Social Media Marketing Success…Wait For It
No marketing conversation today is ever complete without a discussion about social media. These conversations usually feature a rich repertoire of the phrases du jour, and normally conclude with all parties agreeing that there is room for both social and traditional marketing; that great brands are platform agnostic; and that the key to modern brand alchemy is a balancing act of various levers that should take into account the ebb and flow of business realities. Or something like that.
Perhaps it’s this double talk that leaves many feeling lukewarm about the real benefits of social versus traditional marketing. It doesn’t help that many of the self-appointed social media “gurus” are online shakedown artists often with very little brand marketing experience.
Let’s take a step back and acknowledge we’re in the formative stages of a nascent industry. For every crowd-pleasing Old Spice campaign, there’s an enraged group of Motrin “mommybloggers.” These triumphs and missteps are to be expected as brands grapple with new media that is at once more engaging, accessible, interactive, irreverent and heaven forbid, transparent than the traditional channels of marketing.
Shareability — a Reflection of Consumer Behavior
Who first saw Nike’s “Write The Future” campaign while watching TV? Or saw Tennessee gubernatorial hopeful Basil Marceaux’s stump speech on the news? If you answered yes to either of those questions I’d venture to say you’re in the minority. Chances are, both popped up in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. We often hear that if Facebook were a country, it would have the third biggest population in the world. Twitter is estimated to have 100 million users worldwide. If that’s where the customers are, brands had better be there too.
Content is now being shared and spread at the consumers’ discretion. Social media is simply the conduit, not the message. Brands have long sought to trigger emotion through humor and storytelling, but now that the ability to share is a click away, never has either skill been more important.
ROI — The Elephant in the Room
So we know people are using it, that’s great, but how do brands calculate what to spend on it?
Once upon a time, calculating the return on investment (ROI) of a brand’s marketing was a simpler proposition. An ad campaign ran for a specified period and was deemed a success or failure based on whether it met predetermined sales targets. If sales were up, great. If not, perhaps try a new agency. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Measuring social media’s effect is a much trickier proposition. While few marketers would argue that heightened consumer engagement and participation is a bad thing, being able to quantify, and therefore justify, its existence is a different proposition altogether.
A recent report from research firm Forrester suggests we should stop looking at social media as a zero-sum, dollars in/dollars out proposition. Analyst and report author Augie Ray writes:
Many marketers can draw a straight line between investments in social media marketing and financial results, but many more cannot. This doesn’t mean social media marketing is ineffective; it just means that marketers have to recognize benefits beyond dollars and cents. Facebook fans, retweets, site visits, video views, positive ratings and vibrant communities are not financial assets–they aren’t reflected on the balance sheet and can’t be counted on an income statement–but that doesn’t mean they are valueless. Instead, these are leading indicators that the brand is doing something to create value that can lead to financial results in the future.
Or as the economist Robert Chambers put it, “Count the numbers and only numbers count.” For this reason, any social media initiative should be approached patiently and considered an exercise in delayed gratification.
The Forrester report also highlights social media’s ongoing effectiveness as a safeguard mechanism against unforeseen brand challenges. All things considered, having a steady social media presence can be more convenient and cost effective than outsourcing communications projects on an as need basis. Furthermore, this can evolve into more than just a promotional tool and become a competitive advantage for the brand. A well-known example of this is the now famous “Comcast Cares” Twitter account that responds to complaints much faster than waiting on the phone for the customer service recording.
Social media is not the panacea that its boosters claim, nor the waste of time and resources its critics believe.
No one has it all figured out yet. But brands that hope to channel Woody Allen and succeed by virtue of merely “showing up” are bound to fail.
Engage. Delight. Stand for something. The best social media strategies tend to also be the best brand strategies.