A call for more accountable social media marketing

Ask any marketing professional what the hottest thing in the field is today, and they will undoubtedly say social media marketing. But can we answer why or anything about its true impact?

Yes, marketers are definitely making investments in this area. Last year, companies rushed in to play catch-up, compelled to join and invest heavily for fear of being left behind in the social media race. Facebook pages sprouted, and tweets began to chirp in a deafening chorus. In many cases, strategy and risks were an afterthought and, surprisingly, ROI wasn't even considered a factor.

Now, as reality sinks in and the money invested fades away, marketers are being forced to take a closer look at the social media scramble. They even have to start to think about ROI. And let's face it: ROI is difficult, if not impossible, to measure with social media. An astounding majority of professionals do not even try to take it into account.  According to a survey late last year from Bazaarvoice and the CMO Club, 72 percent of CMOs did not attach revenue assumptions to social media in 2009, but will do so in 2010. At the same time, 64 percent of CMOs say they plan to invest more in social media in the next year. 

How will all of this work when revenue is incredibly hard to pinpoint and marketing budgets are already strapped? Many social media experts argue that the value of social media should not be tied to revenue, but in other more abstract, "soft" ways. Without a doubt there is value in engagement and conversation. This isn't enough though.

As marketers, we need to stay focused with our strategy, business objectives, and how we measure success for any campaign, including social media outreach. Of course, social media marketing isn't going anywhere, and it should be an important component in an organization's marketing plan. It's a commitment we have already made to our customers. 

However, let's be sensible about it. No more casting wide nets; use social media where it makes sense. For instance, reach specific social media goals with a tangible ROI, such as tracked discounts or coupons, or specifically target and monitor soft metric influences, like the growing importance to respond and engage proactively with user reviews and comments.

We must remember the tried-and-true marketing programs that continue to perform well and can be definitively tied to revenue or brand awareness. They should not be abandoned or cut back during all of these go-go-go social media days. 

It's time for truly integrated marketing that leverages social media with the metrics of success from our traditional tactics. To strike the right balance and investment with your other campaigns and social media, remember and consider these ideas.

Email marketing
Email marketing remains one of the most lucrative returns on marketing for organizations. Over the past year, there has been an overriding fear that social media will conquer all. Not so fast. 

Email and social media marketing actually go hand-in-hand and get along quite nicely. A recent eMarketer report really encapsulates this, driving it home and perhaps adding a bit of sense and calm to the entire social media versus email marketing showdown. Debra Aho Williamson writes the following strategies for maximizing email and social media effectiveness: 

  • Multiply the sharing opportunities by linking email messaging with social media messaging.
  • Provide a broader platform for brand advocates; encourage the best customers to share with friends via social media.
  • Shift the control to the consumer by providing multiple avenues to interact with a company.
  • Use email metrics such as response rate and conversions to enhance social ROI.

Promotional marketing
Even though technology is rapidly changing, consumers aren't; they still like free gifts. In fact, 89 percent of consumers could recall the advertiser on a promotional product received in the past 24 months, according to a survey (PDF) released in February from PPAI.  Additionally, more than half of the respondents keep promotional products from anywhere between one to more than four years. 

Giveaways cross over a multitude of marketing campaigns, from events and trade shows to even social media. If your company is hosting or attending a tweetup, it's a perfect opportunity to get a promotion right into your core audience's hands. Any Facebook or Twitter contests are great outlets to distribute and send to winners. Doing this helps your brand jump from digital fans to real-life users and nationwide exposure. 

Search marketing
With Google's incorporation of Twitter and Facebook fan pages in search results, social media and search marketing live together side-by-side. Don't overlook your SEO, paid advertising, or unpaid buzz with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channels, and blogs, whether corporate or from your customers.

Social media has its place in the marketing mix because it provides an entirely new realm of communication with our customers, one that is more honest and direct than anything we have experienced before. But we can't forget the old tried-and-true marketing tactics that we have used successfully for years. They are tried and true for good reason.  

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com.

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Comments

Joe Buhler
Joe Buhler May 11, 2010 at 10:58 PM

It is indeed time the rush to deploy the latest and greatest shiny, media overhyped tool is coming to an end and none too soon. Reminded me of the same senseless rush to build websites in the '90's with the same arguments of dubious results. Integration into overall, objectives based marketing will be necessary as the social web evolves. What needs to be considered as well, however, is not to dismiss effectiveness by using the wrong measurement. Applying a financial ROI too early can kill valid initiatives. The difference on the social web is that you have to give first before you can receive and a trust relationship has to be established by listening and observing before you gain the benefits. This requires long term commitment, sustained effort and not short term campaign thinking. Beware the immediate call for "show me the numbers" by some financial ROI- ista!