So often, particularly with SMB clients, the misperception is that social will directly drive sales. These clients believe that if they pump 2 dollars into social marketing, then they should be receiving 3 dollars in return. The problem here is that these SMBs get social marketing confused with performance marketing. Unless you have an e-commerce mechanism in place and you are running social promotions, the impact on sales is circuitous. Social is far more akin to CRM than performance marketing. It’s also, to a certain extent, about branding. If you are running paid social ads then it’s about advertising too. One thing it isn’t about is A+B=C. Social to drive business imperatives starts with the consumer and it’s a long term play. It’s about understanding the mind of your consumer, their affinities and their digital behavior. What are they doing, what are they saying and what are they sharing online? If you understand these things and you reverse engineer a social experience that addresses all three, then that’s a pretty good start.
Relying on insight to drive consumer collaboration is very much the genesis of #CreatedWith and it is one of the reasons the idea has resonated so impactfully. In a #CreatedWith scenario, which is essentially influencer marketing, the brand is leveraging influential entities who are already creating content and commanding an audience on social platforms. Ideally, the influencer should have already expressed brand affinity. Capitalizing on this organic behavior, the ask is extraordinarily simple, “Keep doing what you’re doing – fight the good fight.” This is the evolution of the celebrity pitchman. But instead of the celebrity being positioned as an active participant in the brand, albeit in a contrived often specious way, the pitchman actually is a brand participant and a luminary in the eyes of his followers. The return is actualized in the form of recommendations and we all know consumers trust brand recommendations from a friend (75%) more than an advertiser (9%).
If you’re goal is branding, then leveraging social as a vehicle to espouse brand values is an effective use of the channel. If there was ever a time to champion modernity, flexibility and a veracious connection to your consumers, now would be that time. Brands understand the importance of facilitating experiences intended to capture the collective knowledge, feedback, delight and dissatisfaction of their consumers. Social, in this instance, serves as the means to greater transparency. The power shift from brand to consumer is ever burgeoning. Brand loyalty is an all but forgotten concept however, using social in this capacity to relationship build and catalyze allegiance, is also a proper use of the channel. Return in this case, involves sharing, retention and recommendation.
Lastly, there is social marketing, the tactical manifestation through which social can drive business goals, but again, this is more indirect. Social tactics that produce a positive and measurable result almost always entail a mission for the target audience. Whether that mission involves taking an action e.g. joining, sending, sharing, liking, giving (as is the case with Kickstarter), it should always be credible, simple and seamless. Social marketing helps brands tell their stories in a time relevant and relatable fashion. Social marketing can also spawn recommendations and drive-to-site, two more tangible metrics. But perhaps the most important use of social media, is to generate goodwill (which of course is ethereal but can be measured to a degree with sentiment scores, advanced natural language processing or surveys). Additional areas of return look like acquisition, awareness, curation and dissemination.
In the examples above, which include influencer, branding and marketing, social doesn’t directly lead to a sale, but I can hardly imagine a brand manager discounting the importance of each. The problem is that many SMBs, through no fault of their own, the client contact is often in charge of multiple communications and marketing responsibilities, don’t conceive the value. It’s up to you to explain it. The go-to answer I often hear is, “social is an extension of brand.” Sure, it can be that. It can also be any one of the things mentioned above. But it rarely is a closed loop sales generating tactic. If only it were that tidy.
In a world where differentiation is getting harder with every piece of content and preference is defined by whether or not a selfie is warranted, social can help mitigate the constant push and pull of 360 degree messaging. Now as those messages become increasingly brand ambiguous with your closest friend serving as Nike’s greatest mouthpiece, it becomes critical to integrate social strategies just so as not to get inhumed. That said, in order to achieve success, we all need to realign our expectations. The idea that social is a frugal, facile way to extoll the many virtues of digital marketing while generating instant return with viral fervor – is just plain (to pilfer a term from twitter) dereal.