This is not another post glorifying the business benefits of engaging in online social media. That would be so 2009. Even though true social media ROI modeling is still in its early stages, the data we do have on hand already makes a pretty overwhelming case for this channel. There are almost 150 million online social media users in the U.S., which is easily more than 60 percent of our country's internet population. According to eMarketer, the average time spent per user on social networks in November 2010 was 316 minutes that month. Then there's Nielsen data, which shows two-times lift in brand metrics around social ads vs. non-social ads, GroupM's research on the lift in search behavior from users exposed to a brand on social networks, and the list goes on.
At this point, we know there's significant value in this channel. So, no, this is not another post urging you to get into social media. That should be a given. What I'm hoping to do is to give a little kick in the butt to those of you who know you should be more involved in this space but haven't yet done more than put your toes in the water. Maybe you have a Facebook and a Twitter account. Maybe you're monitoring your social buzz via some kind of free or paid keyword tracking tool. But what's holding you back from really making a push?
By no means am I saying to scrap all of your existing marketing and put it all into social. It's not a golden bullet. Social works really well to complement paid campaigns. But certainly, the companies that start today will be the big winners in the years to come as social media grows and completely permeates every nook and cranny of the web. It's going to take time -- and trial and error -- to fully leverage this channel. So you might as well get started now.
I'm talking directly to some of you with larger advertisers that have significant budgets. Not necessarily Coke or Kraft money -- but maybe those of you out there with several or even tens of millions in total (off-line and online) annual marketing dollars. Are you waiting to see how the space develops and evolves? Don't. Your competitors won't, and by the time you come around, it might be too late. Don't think your target audience is into social media? You're wrong. If anything, they're adopting by the boatloads every day. Not sure what steps to take? That's valid. But at this point, there are enough examples of successful social media strategies out there to point you in the right direction.
Is it the cost? I could see how that would be a huge barrier. You've been spending consistently in TV, print, outdoor, and other channels for the last zillion years. Thus, it might seem like there's not enough left over to try something as "emerging" and "unproven" as social. But let's see what we can do about that.
I've pulled in three of the smartest social media practitioners I could find and asked them to put together social programs based on the cost of a single ad unit.
Social program No. 1: Instead of a single $200,000 national magazine back cover media buy...
If the back cover of a national magazine runs you $200,000 and you diverted that entire amount to social media marketing, you could make a serious dent in driving online conversation around your brand. I would take that budget and equip you with one or two full-time community managers/content providers; pay for subscriptions to some kick-ass management, monitoring, and analytics packages; and build a content and engagement strategy that would move the needle for you.
Chances are, I might have enough left over to develop a full-scale microsite and user-generated content promotional campaign that drives more fans and followers to your brand. Or at least support the social media engagement and content effort with some supplemental pay-per-click advertising or SEO work.
Take out the full-time employee cost, and you could throw in three to four custom campaigns around your events, product launches, or other initiatives.
Oh -- and did I mention that would cover you for a full year?
Or you could take out that cover ad that a few folks will see, will be at the bottom of the trash heap in two weeks, and that you can't track. Up to you.
Social program No. 2: Instead of a $400,000 Times Square billboard for one month...
Practitioner: Shannon Paul, social media manager, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
While $400,000 might be small potatoes for a national advertising campaign that involves a billboard in Times Square, it can go a long way in social media, especially if you're looking to begin making the transition to a social business. You could hire a social media team for roughly $200,000 and integrate your web analytics with social media monitoring to manage your online reputation for less than $20,000, bringing your new total up to $220,000.
Your team could then be responsible for conducting an employee audit to find out what experience and presence your employees have with social media and whether they consider themselves brand advocates. From there, you could create a company social media policy and training program that would give all your employees a baseline understanding of how to safely and ethically interact with others on issues connected to your company. That program could also serve as a means of identifying potential brand ambassadors who could then be encouraged to connect with consumers and share your company news in a way that aligns with your communications and marketing strategies -- even if they don't work in communications. By empowering your passionate employees, you would have the ability to amplify any of your company messages in a very organic way.
With the remaining $180,000, you could hire someone to oversee SEO to make sure all your social media efforts are aligned with paid and organic search -- and still have another $80,000 leftover. When integrated, both search and social media communications become much more efficient since social media helps boost the number of inbound links to your campaign and product landing pages, in addition to driving things like brand awareness and positive buzz. Inbound links are important for signaling search engines to the fact that your website has more relevance and authority; all you need to know is this could help bring down your spend per click with respect to online advertising.
With that remaining $80,000, you could arrange social media-driven offline events with live streaming video, pay a celebrity to tweet about the event on your behalf, and order lots of swag for those who attend; like anything else when it comes to social media, the rest depends on your goals and objectives.
That said, I still believe advertising is an extremely powerful vehicle, and social media doesn't replace that. Done right, social media gives advertising deeper reach, strengthens relationships with fans of your brand (internal and external), and injects meaty insight into plain, old impression data.
Social program No. 3: Instead of a $2.5 million 30-second Super Bowl spot...
Practitioner: Edward Boches, chief innovation officer, Mullen
It's unlikely that any brand would make a decision between spending $2.5 million on a Super Bowl spot and putting the equivalent amount into social media. It's apples and oranges. The Super Bowl buys you instant scale, well more than 100 million impressions, and cultural conversation. At a CPM of $27.00, it's reasonably priced, given that you're also getting press coverage, YouTube views, and more. Of course, that $2.5 million media payment doesn't factor in another $1 million for production and perhaps half that much more in associated agency fees.
But for $2.5 million, you could make a huge impact in social media. You could build out a full-blown digital base camp, complete with monitors, screens, and dashboards to track all of your brand's and your competitor's brands across the web (approximately $50,000). You could hire a director of social media strategy ($125,000) and a four-person staff, including content generator, community manager, SEO planner, and designer ($250,000). You could plan and execute a pretty effective Facebook engagement campaign ($250,000) that would certainly help your organic efforts and get you to anywhere from half a million to a million fans. You could hire a full-service, creative-oriented social media agency to generate the big creative ideas and programs you need to augment your ongoing conversation strategy ($360,000). And you could probably execute a full-blown digital/social program (think Ford Fiesta Movement) that would get you experience, community, content, engagement, and advocates ($750,000).
You could do all that and even have $1.2 million left over to buy a spot in the Super Bowl pre-game show that advertises your social media program -- which ideally will be good enough to advertise. If it isn't, don't waste your money on any of this.
Note: All numbers are rough estimates, and all suggestions presume you know that social media is about engagement, not interruption.