“What’s the ROI of our social media efforts?”
That’s a question I have been hearing less and less over the last year. And that’s a good thing.
Since social media first became a buzzword, measuring it has been fraught with misunderstanding, uncertainty and contention. The reason is because everyone was trying to force it into a direct response mold. “How much is a Facebook Fan worth?” “What is the average cost per order of a tweet?” “How many sales did we get from that blog post?”
When you get down to details, these are valid questions. Every brand should know how social media affects their bottom line. But thinking that a single tweet would drive 20 times more conversions is just plain madness. Thankfully, many brands are coming to their senses about the role social media should and does play in their marketing efforts and business as a whole.
For those still working through this transition, the following are four roles that social media should play for brands in the future, roles that go beyond direct response:
Awareness & Advocacy Driver
Few would debate social media’s ability to increase awareness or fuel advocacy of a brand, but many have contested its value. I believe it’s not because they don’t value awareness or advocacy, but rather due to the medium and our ability to track everything on it. Because we can track every action, we made them all KPIs and looked for proof of value in the minutia of this data.
But this must change. Brands must take a few steps back to view the full picture of how word of mouth impacts their bottom line. This isn’t a new concept–in the late 1700s a man named Josiah Wedgwood used royalty and artists to endorse his products, thus allowing him to charge a premium. He didn’t need Facebook Insights, Google Analytics or any other tracking tools to tell him him it was working. Sales increased with every endorsement and he had his proof. Digital environments have made the landscape more complicated, but that doesn’t mean your understanding of the value has to be.
Take advantage of the fact that social media makes increasing brand awareness, and sharing endorsements and testimonials with a broader audience infinitely more efficient and cost effective than ever before.
How much would you pay to have people associate your brand with feelings of safety, acceptance, intelligence, productivity and self-esteem? It’s impossible to put a price tag on that. But that’s what social media can provide when you use it to bring together like-minded people, allowing them to connect, share ideas, learn from each other and grow together. This community, operating within the context of your brand, can create these positive emotions and tie them to you.
Don’t think of social media as a place to broadcast news and other announcements about your brand. Instead, use it to get feedback about your audience’s interests to learn how you can provide more value in their lives, whether that’s through the products or services you offer, or through useful ideas and content. Ask for their honest feedback about products or services, and make improvements based on this. Let your customers speak up when people have questions or concerns, allowing them to make connections and share knowledge without you having to dictate the conversation.
Recruiting & Retention Channel
Social is increasingly becoming a place that potential employees turn when researching job opportunities. In fact, according to Staff.com, 29% of job seekers use social media as their primary source for finding jobs. Besides the obvious of being a channel for announcing job openings, social media also allows you to evangelize your company’s values and mission statement, highlight innovative approaches or undertakings, and showcase your company culture.
And for the brilliant and talented staff that you already have, it’s a way to feature their efforts and provide accolades in a fun and respectful way (bonus: this also helps with recruiting new staff members and humanizing your brand with customers!). ModCloth is a great example of this approach. They frequently post photos and blogs about their staff, office events and other happenings at various company functions.
ModCloth posts Instagram photos of employees in the office and at other work-related functions, showcasing how style runs through every aspect of their brand.
Social isn’t tied to one type of media–owned, earned or paid. You can publish several articles on your owned blog, link to all articles on Facebook to see which gets shared the most, then pay to boost that post for broader reach.
Social also doesn’t fall into one stage of the customer journey. Consumers in the interest phase may learn about your brand through a retweet from a friend. Those validating their decision often read reviews on Yelp. And loyal customers can keep up to date on new products or sales via Facebook page posts.
And social bolsters other marketing initiatives. Adding reviews and review schema to your site can make your organic search listings stand out. The increased reach that social can provide may draw attention to your brand, thus creating the opportunity for more links to your site, and increasing the number of branded searchers, which indicating to the search engines that you are popular and relevant, and may result in increased ranking.
The ability to span the various media types, reach customers at every stage, and bolster other marketing is definitely what makes it difficult to measure social, but also makes it so impactful.
We still have a long way to go to fully understand how to prove the value of social media, but I do believe we’re moving in the right direction. Focusing on these four roles will help to better define the impact that social can and should have, and new technologies and innovative approaches in 2015 and beyond will further that evolution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angie Pascale is a cofounder of Interstellar, a digital agency based in Denver, CO, where she heads up search and social, leading customer engagement and platform optimization strategies for e-commerce brand partners.
Angie has provided content for a variety of industry conferences and publications, including the Google Website Optimizer Authorized Consultant Summit, Search Engine Strategies, SMX Social Media Marketing, and eMarketing Association Conference.
Follow her at @angiepascale.