Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Social Media: Boom or Bust for Your Business?

If I've posted this message once, I've posted it a thousand times.  I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all or accusatory, but I feel the need to defend social media.  I'm the first to advise clients to stay away from "vanity" marketing - that is marketing that you don't do for any other reason that because it's considered prestigious.  Time and dollars are two important resources to the marketer, and you can't afford to waste them.  Is that what social media is - a waste?  You're going to find that the jury is split right down the middle.  A lot of my clients and colleagues are confused about the role of social media and what it's value is.  How much time and dollars should be allocated to social media?  How many leads are going to be generated?  Is this a better tactic than PPC?  Should we be buying "Likes" on Facebook?  Do we let our sales reps devote time to networking on LinkedIn?  This ought to give you some idea as to the complexity of this topic.  I thought I'd break down for you a number of the elements that should, hopefully, provide clarity as you determine how to approach social media.

Tactical vs. Strategic: First of all, social media is not a's a tactic.  Sure, you can have a "social media strategy" but that should be in reference to how your going to accomplish a specific marketing objective within the tactical execution of social media.  Sounds confusing?  Not really.  Let me make it really easy.  Marketing is about taking your products/services to the market.  There are an infinite number of ways to do that, so you need to be strategic about it.  You start with a working business model, develop a marketing plan and the subsequent goals/objectives.  You'll then identify target markets and the channels you'll need to go through to reach them, draft the positioning statements (based on the 7 P's of differentiation) that drive action and, finally, how you'll execute tactically (e.g. social media).  Usually, the constraints of time and budget are what frame your ability to execute through one tactic versus another.  I don't mean to make it sound easy, because it isn't.  I simply mean to reference that, without a strategic marketing plan, your decision to do social media is just as random as deciding to do bus bench advertising.  Get your head out of the tactical cloud until you've identified your marketing objectives/goals and have estimates for what resources you have available to you.

Social Selling:  Social doesn't sell, does it?  Depends.  Again, see the first bullet about tactical vs. strategic.  In short, social does not sell on it's own, but it plays a very impressive role amongst marketing tactics in that it covers all four pillars (lead generation, lead capture, lead nurture and lead conversion).  The real question is, "How much time do you have?"  For some business types, social media can generate sales quickly.  I've got a client this is a restaurant.  They can run a post about an offer on Facebook and target a specific demographic base within 5 miles of their restaurant.  We pay to promote it, build in a call to action that reference that it came from social media and increase foot traffic almost immediately.  That's not going to work for a company that isn't selling something that the consumer can pull the trigger on so quickly.  Still, relationships for these types of businesses are important.  Relationships take time and social media does a great job positioning your company as likeable, authoritative, credible and trustworthy. 

Social Isn't Free: There's nothing worth having that comes free.  Social is another example.  Let's get this out in the open - your competitor is doing social media too.  Any form of marketing where you don't have to pay to indulge in is likely to attract all your industrial foes.  If you are talking to your customers and prospective customers, you need to know that your competitors are.  However, is this the best use of your time?  That's what you need to determine.  And, it needs to come solely on the basis of customer retention because social media as part of a customer acquisition effort is still in question.  No doubt, with a Facebook page and some advertising dollars, you can reach customers and prospects without very little time invested.  But what if you've got sales people who tell you that they need time on LinkedIn to network with prospective accounts that could take years to close?  You have to invest something, but should it be at the salesperson level or is this something that can be done through an organizational effort?  Good questions - no definitive answer because these are all unique circumstances that should be tailored for your effort.  Just understand, if you want it to work for you, social won't be free.

Blurry ROI: I'm going to hit my head with a hammer if I keep hearing the social media ROI debate for another 10 years.  The truth is, social media has no clearer ROI than any other form of marketing.  You ask, "But Sean, we can track our PPC campaigns to dollars spent!"  Of course you can, but is that PPC ROI or your website ROI?  What triggers a transactional conversion that can be definitely accounted for in just one marketing tactic?  There are some.  Ever see those guys waiving the sign on the street trying to trigger traffic into the retail store?  Those stores can calculate the difference in foot traffic against days where sign-guy was not waving his big arrow about.  Based on that traffic, and the smaller percentage that yields an actual revenue-generating conversion, you can pretty much calculate whether the sign tactic was worth the daily expense or not.  There are a handful of other examples, but not many.  Social media works in concert with other forms of marketing to provide social validation - that is, people get to know you, trust you, like you, then reference the relationship to determine that they have a "friend in the business" when they are in the market for products and services you offer.  The consumer drives that decision - not the business.  Make a note - if you're waiting for some ROI calculation to determine that social media is driving revenue, you're CEO is going to have your job. 

Relationships Matter: In the last 6 years or so, the consumer has evolved into a bit of a cynic.  They've been inundated with tons of branded messages and are very immune to your marketing efforts.  Stop with you're CTA (call to action) self-promoting script of marketing jargon - you don't get to call anyone to anything.  The consumer determines when they're going to buy.  You'll get to spice the message up to entice people, but, without a gun in your hand, you'll really not going to make them do a thing.  You don't need to "sell" so much.  If you have the 7 P's (do you know what these are) defined, people will interpret your position in the market and take some action if they validate it or reject it.  The market has a cruel/pleasing way of delivering the truths that you may or may not want to hear.  With social media, you have an opportunity to connect with customers and prospects that is personal (unplug the sell switch).  Many companies are trying to manufacture likeability (position as local or socially responsible, etc.).  You have an opportunity to do it genuinely through social media.  It doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of delivering perceived value, but it does give you an opportunity to connect on a personal level.  And people tend to want to do business with people they like.

Take this list with you as a reminder to set realistic expectations for your social media effort.  Don't take too big a bite and make promises to your CEO about the new leads you'll extract from your hours on LinkedIn nor scoff at the social media effort calling it wasteful.  Like all forms of marketing - it should be customized for your business model. 

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