Keith A. Quesenberry January 02, 2018
Over 90% of medium and large businesses have used social media in their marketing for five years or longer. Yet the CMO Survey reveals that nearly half of marketers are unable to show the impact of their social media investments. That’s why, no matter what your social media strategy is, it’s always a good idea to go back and make sure you have the basics covered. Your company may discover that it needs a strategic do-over.
Philip Kotler once said, “You should never go to battle before you’ve won the war on paper.” But countless businesses have done just that with social media. Although 97% of Fortune 500 corporations are on LinkedIn, 84% are on Facebook, and 86% are on Twitter, many brands entered the social media front lines without a clear strategy. Social was an add-on to existing plans — another outlet to deliver the marketing message. Later, marketers found themselves working backward to connect their social strategy to business strategy, as managers demanded greater proof of ROI.
There are a few common mistakes that marketers make with social media. The first is to start with social media objectives. Marketers take a channel such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, and then set goals for raising their numbers of likes, comments, and shares. This approach sounds like it makes sense, but it can trap you in a social media–only perspective. After all, how much is that like, comment, or share actually worth to your business? Unless you connect your social media actions to broader business goals from the beginning, ROI can be elusive, and social media becomes an end unto itself.
The second mistake is to limit your brand presence to the most popular social media channels. Success often depends on having a multichannel social media strategy. Yet only two-thirds of the Fortune 500 (66%) are using YouTube, under half are on Instagram (45%), just over one-third (36%) have corporate blogs, and one-third (33%) are on Pinterest. If you are not using these or other platforms, you could be missing out on valuable business opportunities.
For example, research has found that 93% of Pinterest users plan purchases on the platform and 87% have made a purchase after seeing a product they liked. Other platforms, such as Snapchat, may be the ideal place to reach certain demographics (say, Millennials). Instagram has played an integral role in helping to lift sales for brands including Gatorade. And businesses that have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to receive positive ROI.
So how do you ensure that your social media efforts are aligned with what matters to your company — and that you are positively contributing to the bottom line? Start by basing your social strategy on business objectives, then follow that by thinking about target market, social media platforms, tools, and metrics.
Different organizational objectives and target markets may require very different channels and tools. Don’t simply set goals for higher follower or engagement metrics in the brand’s current social media accounts. Those platforms may be wrong for your business objectives; channels you aren’t on may be better for what you’re trying to accomplish.
To identify the most meaningful business objectives, ask some questions: What numbers must you hit? How will you know you are successful? How does your boss judge success? What has changed recently that is challenging you? What do stakeholders care about most? Business objectives can vary wildly, from increasing sales, generating leads, or improving customer satisfaction to raising awareness, soliciting donations, or gaining volunteers. Thus your objectives should not be social media–focused, such as “Within six months, we should grow our number of fans and increase engagement on Facebook by posting a minimum of five times a week.” That’s a tactic, not a clear goal. A good objective could be “Increase awareness of the brand by 20% for people ages 18–24 within six months.” Hootsuite suggests that real business goals often come from business conversions, brand awareness, and customer experience.
When considering platforms, think carefully about which you should be on — and which you shouldn’t. Remember that simply increasing your activity on current platforms may not bring you closer to meeting business objectives. Achieving a better ROI may require closing social accounts that are not aligned with business objectives, or even decreasing social action to focus on posts of more substance. Buffer Social, for example, recently got better results by posting less, not more, on Facebook.
Once you’ve identified your objectives and selected the right platforms, you have to create content that the audience will value. Solve a problem they’re facing, deliver a timely message, or just put a smile on their face. Stories that evoke emotion tend to perform better than straight sales messages. Even paid social media posts merely buy reach; the content itself must be engaging enough to draw action beyond a view. Plus, valuable content often gets shared, increasing your reach even further. And don’t simply post the same content to all your social accounts — customizing the content and scheduling for each channel will get better results.
Yet content only gets you so far. Much of social media ROI is earned in responding to customers. Sprout Social has found that brands reply to only one in 10 social messages that require a response. This is a huge missed opportunity, since helpful replies to even negative comments can improve your brand image, reach new customers, and increase the likelihood that customers will buy again. Depending on your industry, you may need the customer service department to get involved. Don’t forget, social is a two-way medium.
Next, ensure you have the right tools in place to manage your social media efforts. To measure success, brands need tools that can monitor, publish, and track the appropriate analytics. They also need to integrate social media across departments, since it is an increasingly important part of the strategies of many areas of the business. For efficiency, you may need tools that can bring together multidisciplinary social teams across department silos.
It’s worth considering tools like Google Analytics, which can break down social traffic to see which efforts are working, ranging from website conversions from a direct sale to email subscription, event registration, or quote requests. Setting up goals with dollar values per conversion can help determine where to focus your time and money beyond followers and likes — connecting social media to the bottom line. Monitoring tools can also track analytics such as sentiment. Too many corporations have seen crisis situations where negative comments in social media led to sales declines and drops in stock price. There are numerous social media analytics software options. Spend some time researching which ones are right for your organization.
Once the right tools are in place, identify and track the metrics that will show the returns on your social media investment. Only when you have done the hard work ahead of time — connecting social action to business objectives — do vanity metrics such as likes and followers become more meaningful. Obviously, you can’t directly connect every social action to a business objective, such as an in-store sale. But you can get close by estimating values. For example, if you know that a percentage of customers who request information on your website purchase a certain product, you can trace the connections by looking at related social media posts and the number of visitors being driven to that call to action page.
If you are struggling to link your company’s social media presence to business goals, you are not alone. But it is never too late to (re)start at the beginning. Take a step back to ensure you are considering broader business goals and the target market. Check that you are using the right platforms and are engaging in the right ways. Then make sure you have the necessary tools and metrics in place. It is a lot easier to prove ROI when you have a clear plan for meeting the business’s objectives — and are not simply increasing social action as an end in itself.
Keith A. Quesenberry is Assistant Professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA. An expert in social media and digital marketing, he is author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution.