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Social media: Listen less and sell more

Social media: Listen less and sell more Clay McDaniel

Your brand may have a lot of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, but chances are your social media marketing methods aren't working that well to drive what really matters: sales. In 2010, you need to move beyond using social media to create buzz and actually get consumers to buy.

Social media in 2009 was all about engagement. Marketers large and small jumped onto Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social channels in a rush to amass as many "fans" for their brands as possible. The hope was -- and it worked to a large extent for many marketers -- to create brand advocates who would spread your messages virally to their friends online. But while social media is great for creating buzz, many marketers are beginning to realize that is doesn't -- and shouldn't -- stop there. Social media is also a great direct marketing channel that drives valuable sales.

Save the date! For more social media marketing best practices, attend ad:tech San Francisco, April 19-21. Click here to learn more.

In 2010, more and more brands will find ways to use social marketing to move the sales needle -- driving people to not just talk about their brands, but to make purchases through the social channel. And that move will necessitate a whole new crop of analytics tools that enable marketers to measure with precision how social media activity about their brand impacts not just brand engagement, but conversion. Instead of just relying on buzz monitoring tools to see who is talking about their brand and what they're saying, marketers now need sophisticated analytics tools (a list of these tools is provided at end of this article) that show which word-of-mouth conversations result in bottom-line sales and why.

This year, marketers will move beyond listening to start selling.

For marketers, there are ways to make this transition fairly easily. The trick is to not succumb to the temptation to just start spamming your fan base with hundreds of discounts and offers, but to instead take the time to analyze trends across your social programs to find out exactly what people want -- and then deliver relevant, timely promotions. Provided you don't come on too strong, consumers are more than happy to receive promotional offers via social channels. In fact, many people have had enough of being "friends" with your brand, now they want deals!

Recent research from Razorfish found that promotions and discounts were primary drivers of "friending" a brand for more than a third of social networking users and 44 percent of Twitter users. What's more, 79 percent of women say using social networks to research products and services is important to them, while 64 percent said the same thing about finding discounts, according to research from ShesConnected.com.

The balance you need to strike is to not send out too many promotions -- or your followers will feel "marketed at" -- but not to be too stingy either. If you don't make it worth people's while to friend your brand by offering enticing deals just for them, then they'll likely get frustrated and stop following you. Remember, most people really don't want to be your friend, they just want deals -- and to feel rewarded for being loyal to your brand.

Here are some proven best practices to transform your social media programs from a brand-building exercise into a sales-building channel.

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Monitor buzz, but with a new goal in mind
Before you start overtly marketing to your fans and followers through promotions and special offers, find out what type of offers they want to receive. The beauty of social media is that it's a two-way street. In the old days, marketers researched basic demographic and sales data and then blasted out offers, hoping people would take notice and buy products. On the other hand, with social media's inherent ability to directly connect brands with consumers, marketers can now find out with certainty exactly what type of promotions their customers want.

Use your buzz monitoring tools to find out what people are saying about your brand, why they are saying it, and who they are saying it to. But instead of just getting a vague reading on brand buzz, instead use the tools to track the actual pass-along of your brand's social content via tweets, blog posts, Facebook postings etc., to see which content is driving the most sharing on which sites. For example, you may find that mothers have been sharing information about your chemical-free sunscreen products via posts on popular mommy blogs. You can use social media analytics tool (see list below) to track this level of detail. Then you can seed offers of 20 percent off the sunscreen on the mommy blogs where the discussions are taking place, or create a Twitter promotion such as "Moms: Get 20 percent off the only truly chemical-free sunscreen this week only."

Tracking this level of word-of-mouth is crucial to formulating the right marketing messages and promotions, because you must deliver relevant social deals that resonate with people's immediate interests.

Test out some promotions
Once you figure out what people want via social media tracking, give it to them. Try out a few promotions based on the intelligence you gathered from the first step above. And make sure to then track the performance of these promotions using your social media analytics tools again. For example, you might try a promotion for 15 percent off your whole order today. Once it's over, track how many people clicked on the promotion and completed a sale (classic click-through and conversion metrics), but also continue to measure buzz, monitor conversations, and measure pass-along of the promotion using your social media analytics tools.

You might find that everyone loved your 15 percent off promotion -- it was shared with hundreds of thousands of people via social sites and email -- but that many people complained that shipping costs were too high. Problem solved: In your next promotion, offer free shipping. Or, you might find out that one of your new products is getting incredible buzz, but that people are making comments such as "Can't wait to buy this product, but I'm waiting to see if the price drops."

With this type of information, you can then seed a targeted, one-day-only offer of 20 percent off that's exclusive to Twitter followers and Facebook fans. Remember to be creative and have fun with your offers; unlike paid search ads and other media buys, you don't have to spend months planning and budgeting for social media promotions. Just do it!

Measure, test, and re-test
Once you've offered a few social media promotions, do a deep dive into analytics and measurement to gauge the bottom-line impact of the promotions on your overall business. You'll want to find out if your social media promotions are having a bigger impact on sales and profits than some of your other marketing programs, and whether the social channel is working to drive sales for specific product lines, but not as well with others.

Some of the basic things you should measure include how many times your promotion was shared, by which groups, and on which sites; how many times the promotion was redeemed; what increase the promotion caused in traffic to your website; what direct impact the promotion had on conversion; and what impact the promotion had on overall ROI. You should also run A/B tests on different promotions that ran during a similar time frame to see which worked better and why.

For example, did a promotion for 50 percent off drive more sharing, visits, and conversions than a two-for-one offer? Did one promotion work great on Facebook but fall flat on Twitter? In addition to simple A/B tests, compare results for social media promotions against the data from your regular marketing analytics platform to see whether your social media promotions are performing better or worse than traditional paid media marketing campaigns.

While social promotions almost always perform better than paid media ads in terms of conversion -- due to the direct, immediate, one-to-one marketing nature of social connections -- paid ads may drive a higher volume of traffic to your site, for example. With a proliferation of social media analytics tools, the social channel has become as measurable as paid advertising, so make sure you're measuring it that way. Find out the true ROI of every social media promotion, because if a direct marketing campaign like a promotion is not working to drive bottom-line profits, it's not working at all.

Already, some brands are having great success using the social channel to sell, sell, sell. For example, Dell Computers recently released the results of its social media program on clicks, site visits, and sales, and an impressive tens of millions of dollars in directly attributable sales on their site came directly from their social media initiatives.

Lastly, to achieve this level of sales success with social media marketing, you'll need the right analytics tools. Here is a list of the best social media analytics platforms available today.

  • Bit.ly -- This leading URL shortening service not only compresses long URLs that lead to your site, but it also provides valuable click-through reporting for registered account users, as well as integrates tightly with Twitter. [Note: We find it particularly useful in our client programs to use site analytics-tagged URLs, compressed via Bit.ly links. The result is smaller and more user-friendly links when you syndicate invitations to visit your website via today's leading social media platforms and sites.]

  • Meteor Solutions -- Meteor offers website managers the ability to integrate a small amount of Java script into their sites, then garner valuable information over time about where their site visitors are sharing what they find there via email, blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere else on the social media web where people share links with others to their favorite sites, products, and services. For e-commerce and lead-gen powered websites that rely on sharing for at least some of their inbound traffic, Meteor complements what your site analytics solution is already showing you by providing deep insight into when that sharing is leading to a "closed loop" of downstream clicks and site visits.

  • Google Analytics, WebTrends, Omniture, and other site analytics solutions -- It goes without saying that data-driven marketers and site managers today rely on their website analytics solution to tell them which paid and social media efforts are generating the most impact in terms of referral traffic and site visits, as well as conversions or sales.

  • Klout, Twinfluence, and Twitter.Grader -- Third-party technology tools like Klout, Twinfluence, and Twitter.Grader are emerging at a blistering pace. They provide free or very low-cost methods of estimating how powerful your branded, managed social media community sites and services are performing over time as you syndicate messages, deals, and content to your target audiences online. Savvy marketers are moving their customer engagement initiatives toward an "Awareness? Visits/Clicks ? Conversion" model with these tools. By using these tools, marketers can go beyond amassing friends/fans/followers to gain more nuanced evaluations of how much real awareness and engagement they are driving with their social media marketing programs. Using one or two of these emerging tools to evaluate the real impact of your social media marketing initiatives can provide valuable, complementary insight and data over your traditional analytics platform -- getting you ever-closer to an apples-to-apples comparison of how social media investments stack up vs. traditional online marketing investments such as display, search, and affiliate.

Social media marketing has moved on from the buzz-building world of yesteryear (last year, which is an eternity in the social media world!) to become a solid sales channel. Get social media promotions right, and your brand will reap the rewards: cold, hard sales.

Clay McDaniel is principal and cofounder of social-media marketing agency Spring Creek Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

<P>Clay McDaniel is a Principal and co-founder of Spring Creek Group, an interactive marketing agency focused on social media brand analytics and marketing campaign services located in Seattle, Washington. Clay's expertise includes guiding...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: joseph nese

2010, February 05

I would like to learn more about utilizing Social media to grow my business. The article was an excellent read.