By Sam Williams-Thomas, CEO, OgilvyOne UK

Social promises a revolution, but often delivers a damp squib.

The promise is simple. Social relationships are central to our lives, and by extension to how we market and build businesses. It’s the oldest marketing finding around - that the biggest influences on us are our peers, friends and family.

But many marketers feel that their Social programmes are failing, or are simply unsure how they can build on a successful Facebook page to achieve something more meaningful. The challenge is that appropriate use of Social differs dramatically by category. A car manufacturer like Mercedes, with highly engaged customers who only buy every 5 - 10 years, needs a very different plan from a chocolate company like Mars.

To understand this challenge better OgilvyOne established the Social Value Benchmark - a process to assess companies’ Social activities against their direct competitors based on public information, and to allow comparisons between categories.

Assessed on 4,087 datapoints across five categories, this research had some surprising findings:

1. Social is most actively used by companies in the early stages of customer journeys with a score of 51% at the awareness stage of customer journeys falling to 21% at the point of purchase. Social is still implicitly seen as a broadcast medium, and so is used relatively traditionally by most marketers.

2. Brands have significant room for improvement, with an average score of 31% across the customer journey.

3. Many companies are reluctant to leave the Social ‘safe zone’ and engage with customers outside their owned social channels. Unless a company has had a very successful programme of engaging its customers, the vast majority of them are likely to be found outside its owned channels, so this both misses significant opportunities to increase reach and fails to be customer centric.

4. Channel disconnect is a common phenomenon, with a colder, more broadcast, tone by companies on their websites than in Social. Often companies have excellent testimonials or reviews from their customers in Social channels, but do not use these outside Social channels. After purchase company communications with consumers frequently become extremely transactional - and consumers instinctively feel this difference, and this weakens bonding.

5. Social loyalty and advocacy are particularly neglected with average scores of 20% and 17% respectively. Many organisations simply don’t have any plan to engage their customers in Social after purchase.

The implications for digital marketers are:

1. Marketers must start every Social strategy from their business strategy, rather than a Social channel. ‘What can we do on Facebook?’ is essentially a meaningless question compared to questions like ‘How do we use Social to drive advocacy from satisfied customers?’ or ‘Which parts of our customer journey are our customers active in Social?’

2. Analytics need to focus more on stages of the customer journey, and less on the metrics that Social networks provide. While brands will sometimes struggle to measure whether somebody who interacts through Social then goes on to buy their product again, they can measure if they were satisfied, and at a channel level resulting sampling, advocacy and website traffic.

3. Content should be optimised to a purpose such as sampling, or advocacy, rather than Social platform metrics like ReTweets. Once great content has been created it needs to be distributed where customers are spending their time, whether through smart influencer strategies, highly targeted media buys or partnerships.

4. Social can drive much more value from customer engagement programmes, and vice versa. Social can provide proof that a product is popular (through numbers of fans, and sometimes showing that a consumer’s friends are fans too), generate reviews and show that a brand has a human side. CRM systems, even at the most basic, can help drive audience growth in Social channels - and are a key component in converting latent interest that arises in Social into purchasing. At the most simple level Twitter’s Lead Generation card option gives brands a way to convert followers into email addresses. Alternatively in the crucial period for bonding after purchase, brands could send invitations to customer-only Social channels, so that customers are treated differently from broader audiences.

5. Very few brands are prompting their consumers to advocacy, for instance by driving consumers to review their products on retail websites. Our previous research on Global Passion Brands showed that there is often a huge disconnect between latent customer satisfaction and active advocacy. At its simplest brands should be asking for more feedback from their customers, and then boosting the visibility of this feedback. Hotels and restaurants have a lot to teach other categories in this regard.

Social is bringing brands closer to their consumers, and allowing them to have a more personal relationship than ever. We can now see where and how investment in social is working. But this is just the tip of the iceberg and for more details of Social marketing’s heroes and villains click here for broader cross-category research.