Tom Rainsford is Head of Brand and Proposition at mobile phone service giffgaff, where he leads the company’s strategic and tactical marketing activity. He’ll be among the speakers at The Figaro Digital Social Media Marketing Conference on 5 April. Tom talks to us about the role of social media within giffgaff’s business model and sketches out some of the key challenges facing brands entering the social arena.
At giffgaff your customers are very closely involved in the way the company operates, and social media is a key part of that. What’s its role in the business?
At giffgaff our tagline is ‘run by you’. The back-story, if you like, is we were set up to be an antidote to the mobile market. Mobile is an extremely aggressive market in the UK. It’s complicated, there are low levels of loyalty, there are lots of tariffs, costs and structures so people don’t always understand what they’re paying for. Customer service isn’t great – sometimes it’s fine, but sometimes it’s not. There are loads of deals around. Essentially, there’s lots of noise which makes it very confusing for the consumer.
giffgaff want to strip all that away. We’re SIM only, so we don’t do handsets. We don’t do customer service in the traditional sense. You can only get our products from our website or from our customers or members online. Everything is fuelled by them. We’re coming from a standpoint where customers really drive the business, both from a customer service point of view and from an acquisition point of view.
Of course, we know from research that people hold recommendations from friends – offline or online – in much higher regard than they do traditional marketing. So it’s important not only for the business and what we’re trying to do in the wider context of the mobile market, but also from the perspective of brand value, that we use social media to enable our members to support us.
To give you an example, within the community on giffgaff.com, there are super-users who are there 24/7, every day of the year. You can get a response from them within 90 seconds on average. We see the same on Facebook. Super-users will post messages to other members who are enquiring about giffgaff. Social media is absolutely key for us in providing the core services that a normal business does. We just do it in a slightly different way.
So there’s almost an element of crowd-sourcing there?
Yes, when we were launching in 2009, we really looked at crowd-sourcing models. What we always say is, it’s absolutely fine for people to enjoy giffgaff and not get involved in anything at all. People can use us in exactly the same way they would a traditional network.
However, there’s a group of people out there who do want to be involved – and that might be answering questions, recruiting members, producing videos, producing marketing collateral – we’ve had people standing outside the Bullring in Birmingham every Saturday handing out SIM cards. With social media it’s very easy and quick for people to stick up a page saying, ‘you can get a SIM card from me, I get £5 credit and so do you.’ You can put that up on Facebook, on Twitter, we’ve got people making their own microsites. All kinds of things. So it’s important that we’re in that space, communicating relevant messages.
Of course, there are some challenges with that. If someone pops up on social media at three in the morning, they want to have that conversation there and then. Customer service on social media is not nine to five, it’s 24/7, and that’s a lesson we’ve learned. I strongly believe that you can’t buy advocacy. Advocacy is something you have to earn. The best case scenario is that people love your brand, love your product and become natural advocates. Advocacy is something you can nurture on social media through the conversations you’re having, but you can’t buy it.
There are a lot of brands who I think are trying to generate ROI from social media through just pushing out products, and that isn’t good enough. Social media is not, in my opinion, the right channel in which to do that. It needs to be about conversations and interactions rather than pushing products.
Obviously, most businesses are very focused on social now – its role and how it’s evaluated within campaigns, product launches and so on. But for me it’s more about integration and quality of conversation. The easy metrics to look at are things like the number of followers and ‘likes’. All of that is important, and it’s important that brands keep on top of those kinds of metrics because they do give you a blunt measure of how things are going up and down. But what social media really gives you is an idea of the level of interactions people are having with you, and what’s important is the quality of those conversations.
With social media, is there a risk that brands misunderstand the environment and the sorts of behaviour that are appropriate there?
We’ve seen a few articles on this subject recently. One, I think, in Mashable, asks whether the focus is ROI, or conversion. That distinction means looking at social media in more of a direct marketing kind of way. For giffgaff, we’ve got full integration with Facebook, so you can order our SIM cards or top up there – you can do all of that on Facebook. But for me it’s more about driving conversation and relevant interaction with members.
I think sometimes brands tend to look at social media in the same way they would a conventional campaign. You know – ‘we’re going to launch product ‘X’, we’re going to do a Facebook page, a video, use Twitter’. But that’s not an ongoing journey. After the traditional campaign ends, what happens to the Facebook page? It dies. Instead you need to think about what your business objectives are, and then ask how social media can help you achieve those. It’s about a long-term, ongoing strategy.
Some recent research undertaken by Figaro with Lightspeed suggested that users tend to connect with brands on Facebook in order to take advantage of specific offers or promotions, but are more reluctant to engage long-term. How does that compare with your own experience of users’ behaviour on Facebook, and what might be the implications for marketers generally?
This is interesting. People naturally want to take advantage of offers. You just have to go to the supermarket to see that, particularly in the current climate. At giffgaff we haven’t done a whole lot in terms of special offers and promos. One we did run a while back was very successful though. The more people who ‘liked’ our Facebook page, the more minutes we added to one of our goody-bags, which is a bundle of minutes and texts. That massively increased the amount of ‘likes’ we were getting and it worked because it was of mutual benefit. ‘You do something for us – like our page, giving us more people to talk to and more conversations to have. And we give you something in return: more minutes within one of our core products.’
I do think that it comes down to conversations though, so once you’ve got someone there through a promotion, how do you then nurture that relationship and ensure the conversation is ongoing? If it’s a time-specific promotion, or a time-specific piece of social media, then you are going to lose those users, because you’re not indicating that there’s a long term relationship to be had. But hopefully, for people who do take advantage of a promotion – that opens up a corridor that wasn’t previously there. And it’s important to then follow that up.
What for you are some of the key issues which social media marketers need to be thinking about over the next 12 months?
The growth and adoption of Google+ is going to be interesting to watch. One of the big challenges with Facebook is it’s becoming a really noisy place. Look at your newsfeed on Facebook and it’s full of brands. That newsfeed is almost turning into a TV ad break. The challenge for brands is to cut through that – to get their point of difference across. For me that’s a very significant issue.
How can brands do that? It’s important to look at what drives positive reactions in whatever ways you’re measuring your social media. Blogs, video and so on might all have different success rates, so my advice would be to look at what’s working and do more of that. That may sound obvious, but this is a very crowded, tricky, fast-paced atmosphere, so it’s about understanding what works and why, and focusing on that. You can be playful if that works for you. And if it doesn’t work, refine and try again. If you’re measuring your KPIs in the right way, hopefully that will give you the results you need.
Tom Rainsford was talking to Jon Fortgang