Sunday 31 August 2014 10:27 pm

EngageSciences CEO Richard Jones on the science of social media marketing

Between 2011 and the end of 2013, social media ad spend in the UK rose from £265m to £585m, according to PwC and the IAB. Last year alone, it increased by 71 per cent. Amid the boom, however, marketers have voiced concerns that increased spending has not been accompanied by a commensurate rise in effectiveness. Worries abound that brands are pumping in tons of money just to reach a few young people short on cash and even shorter on attention span. Richard Jones, founder and chief executive of social media engagement firm EngageSciences, thinks things may be changing. He talks to City A.M. about the importance of user-generated content, and why brands are thinking beyond the “like” button.
Are marketers right to worry that their social media spend is being wasted?
I think there are a couple of things going on here. First, a lot of social media marketing has been done on blind faith. It’s often lacked an analytical backbone or a fully agreed set of key performance indicators to assess what the value is. A lot of brands have spent big money without being able to point to an exact return on their investment (ROI). But things are changing. Where people were chasing followers and “likes” a few years ago, they’re now thinking more about getting clicks to their sites.
So driving site traffic is becoming more important than just building up a large social media following?
The Young Group [a global marketing company] published some research recently, showing the net change in traffic since 2012. Brand website visits have gone up by an average of 33 per cent, while Facebook is down 15 per cent and YouTube 23 per cent. Two years ago, people would say, “I want my campaign to be doing something on a social network.” Now, that ad spend is really driving people out of the networks and onto a brand website. It makes it much easier to do ROI analyses because you’re looking at how the traffic converts into sales. 
What’s driving this change?
Most firms have a transactional framework on their website – it’s where they convert people into revenue, so it has to be the end goal. And sites like Facebook have tweaked their algorithms so that posts aren’t as prominent in the news feed. Building up followers isn’t as important any more.
Beyond that, we’re seeing a proliferation of social media channels. Around 1.6bn people use messaging apps like Snapchat and Whatsapp, and there’s been a huge influx of networks focused on specific forms of media, like Vine for short-form video and Instagram for photos. It’s left marketers with a quandary – where’s my home, my hub? Of course, the natural answer is their website. But this requires a fundamental change. Brand websites need to be deeply integrated with social networks, facilitating the easy sharing of content and making them a more friendly place to land.
What other steps can firms take to make their sites more social? 
The first step is making them aware of the sheer volume of user-generated content they could be using. There are 28m user photos on Instagram alone that have been uploaded with a Nike hashtag. The content shows people incorporating the firm’s products and services into their lives.
The second stage is to look at the value of that user-generated content. Comscore has found a 28 per cent increase in brand engagement when users are exposed to both professional and user-generated video on a business’s website. Evercore found that there’s a 7 per cent increase in conversion rates when you use user-generated photos at the point of purchase. The data says this is where brand websites need to move.
How much do you expect social media to change over the next decade? Will Facebook and Twitter still be the first names on our lips?
I think we’ll see the big platforms like Facebook become social login frameworks for other places. They’ll almost be a social directory of our interests, and people will use them to log in to a variety of different mobile and social sites that address more niche areas of their lives. We’re already seeing continued proliferation, as social creeps into new areas. Take Tinder – is it a dating app or a social network? It’s hard to tell, but it’s gone completely wild. We’ve also seen it with the mobile messaging apps. They were text message replacements, but now they bring the ability to share content. Whether it’s Nike’s running app or Tinder, they all have deeply integrated social features. 
What’s the best piece of social media marketing you’ve seen?
Pepsi’s website has essentially become a user-generated content portal. The firm has  really gone hell for leather, and it’s a brave thought leader in the social marketing space. Also, Topshop on Oxford Street has a big digital display of user-generated content as part of the physical retail experience. This is where it’s going. It doesn’t have to just be all about a website.