to the fact that social plays an essential role in marketing, HR, customer service, PR, essentially all stakeholder communications, internal and external.”
Immediate future’s first work in social came in 2004 and, in the years since, the agency has applied its social expertise for clients including Sony Music, IBM, Thomson Reuters, Interflora, Diageo, Selfridges, Post Office, Hotpoint, Motorola, Orange Business, Bayer, and Ladbrokes.
Discussing the most recent trends, Colin Jacobs, director of client services, says: “Without question, people are putting more resource behind social than ever before. People are now starting to join up the dots of their digital marketing efforts or, at the very least, realising that there are dots that need to be joined up!
“There’s also a lot of buzz around ‘real-time’, but the reality is that most organisations have a journey to undertake before they can truly exploit the potential of big data and real-time marketing. What we’re seeing on the ground is more brands evolving and adapting their marketing teams to a publisher model, designed to facilitate the rapid creation, publication and promotion of engaging content, which is a good start.”
Tom Ball, director of digital at immediate future, adds: “While there are a lot of brands investing heavily in content, there’s not as many measuring that impact of that content in context - by topic, by campaign, by product, by service, by location, whatever the relevant metric may be - beyond typical content metrics like engagement and interaction. We’re currently doing a lot with brands at the moment to line-up a detailed set of business-relevant metrics and develop a true understanding of what content works for them and what doesn’t."
Ball continues: “There’s sometimes an over-reliance on tech. In our work with brands, the emphasis is on overlaying human intelligence over the tech and pulling siloed data teams together to share information and unearth fresh insights into the customer journey. Data delivers insight for strategy, but the real value is in optimisation of content for customer acquisition, lead generation, and ultimately sales.”
Jacobs believes that the reasons brands are using social media are changing. He says: “There’s a clear move away from using social mainly for top-line brand awareness campaigns towards performance-related initiatives and these are increasingly being lined-up with PPC and search activity.
“For example, at retail, a lot of brands have realised that social helps promote their mobile offering as well. I think retailers are increasingly tuned in to the idea that engaging customers via social is a great way of increasing the volume of people buying via mobile. The bottom line is that performance in social is now an absolute ‘must’ for most brands – adding value and boosting ROI is the goal.”
Howell believes that tackling the challenges of real-time social interaction will be an increasing priority of brands in the months and years ahead, particularly in relation to brand’s reputation management efforts.
She says: “Negative sentiment on social demands a real-time response. Smart real-time social, though, is usually the result of good planning. We work with a number of brands that experience negativity during annual peak periods. If you know when negativity is going to peak, you can plan ahead. It requires attention from across your whole business. It needs training and support from a service, operations and marketing comms perspective. Then, a swiftly deployed, well-organised command centre to respond on the day can built on strong foundations.
“We also have a bank of case studies to draw on that demonstrate the major contribution real-time can make to customer acquisition and lead generation, which takes us back to where we began: social driving results.”
As a result, Howell predicts that demand for immediate future’s specialist skills will continue to grow apace, as brand perceptions of social – and social agencies - continue to evolve for the better:
“There are still too many myths and misinformation about social media. Way too many rockstars and ninjas! The result is that brands want to talk to a social agency with a proven track record of delivering ROI. We know how to flex a social campaign, embed social in a client team, deliver at the speed of real-time, and sift through unstructured data to deliver robust strategies. I’d say we’re in good shape for the future.”