Because there’s no one-size-fits-all social media marketing program for businesses, you need to track the success of your efforts in order to justify your investment of time and money, according to yesterday’s Triangle Interactive Marketing Association (TIMA) panel on “The Dollars & Sense of Social Media.”
Couldn’t make it? Here’s my recap of the event in Raleigh, North Carolina. Practitioner and trade journalist Jeff Cohen (@jeffreylcohen) moderated a diverse panel: Phil Buckley (@1918) from the client side, Morgan Siem (@morgansiem) from the agency side, and Adam Covati (@covati) from the analytics side.
Top 4 Social Media Marketing Lessons from TIMA
- Monitoring what’s popular on your content network gives you ideas for future promos — what’s hot and what’s not? (Phil Buckley)
- People are used to being advertised to. A business’ social media account can send a lot more promos than a personal account could — followers want to hear from the company. (Jeff Cohen)
- Think ahead to the “happily ever after” as you set goals and create your social media strategy. Knowing your “storybook ending” will drive your decisions between now and then. (Adam Covati)
- Sales can grow exponentially — even as followers grow more slowly. (Morgan Siem)
Want more? Read on for my analysis and the details, and please share your comments below.
Analysis: Commit Resources to Social Media, but Be Ready to Prove Your Case
What’s the upshot for us as marketers? As Morgan noted, you get more out of social media when you put more time and money into it (a client saw an exponential increase in sales as raw followers increased at a much slower pace). A recent University of Maryland study found that 20% of small businesses were using social media. I imagine that’s higher for bigger businesses.
Not every company will benefit from a social media program. A ball-bearing manufacturer, for instance, likely attracts neither positive nor negative sentiment. But if your clients or customers are talking and listening (and waiting for you to join the conversation…), you need to get involved in social media.
Panelists agreed that you need to apply the same rigor you do in the rest of marketing. Given my analytical marketing background, that’s good to hear — I try to focus on things with a measurable (and measured) return.
It’s not an overnight win; panelists seemed to agree that a successful social media program will require take at least three months before you see significant results.
In terms of resources, it’s about time as much as it is about money. Adam noted that companies typically spend very little money on social media, but they may be spending a lot of staff time. Phil noted, “My tools are up all day,” and added that he’s checking in on weekends. Clearly, successful social media is not for people who expect to leave work behind when they go home at 5pm.
Audience members asked plenty of questions. The questions sometimes led to various tangents, but Jeff kept things moving along. As moderator, he also provided live annotation along the way, by asking panelists to explain non-obvious industry terms. It was a good event, apart from the inexplicably wet sandwiches (with color-coded toothpicks).
Details: Social Media Panel on June 9, 2010
Phil Buckley, Search & Social Media Marketing Manager at Sinclair Institute in Hillsborough, NC
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: What’s been your biggest Aha! moment in the past six months? Answer: Realizing the power of tweeting promos more than once a day. Instead of posting things once, as he’d done in the past, he used Argyle Social to send updates several times. And he’d get the same bump in traffic each time. Further, he found people would approach him to write for him for free. “Really, you want to let me give you free content?” He’s realized that it lets the authors show their friends and followers that they’re trusted enough to go with the big guys.
- Jeff asked: What’s been your biggest win? Answer: He’s gone from 5K visitors/day to 8K visitors/day, and one-quarter of those pass on to the store. Wants the to-store conversion to rise, but not necessarily too much — sees the content network as a giant linkbait site.
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: If you could give just one tip to someone starting a social media program for a business, what would it be? Answer: Prove the value of social media to your boss by getting hard numbers. You need to justify what you’re doing.
- The content network shows him what people are interested in. For instance, an article about “one practice” might not attract as much traffic as an article about “another practice.” In that case, BetterSex.com should focus on selling products related to the latter.
- His goal for traffic sources: one-third social, one-third PPC, one-third organic. It’s currently 20% social, 35-40% PPC, and the rest organic.
- He was hired in January after the Sinclair Institute’s main site, BetterSex.com, took a nosedive on organic search, which led to a 50% drop in site traffic (which hurt sales). He realized they shouldn’t put all their eggs in a Pay-Per-Click basket. He realized social media would let them diversify their incoming traffic. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts were dormant, as was the blog.
- Regarding BetterSex.com, which specializes in adult products for people in relationships: “We’re in an industry that’s super personal.”
- Goal was to use social media to bring back organic traffic. Started by slowly wading in. He had to see what worked using his existing tools. Their initial audience included sex educators and college students who “think it’s a hoot to follow us.” He needed to figure out who’s important.
- Once he saw how things worked in the first month, he could set short-term goals. For instance, you have 750 fans, and you want to increase that to 1,000. Or you want to add a few new Twitter subscribers each day. After seeing how that went, he could sent long-term goals.
- Target market for BetterSex.com: college-educated, age 50+, making at least $100K/year (aka “older, smarter, richer people”). He focuses on Facebook, because that’s where his target market is online. Notably, on Facebook, you can get your account temporarily suspended if you’re too racy. As opposed to Twitter, where the crazier it is, the more it gets retweeted.
- For their content network (blog and other articles), 75% of the traffic comes via Twitter and Facebook
- From his previous experience in the news world, he’s seen the power of good headlines. He’ll test different headline options, to see which work best: “it’s gotta get people to click.”
- He’s seen outside evangelists step in to promote his product, or speak up on behalf of BetterSex.com. Those anecdotes help him show his boss that things are working, beyond the general numbers.
- I asked: Social media is often free; what do you do to justify the amount of time spent managing it? Answer: “My tools are up all day.” He’ll generally reply all day, typically within 10 minutes in order to stay relevant to the conversation. He’s faster on Facebook, since that’s his client focus. Usually monitoring until midnight. On weekends, he’ll check into his work accounts occasionally–in case someone is experiencing a product malfunction, for instance.
Jeff Cohen, Social Media Marketing Manager at Howard, Merrell & Partners and Managing Editor at Social Media B2B
- The panel includes three roles: client (Phil), agency (Morgan), and analytics (Adam).
- Businesses can send more promos than a personal account. There’s a different expectation; people want to know what businesses are offering. People are used to being advertised to.
Adam Covati, Founder & CTO at Argyle Social in Durham, NC
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: What’s been your biggest Aha! moment in the past six months? Answer: Smart marketers haven’t been applying their standard solid marketing practices to social media marketing. They just jumped in.
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: If you could give just one tip to someone starting a social media program for a business, what would it be? Answer: Use the storybook approach — what does the “happily ever after” look like? Knowing that end goal will drive what you do between now and then, by informing how you get there.
- Question: Why are social media analytics important? You need to measure, to understand if your strategy has an impact.
- Start with a baseline. It could be something simple, like the number of followers you have, responses, retweets, “likes,” comments, and subscribers. Next, track the numbers and see how the change over time. Find an uncomplicated way to measure, since otherwise you’ll stop paying attention and it will fall apart.
- Followers and subscribers are not necessarily a ‘bigger is better’ proposition. Five years ago, people would run contests (give your email address and you’ll enter to win an iPod). The problem with this is that you’ll suddenly have 40,000 email addresses, but a ton of people report you as spam when you send the next message. For instance, someone with 100 followers (who are all CEOs) is more influential than someone with 10,000 followers (who are all college students).
- Sarcasm is the bane of sentiment-tracking (considering we don’t always get sarcasm in person). And he’s seen comments segregated as negative that aren’t. For instance: “The economy is horrible…so you should donate to Charity X.” It got flagged as negative when in fact, it encourage behavior to support the client organization.
- Database marketers want to tie every action to a person. This is unrealistic in social media; consider the user uproar about Facebook and Google. It’s risky to collect non-aggregated data. This reality makes modeling less powerful. We need to focus on trends, not models.
- I asked: Social media is often free; what do you do to justify the amount of time spent managing it? Answer: They surveyed businesses about social media investments, in both time and money. Respondents didn’t spend much cash on social media (typically less than $500 a month). BUT they often spent a lot of time, sometimes as much as half a person. Even one hour a day is expensive if you consider it as a percentage of their annual salary and benefits. Having solid numbers helps you justify your existence.
- Social media is a cheaper customer service option. Calls to a call center might be $5-6, whereas assisted self-service is 25 cents. Someone on social media can handle 30-40 requests in the time it takes a phone rep to handle two calls.
Morgan Siem, Social Media Strategist at Media Two Interactive in Raleigh, NC
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: What’s been your biggest Aha! moment in the past six months? Answer: Yes, reposting works. More contact leads to more eyes. Also, blogging leads to leads. For instance, someone will say, “You answered my question [in a blog article]; we’re ready to do business now.”
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: If you could give just one tip to someone starting a social media program for a business, what would it be? Answer: Track everything. You don’t need to give it all the client (provide it as requested, but don’t overwhelm them with a weekly 50-page report). And package it in a pretty way.
- Question: First steps for a business getting into social media? First, answer: What are your goals? (this determines your audience and message) Second, conduct discovery. Immerse yourself in the business. You need to understand the business’ needs. You also need to do some research online: what are people currently saying about you? Who needs help that your company can provide?
- Moderator Jeff Cohen asked: What goals do you set with your clients? Answer: It depends. B2B differs from B2C. A retail store might focus on in-store redemptions or sales. You also might try to find the optimal investment of time: do you get the best return when you Tweet once a day? Twice a day? Three times a day? Ultimately depends on the audience. Might track sentiment, if relevant — there are some brands where no one says anything bad about them.
- Lisa Creech Bledsoe asked, How can we track influence and other hard-to-measure things? Noting it’s difficult, Morgan said, “You don’t want to treat every follower the same, or every fan the same.” You can use tools like Klout to track retweets and mentions.
- Janet Kennedy asked, How long is long-term versus short-term? For instance, if you open a restaurant in downtown Raleigh and start using social media, how long before you get results? Morgan noted a client where in-store redemptions were flat for the first three months of the program. Then they rose a big in months 4-6. After that, it would double each month–not a huge absolute amount, but a substantial relative increase.
- Sales grow exponentially, even as followers grow steadily. This is apparently due to long-term fans increasing their utilization over time.
- I asked: Social media is often free; what do you do to justify the amount of time spent managing it? Answer: More budget and more time = getting more out of it. You have to have a person who understands the business, the audience, and the channels. At her firm, she gets client leads via social media that more than make up for her time. Morgan noted that the benefit goes beyond money. For instance, addressing customer problems faster (than via traditional means) makes customers happier. Companies might direct some of their call center budget toward social media.
With testing and measuring, most companies can eventually find their optimal level of social media engagement. What were your biggest takeaways from the TIMA social media panel?
Photo credits: Karl Sakas