helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By Iain MacMillan, RMM and the IAB Social Media Council education sub-group

When considering how to make best use of social technologies and media, it can be hard to know where to start. Making an organisation’s interactions amongst its employees, customers, enthusiasts or prospects more social can have numerous benefits -and can be achieved in many and various ways.

With this in mind, we believe a broad framework of social media activity types would be most beneficial – not only for those who lack experience in this area, but also for people for whom a simple check-list might be a useful aide memoire.

We’ve devised a list of six ways in which brands can use social technologies to impact upon a business’ marketing function.

As with all things social:

  • There are areas of overlap across these types of activity
  • Brands will not necessarily need to indulge in all of these to achieve their objectives
  • No chronology should be implied with this list. An organisation should listen, respond, engage and enlist its audience, as is appropriate.

However, we hope such a framework might have the following uses:

  1. It will help explain the relevance of social media to organisations whose current mindset is dominated by either curiosity, fear – or both
  2. It will help explain what types of agencies and clients (with what types of interests) should participate in social media activities (after all, social media is a broad church of activities)
  3. It will provide a generic check-list for social media ‘starters’ who want to know what broad areas of social media activity might be of interest to their organisations
  4. It will provide a framework off which we can hang basic explanations of the typical objectives, metrics, issues and best practice case studies for each activity type

We have employed an analogy – that of throwing a party – to not only help us explain these six types of social media activity, but also to provide a little colour to some otherwise quite dry definitions. So here are our proposed six areas of social media activity:

  • Research and strategy development
    Aka. Party planning: working out the best possible party you could hold for your guests
  • Promotional content or advertising in social spaces
    Aka. Promoting your party, making sure as many people as possible know about it and what will be there
  • Relationship development with key online influencers and online community leaders
    Aka. Making sure all the cool kids will be coming, and telling their friends about how good it will be
  • Facilitating social interaction amongst customers (providing tools, platforms to meet objectives)
    Aka. Catering the party, arranging the venue, ‘optimising’ the party space to encourage interaction
  • Direct engagement between employees and prospects/customers
    Aka. Being available to talk to guests, solve problems, make them feel welcome
  • Measurement and tracking
    Aka. Asking people what they thought of the party, getting feedback, helping to shape the next party

We don’t expect this framework to please all of the people all of the time – when does that ever happen, particularly when it comes to social media. Instead, its goal is to create some shared language and references amongst agency practitioners, those just starting out in social media and the many curious organisations out there.

February 27, 2010

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by travelwithdayo: RT @Keano81: Tell us what you think about the IAB Social Media Council’s ‘6 types of social media activity’…

Tony Effik
February 27, 2010

Hi Iain, I very much agree with the structure and content of this piece, and find the party analogy useful.

I also think its right to accept that very few clients or agencies will do all of these steps and do all of these steps well.

The planning and measurement steps are particularly challenging, as they, amongst all of the steps are the newest pieces of science. And our IAB research shows marketers believe that too.

Many of the other steps borrow from the world of PR, Word of Mouth, and Advertising. yet we need to create a language, method, and structure for planning and measurement.

So for me, defining what “best possible party” means is a key challnge, and deciding how you “measure what people thought about the party” are things we need to dive much deeper into.

March 4, 2010

Thanks Tony – very much agree with those points

Amy Kean
March 9, 2010

This is a great post Iain, and for me successfully outlines the remit of the IAB social media council…

The party comparison works, because not only could you do all of the above for a highly memorable party/campaign (although few clients are doing this yet, as Tony mentioned) the different aspects of party planning will be important to different people depending on their objectives. For example, do i consider it a good party, simply if there are loads of people there? if so, the paid-for/promotional side of social media would work best for me. Or do I consider a successful party one within which people make friends with each other, and significantly build their contact base? If so, the facilitation side of social media (i.e. providing tools, platforms etc for conversation) would be most appropriate.

Looking forward to seeing the thoughts of other SMC members on here.

Henry Elliss, Tamar
March 9, 2010

Since I helped out with the analogy, I feel perfectly justified in using the most cliched blog comment of them all – the most commonly used, lazily thought out but usually true comment…

“Great post!”


Henry Elliss, Tamar
March 9, 2010

P.S. Come on guys, get with the times and get your Gravatars sorted…! :)

March 9, 2010

Amy – these are great points. You not only highlight the fact that social media can help a business meet a number of different objectives, but also the importance of defining associated metrics for each of these objectives.

The party analogy isn’t perfect, but it is flexible and can be applied to numerous scenarios.

Tim Denyer
March 17, 2010


Another thing that could be added to the analogy is the issue of ownership of different roles and making people accountable by giving them targets – whoever pours the drinks has to make sure noone is thirsty, whoever greets the guests should know how many people they need to speak with etc…

Completely agree with Amy’s point about defining the objectives of the party. These should come from the initial research / planning of the party – have your guests you invited talked about a desire for a cocktail of sex and drugs or do they want a more traditional dinner party? Then play accordingly.

March 19, 2010

Tim – good points regarding how we can extend the analogy. As well as looking at ownership and accountability, we can consider the issues related to each type of social media activity, and examples of best practice.

This can build into a basic reference framework. Purely generic, of course, but most useful.

Clare Casson
March 22, 2010

I’ve been chased up about contributing a suggestion I made in the duscussion following your presentation. I can’t remeber how it fits with the party analogy, but here it is anyway:
1. There was some discussion about offering guidance about how social media can be used in the context of different disciplines or by different parts of the organisation (advertising, PR, research etc.) I thought it would also be useful to offer guidance on opportunities to engage at each stage of the engagement/comms process. It should be possible to identify some fairly generic stages & opportunities that might apply to lots of different campaigns or programmes of activity. You could then map these opportunities to specific objectives for each stage, again generic(but people using the framework could tweek and specify them for their particular context). Then you could map these generic objectives to possible measures.

This would provide a skeleton framework for planning.

Any other thoughts on this anyone?

Lisa Mané
March 22, 2010

Iain, One more thought is about explicit risk management / contingency planning. Could fit either into Research / Strategy development, or could have it’s own category. Could easily extend to the party analogy – what if no one show’s up? what if too many people show up? what if guests behave unruly …

March 23, 2010

Clare – thanks for your comment. I completely agree with your thoughts. At RMM, we’ve started to do some work on such a framework(there’s some early thoughts on our blog). It’s incredibly generic, but does provide us with a starting point when it comes to approaching different business functions.

Lisa – really like the way you’ve extended the analogy. Risk management feels like a sub-section of the strategy type, but could equally form it’s own type. As we start to make more use of the six types, we can spend some more time fleshing them out.

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