Although the Chinese calendar may have recently brought in the Year of The Dragon, much of the social media world believes 2012 will be the year of social rigor, and it could not have come fast enough. The social presences of many brands have become social sprawls. Brands have created dozens of accounts (many abandoned), initiated half-started and half-hearted efforts, ravenously collected fans and followers with little measurement of business outcome, and produced lots of social noise with scarce social intelligence and inconsistent practices between division, products, and agencies. In fact, according to an Altimeter Group study, large brands have an average of 178 social media accounts. At Converseon, we have found that many large brands simply don't know what's out there. Like weeds, rogue, dead, old, or simply ineffective social presences stifle and overwhelm the actual sprouts and absorb resources that could be better used elsewhere.
But the year of social rigor represents a clear transformation from the "let's just experiment and see what sticks" mentality to address the following question: How do we now use social to actually drive business outcomes effectively and strategically? It's a mindset change that we see happening quite noticeably as the social phenomena takes root and becomes more mainstream within organizations. It's a transition that mirrors much of the early days of digital, when brands went from rejecting experimentation to embracing it for competitive advantage.
The socially-rigorous approach will be defined by the following core approaches:
Weed the garden
Brands will necessarily need to assess where they are today, map their social footprint, and quantitatively analyze what's working and what's not. In other words, brands should begin pruning and weeding their garden of deadwood and nurture the efforts driving value. And once they have cleaned up, brands will need a place to maintain their garden's organization. In addition, they must understand performance and metrics. In short, brands need to know what they have before deciding where and how to get to where they want to go.
Nurture the performing
As the garden is weeded, attention and nurturing will be applied to those social efforts that are working or have promise. This includes identifying new ways to best manage overall social footprints, providing social engagers with appropriate content, better measuring their performance, and, in some cases, aligning bonuses to that individual's performance. Furthermore, nurturing involves organizing and managing a company's social presence more effectively to better understand what's working and what's not, and aligning content to meet the conversation's goal. The content of social conversations should not only be fueled by what seems interesting that day, but also by understanding the actual wants and aspirations of the real conversation. Look for brands to use conversation and search data to glean user intent and better understand the kind of content people are seeking from a particular brand. The days of brands talking over the heads of online conversers will soon come to an end, as brands realize there is a better way to construct and develop thoughtful content. A practice we can call "informed content creation."
Measure the impact
Social media will become more data-driven, and social analytics will take ascendancy to truly understanding ROI. In addition, social score-carding will evolve from not just tracking obvious metrics (fans, followers, etc.) to connecting metrics to business outcomes in a measureable manner. Research from Chief Marketer found that two-in-five marketers have little confidence in the effectiveness of their ability to measure social media campaigns. The fact is, we're surprised it's only two-in-five, as it will change in 2012. Brands practicing social rigor will begin to correlate social conversations with social performance metrics, and, in turn, brands will connect social performance metrics to business outcomes. Furthermore, other measurement techniques will be applied to understand the value of particular engagement to the lifetime value of a customer. Social measurement will move from an art to a science, and a new generation of solutions will enable this to happen.
Move from monitoring to insight
Following this maturation theme, we will see a clear evolution from social monitoring to social insights. The former worked fine to answer the question, "What are people saying about me now?" However, social monitoring is ineffectual at answering more core business questions, such as, "What is it about my product that makes moms angry?" Social insights are on the rise as brands using social monitoring tools hit the end of their capabilities and begin to "get serious" about finding social insights. This requires deeper levels of intelligence in the meta-data, better sentiment (including sarcasm, implicit, etc.), emotion, custom influence, and more. As Forrester Research wrote in a January 2012 report, "Listening platforms must evolve to become more than social media monitoring tools. They must capture more than just social media, employ text analytics engines to mine the content, and deliver users actionable insight. With this expanded scope, listening platforms will evolve into a critical enterprise marketing technology." This level of more sophisticated listening will extend across other areas too, such as influencer identification.
Lastly, a more rigorous approach to social will mean brands will have to become even more agile to move rapidly enough to engage in these real-time insights and the real-time conversation ecosystem. Social business practices will move from fringe to mainstream as the value of social efforts to bottom line business goals is more clearly understood. All of this is good news for social media practitioners. As a more rigorous, data-driven approach to social takes root, doors will be opened, opportunities will emerge, and resources will be made available like never before in an effort to nurture and feed the approaches that truly work.
Rob Key is founder and CEO of Converseon.
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