Social Media for Brands: Listen, Engage, and Measure
Social media has become an indisputable force in the marketing world, but it is evolving rapidly and often difficult to master. While many marketers have quickly become experts in the field, there are some for whom the term ‘Social Media Marketing’ evokes only thoughts of Facebook ads and promoted Tweets. If that sounds familiar, may I humbly suggest that you are doing it wrong.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Social Media Insider Summit, sponsored by Media Post. Over the course of three days, attendees were given the opportunity to hear from experts in the industry, including representatives from prominent brands, agencies, and technology providers. In addition to formal presentations, a series of roundtable discussions provided for dynamic and open conversations around a variety of topics. The conference covered a lot of ground, but three high level concepts stood out for brands that want to get the most out of social media: Listen, Engage & Measure.
Marketers have a variety of channels to choose from, whether print, television, postal, email, or online display (to name a few). These are all effective ways for a brand to get messages out to consumers; some are great at building brand awareness and favorability, while others help drive sales directly. Social media was initially viewed by many as another opportunity to ‘get the message out’: using Facebook and Twitter as simply a messaging channel, or an extension of traditional display advertising. After all, marketers need to go where the people are; if there are a lot of eyeballs, brands want to get in front of them.
Most marketers quickly recognized that a key game-changing feature of social media is bi-directional communication. Not only can brands talk to consumers, but unlike most other traditional channels, consumers can also talk to brands. For many organizations, though, something critically important still remains: figuring out how to listen. Facebook wall posts and Twitter mentions are great, but without a consistent strategy for listening, responding, and leveraging insights, a huge opportunity has been missed.
There is no one-size fits all approach to effective listening; companies have to create a strategy that supports corporate and marketing objectives, and fits within budget. At the low-end, this may mean a small team to monitor social channels, using basic guidelines for gathering information and responding to consumers. At the other end of the spectrum, there might be several teams leveraging advanced tools to coordinate monitoring and response, and performing automated sentiment analysis. Regardless of the specific implementation, social media provides an unmatched platform for truly listening to the consumer.
Engagement is one the most used buzzwords in the marketing world, but there is good reason; it is a truly important concept. While the power of engaging consumers is not a new idea, the rise of social media has provided marketers the ability to pull it off like never before. The word encompasses a variety of tactics and goals, but I define successful engagement as something that generates good quality earned media in sufficient quantity to justify the cost and effort.
If there is a buzzword (or buzz-phrase) that is hotter than engagement, it might be earned media. Simply defined, this is when the consumer actually becomes the marketing channel, such as mentioning a brand on Facebook or Twitter. Anyone familiar with Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing knows that consumers place far more trust in other consumers than they do in brands and their marketing mouthpieces. This is precisely why earned media is so valuable, and modern social networks provide a robust environment for nurturing it.
With this in mind, a successful social media campaign should leverage engagement techniques that drive conversations about, and recommendations of, the brand. There are many ways to do this, but buyer beware: not all earned media is create equal. When consumers talk about brands in a forced or contrived fashion, or worse yet in a negative way, the value is greatly diminished. The real goal is to generate authentic, genuine expressions of consumer advocacy, which is a more difficult challenge, but ultimately far more valuable.
Successfully delivering insights, engagement, and earned media is no longer the end of the story. For most organizations, social media has moved out of the “honeymoon” phase during which marketers could experiment without having to justify the expense. Management is now demanding accountability, and in most cases this means showing tangible results for marketing dollars spent. In addition, quantifiable results are almost always necessary to improve and optimize future efforts: “One cannot manage what one cannot measure”.
At the very least, this requires basic metrics around every social media campaign, such as impressions and expressions. Taken to its logical conclusion, however, marketers will be responsible for demonstrating a positive return on investment (ROI) supported by actual sales data. While traditional media such as TV is not often held to this standard, the success of e-commerce (and tracking sales conversion from display ads) has tilted perceptions in this direction, especially for any digital media. Fortunately, tools and technology have come a long way in this area, and it is becoming possible to measure offline sales and track them back to various marketing efforts.
Knowing this, marketers should prepare for robust measurement at both the campaign level, and as an integrated part of the overall marketing plan. This becomes increasingly more important (and more difficult) as the number of viable channels, technology partners, and campaign types grows larger each month. There is not always an easy solution, but keeping measurement goals in focus is a priority for sustainable success in social media marketing.
I would love to think that these three simple concepts (Listen, Engage and Measure) cover all we need to know about social media marketing, but of course that is far from the truth. For me, they are signposts that guide us on the path to success; highlighting some key things to keep in mind while planning and executing our social media strategy. As the landscape evolves, that path becomes ever more complex, but I hope the ideas presented above will keep us pointed in the right direction for quite some time.