Social Media: So What?

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One way or another, that’s what a lot of people that I know are asking. Here are snippets from five conversations I’ve had in the last week—followed by my own observations.

So what’s the big deal?

Tuesday morning, I gave a presentation on Social Media 101 to the Boston Chapter of the Wharton Alumni club. There was a lot of interest and a lot of questions about how members could use social media to increase their revenues.

Nevertheless, at least one person wondered whether it was just a fad—and a tremendous waste of time. His experience was that most posters’ communications seemed to focus on the details of the publisher’s life—things that would probably be of little use or interest to anyone outside the poster’s closest associates.

So what am I missing?

Wednesday afternoon, a prospective client called to discuss the first draft of her social media marketing plan. She had clearly outlined her business objectives and developed a detailed tactical plan. Specifics included target social media platforms, desired frequency of communications, examples of tools/content needed to foster (internal and external) participant engagement, and resource requirements. Her question was: “So what am I missing?”

So what’s the best use of our time?

Last Friday, I met with the Marketing Director of a sizable division of a large firm. His greatest concern was the amount of time it takes to produce—and even keep abreast—of relevant social media. And, I thought that was mostly a problem for smaller companies.

His greatest need: metrics on the ROI of various social media marketing strategies and tactics. As he said, without that information, it’s difficult to decide where to invest constrained staff time—and impossible to justify decisions to company executives.

So what is working?

While there aren't as many metrics on the ROI of social media - yet - as there are for more conventional marketing strategies, there are some. Yesterday morning, I attended a meeting of the Business Lawyers' Network organized by Roger Glovsky where Erik J. Heels spoke about one of his successes. Upon realizing that the ROI he was getting from direct mail - which in the past had returned in excess of 400%--was approaching zero, Erik ramped up his social media marketing efforts.

About six months ago, building on what he had learned from his direct marketing experience, Erik launched a Twitter campaign with a compelling offer--free trademarks for start ups. Since then, other social media publishers have spread the word by retweeting it and commenting on it in their blogs (just as I've done here).

The result? Erik broke even in 30 days and has added one new client per week since launching the campaign six months ago. Each client, on average, files four trademarks, so he counts on the follow-on business to pay for the first free filing. The offer keeps on giving since his Twitter bio features the website link: http://FreeTrademarksForStartups.com.

So what can we learn?

Social media marketing, when backed by strong strategic thinking, is very powerful. Witness Erik’s success. That said, having a social media marketing strategy is key. Else, as the Wharton alum noted social media marketing can be a tremendous waste of time—both for creators and for consumers.

For that reason, my advice to the prospect, who yesterday asked me what she’s missing from her plan, was to suggest that she approach social media marketing as she does conventional marketing. That is start by identifying who she needs to reach—and what events need to occur—before she can achieve her business objectives.

Then, it’s a matter of figuring out how to engage these individuals by finding out:

  • where do they turn for information,
  • what sources do they trust most, and
  • what format works best for them.

Only then, will she know whether to invest in testing social media platforms and tactics, which ones to choose, and how to make the most of her company’s time and money...

Finally, I advised her to review her metrics. Her plan had been to generate a large number of visitors, page views, and followers. But, the plan didn’t indicate how she knew that any of these metrics would actually translate to

  • greater performance of the actions she hoped to motivate,
  • faster performance of the desired actions,
  • or achievement of her ultimate objectives.

I suggested, therefore, that she test these assumptions before making major investments. One way to do so would be to collect initial data and then look backwards.

Was there any correlation between execution of the desired actions and passive or active use of social media tools? And, if so, where was the correlation greatest—and did it differ by type of target audience? In short, I recommended that she gather exactly the information that the Marketing Director was seeking to determine where, and if, to invest in social media.

In conclusion

The questions that I heard this past week are pretty similar to the questions I hear every week about social media marketing. Different people are using social media for different things—and some have more experience than others—so it’s not surprising to hear a broad range of questions and/or conclusions.

I believe it’s foolish to dismiss social media just because a lot of people aren’t using it effectively. What matters most is not how others are using it—but what’s in it for you both as a content consumer and a content creator. Much like other marketing initiatives, it’s all about data-driven choices.

So what is on your mind about social media marketing?

Are you thinking about it at all? If not, why not? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? If so, what questions do you have?

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