At this point, marketers know they need to use social media, but are they really using it to inform marketing decisions? According to a recent University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth study, 93% of Inc. 500 businesses use at least one social media platform or tool. In the same study, LinkedIn had the highest usage with Facebook and Twitter a close second and third, respectively. However, the marketers we talk to are still struggling to quantify their social media efforts. Now that social media is a part of nearly every strategic marketing plan, it’s time to start thinking about this important channel differently. Here are some of the mindset shifts we think need to take place.
Size Is Not All That Matters In Social Media Measurement
Since marketers first turned their attention and their efforts to social media, they have focused on the size of their audience and followers. From the beginning, marketers have tried to justify their time and effort on social media by the number of likes, followers, retweets, and other vanity metrics and compared the size of their following to their competitors. While knowing that you’re bigger than the competition can be gratifying, it doesn’t go far enough to demonstrate the overall impact on your business.
According to Erin O’Brien, COO, the rapidly changing landscape is one reason why marketers are having a hard time keeping up. “There have been a lot of channels added in a relatively short time,” she notes. “For a long time marketers had a limited number of channels that were cultivated over decades, including: radio, TV, and print. Eventually email came along and then there was an explosion of other channels. With social, it wasn’t just one channel it was Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and a host of new channels opening up all the time.”
Every time a new channel opens up, marketers must ask:
- Is this the right channel for my business to participate in today?
- How can I use this new channel to engage my audience?
- How do I measure my success?
- Will participating in this channel detract from other effective marketing efforts?
- Do I have the bandwidth to adopt another channel?
When a new social media channel is added to the mix, the hype and the hoopla get people in the executive suite excited and they may begin pushing marketing to participate before they know how to set up engagement metrics or know what metrics are appropriate to monitor. Add to that the time it takes to become established on a new channel, and, Voilà! you have a lot of effort going into something that doesn’t show immediate bottom line results. The resulting confusion causes some marketers to throw up their hands in defeat before they’ve given the channel an opportunity to recognize a new player and engage with them.
“Social engagement and interactions don’t happen in a week,” notes Erin, “People don’t start to like your Facebook page or start to follow you on Twitter, and typically instantly show revenue. It takes some time to understand the success of any social media channel in terms of conversions.”
Adjust Your Social Media Altitude
Depending on your perspective, the results of your social media campaigns may look a little different. While you want to get an overview of your efforts, knowing what to change and how to change it will only come from taking a closer look at the individual pieces of content on individual channels. Up until now, marketers have been concerned with designing, implementing, and measuring efforts at the campaign level. Even this perspective leads to considerable confusion.
“What does a campaign mean to you?”asks Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO, “You may be looking at campaigns in terms of department or channels such as advertising, social media, or content creation. Most of the companies out there are still struggling to unify these different sets of activities to create a campaign under a single message. Once you get everyone involved around a single purpose, you can measure the effectiveness of that message across channels.”
In fact, campaigns may mean a variety of things depending on your organization. Campaigns are as individualized as the companies themselves and can be grouped according to channel, department, time period, holiday sale, geography, product lines, solutions, audience types, or any number of variables. The campaign view is not always linear and there may be multiple campaigns running at multiple times.
So, what is the best way to measure social media efforts? Should marketers be looking at the campaign level, however that is designated, or by individual pieces of content?
According to Erin,”If you want to measure something at the aggregate or 60,000 foot view level, you need to be able to understand the weeds on the ground. Although it may not be your day-to-day function to understand individual content performance and to change or create that content, you need a tool to look at both the agggregate and the granular level to get valid measurement metrics.”
An accurate measurement of social media efforts requires the ability to measure both individual content success and performance at the campaign level.
Does Social Engagement Impact Search?
Before you assume that there is inherent value in increased engagement overall, consider what impact those engagements have on your bottom line. Look at who is following you and if they are part of a target audience or group of influencers in your market. It’s easy to get followers, but some followers are just spammers or have nothing to do with your industry .and just measuring the number of people engaging with your content can be meaningless.
“If you get a lot of engagement, but no traffic then did you have a branding impact?” asks Ray, “Maybe yes, maybe no, and you’re probably not able to measure it. We like to use a combination of social and search data to determine if there has been a long-term and lasting impact on your content campaign. We look at social engagement as immediate and search impact as long term.”
Search and social have a symbiotic relationship. Social engagements can impact on your search results, while the content you create can drive traffic over time without the need to use paid channels to get that same traffic. If you’re creating meaningful content, hopefully you’ll be increasing your engagement, creating more backlinks to your site as an authority, and increasing traffic. If your social is driving up your search volume, then you’re using both channels effectively and you’ve had a positive impact. However, if you’re not measuring traffic or conversion revenue, then it’s hard to quantify your efforts.
“If I get a million page views and not one person converts, that metric of traffic or engagement doesn’t really matter,” asserts Erin. “I would rather get ten page views that lead to ten conversions. The problem is, too many brands are trying to engage with everyone. You can’t. It’s like trying to be best friends with a thousand people. You can’t be best friends with a thousand people. I can barely be best friends with two or three.”
In the past, marketers got away with the spray and pray method. Now there’s too much noise and only well-tailored content is going to get the engagements and conversions brands are looking for. In this new era, marketers should be focusing on engaging with a target audience who is actually interested in what they have to say and what their brand has to offer. Brands with a more narrow focus both in terms of audience and message are going to differentiate themselves in their markets and gain conversions in the future.
Share Social Media Data Relevancy
Sharing data, breaking down silos, reaching across departments, creating a unified message. These are all practices that have been discussed ad nauseam. Still, in many organizations the fluidity of data sharing has not been as easy as it sounds. Before marketers start passing out data on their social media efforts, they should understand the reasons for sharing. While vanity metrics can make us all feel warm and fuzzy inside, Ray warns that you need to speak the language of the group, or person, you plan to share your information with.
“If you’re going to share things outside of the marketing department, you have to be able to speak the language of your audience and make the information relevant to them,” cautions Ray, “If you’re sharing with executives, they care about growth, they care about making more money, they care about things like loyalty and brand engagement, so frame it that way. When you share with other departments, speak to the needs of those you’re sharing with.”
There’s a lot of useful information that comes from social engagement, beyond measurement. The conversations that are happening organically around your industry can, and should, have some impact on your product decisions, future content creation, and customer service practices.
“If you’re following conversations that people are having around your industry, you’re probably able to come up with new features or changes to your product,” notes Erin. “You’re going to hear support issues that can be addressed by your customer support team or that you can address with targeted content.”
Besides the obvious benefit of sharing data to inform decisions within departments, there is a natural opportunity to begin conversations within organizations about how people are describing products and services, how the market discussion is evolving, and how the brand might want to respond with revised content or new product feature sets.
No matter what new channels appear on the horizon in the future, one thing is certain, marketers are going to have to evolve and adjust quickly to stay relevant and to retain audience share of mind.
We have the tools to help you quantify your social media efforts. Read more about our Social Intelligence Suite here and when you’re ready to see what our platform can do for you, give us a shout and we’ll schedule a demo.