Digital Transformation

The Wide World of Social Media

social media marketing transformationJust like events, another tactic that often ends up being a square peg in a round hole is social media. The world of social media has changed dramatically over the last few years, though, far more even than the world of events so it’s critical you fully evaluate it with that in mind as you integrate it into marketing transformation.

Today, social media plays a much more significant role in the overall marketing process – and even in the client’s buying journey – than just building awareness or even creating engagement. In order to achieve the full value of social media, though, you need to align it to your goals, integrate it into your overall strategy, and measure its effectiveness with the same rigor as other digital tactics.

*Note: People typically think of social media as just social networking (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn) or photo (Instagram) and video (YouTube) sharing or even microblogging (Twitter). However, buyers are also being social when they do regular blogging (remember, you’re meant to comment on blogs) or participate in forums (Google groups), product reviews, social bookmarking (i.e., Digg), and virtual reality simulations (i.e., SecondLife, yes, that’s still around).

However, 81% of executives in one large social media survey don’t feel their organization is leveraging the full potential of social media. There are several potential reasons for this:

  • Organizations often fail to think about how social media can help them achieve their business objectives or make other marketing decisions. Most chief marketing officers (CMOs) flat out state that their social media is not highly linked to organizational marketing strategy, according to the Deloitte/American Marketing Association/Duke University CMO Survey.  This could be because many marketers still think of social media as strictly a tool for engaging interest at the Awareness stage of the buying cycle. Similarly, they end up measuring elements of social media that are not actionable (also known as “vanity metrics”) or not connecting social media metrics to the data related to your business objective (i.e., leads, revenue, etc.). This lack of real forensic rigor is why analyst like John Lovett suggest mapping metrics to business outcomes and even writing down formulas in a “data dictionary” to ensure everyone understands how each variable is connected (even if you don’t have his book on your desk like I do, you might want to skip the promo video and go right to the presentation of the content). There is no point going through all that time or money or analysis, though, if you don’t have a strong business-aligned reason for your brand to use social media. If you say that the business objective is to keep up with competitors who are using social media, fine. But you can’t skimp on the effort you put in or you’ll just set yourself up for failure.
  • Another reason is the persistence social as an outbound communication channel to push products/services rather than as the two-way communication platform social media was intended to be. These are folks on the opposite side of the spectrum we talked about above, ones who only think about the corporate objective (i.e., driving leads to a gateway asset). However, the success of social media is due in large part because it allows connections between like-minded – or even just topically interested but not like-minded – people in geographically distant locations. More than that, it allows people give and receive value. Sometimes the value is just recognition but there is still an expectation of a two-way conversation and you have to respect that or your social media efforts will be seen as less than genuine and will be much less effective than they could be. Stick to the 4-1-1 rule, put the effort in to be genuine in whichever channels you choose to work in (if you’re organization is new to social media and you want to remain sane, don’t try to intiate programs for more than one or two channels in the beginning).
  • Yet another reason why social media may be so hard to get full value from is that owned, earned, paid social media are converging, according to researchers at the Altimeter Group. This requires a holistic, integrated approach to marketing as well as people skilled in each type of media. Given that its already hard enough to find people skilled in using social media for marketing (rather than for personal use), some organizations don’t bother to find people who have the ability to strategically coordinate content across these three types of media. However, a poor planning results in inconsistent messaging, competition for and inefficient use of budget, and limited customer engagement so it’s worth the effort. Spend the time planning how you will set it all up and then how you will scale it over time (perhaps as you add channels or geos). Align your teams and your content. Set up a solid feedback loop so that you measure and use data from each media – and other marketing channels – to optimize the other media channels.

As mentioned above, social media analytics has historically been about understanding customer sentiment. However, it can also help you understand what content is resonating with your audience, not to mention a great way to find advocates for your product/service. Modern technology even allows you to look at behaviors and map them to specific demographics for your segments (by analyzing the language used in posts), no matter what scale you’re working on. One use of that capability that I love, but that many people overlook, is using the data to build your target buyer persona based on what they say and link to in their social media accounts.

There are even tools that go beyond text and help you track what people are communicating in their social media images (think of those contests where brands ask you to show how you use their product). Social media analytics vendor NetBase (which has a Twitter feed full of excellent tips and data, by the way), suggests using that text and image data to generate actionable insights for a variety of uses related to your target audience, such as:

  • Understanding buyer needs and perceptions in the buying process
  • Audience affinities and interests
  • Data on what content is most shared by the which audiences
  • Who the top influencers are for your target audience, outside and inside the target group
  • Key search terms, information format preferences, even specific media properties

Some leading-edge firms have gone further and used social media data to evolve their products.

Whatever your reason for using social media in your organization, remember to create sharable content and make it actually easy to share. Find ways to reward the people who interact with your brand, either through high value content or through rewards. Don’t stifle people who create content that relates to yours (often the case with influencers or superfans) or who even become greater distribution routes for promotion of your content than you.  Remember, there is an inverse relationship between ownership and sharing and sharing is what social media is all about.

Comments welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization addressed social media metrics.

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