Social media continues to present an enigma for brand builders. There is a general sense that social media is the way an increasing number of consumers/customers prefer to engage with companies, brands and communities. But, there are precious few examples of success models where social media has made a significant in-market difference. The stories I have found are frankly a bit underwhelming. Finding hard data supporting an ROI from social media is elusive despite the fact that the internet is repleat with positive opinions. I have found some examples to explore for guidance, but the applications are fairly unique so it is hard to generalize the learning.
Since we are collectively exploring the effective use of social media, I thought I’d share some of my observations to date. I wish I could definitively answer the question – Can I get a positive ROI from social media? Unfortunately, I think the best answer remains – It all depends. But, I do think there are some questions you should be asking about your social media strategy. Asking and answering these 6 questions should increase your probability of successfully generating an ROI.
Two things I can confidently say I’ve learned is that social media 1) is not free and 2) requires a meaningful commitment. If you are not willing to adequately resource and stick with your social media program then don’t bother starting. Starting and stopping a social media effort is like hanging up the phone on a consumer/customer mid-conversation. It can cause irreparable harm to the relationship.
6 Key Questions For Every Social Media Strategy
- Who are you trying to create a dialogue with? Social media is not simply about the number of visits or clicks or fans, it is really about the people you are engaging with. Creating a dialogue with anybody takes work. Investing in talking with the wrong people is a waste of money for you and a waste of both your time. I have previously advocated that you check to make certain the people you want to converse with are actually engaged with the social media channels you’ve included in your program. For example, I continue to believe that if you want to create a dialogue with CEOs that Facebook is an unproven channel choice. Nobody has yet presented me with data to the contrary. On the other hand, if you are an economic development professional who wants to create a dialogue with the citizens in your community, I think Facebook may be a great choice.
- What are the topics you want to discuss? Not everything is appropriate to discuss in social media channels. Social media channels are often compared to cocktail parties. Since we all have experience in a social setting like a cocktail party, it is easy to appreciate there are some topics that simply do not play well in that context. I actually found an article titled “9 controversial topics to avoid on social media networks for job security” and another titled “10 reasons you should run like hell from social media”. Both are worth your time to read. I think you should have a clear vision of what you are willing to discuss and where you want to draw the line before jumping into investing in social media.
- Which social media channels do the people you want to chat with use? If you’ve answered the first question, then you need to do your homework and understand the demographics of participants in the various social media channels. There is an old saying that has real application for this question – Fish where the fish are. You can find some demographic data online. Ken Burbary publishes data that describes Facebook, and AdAge produces some numbers. But, I would encourage you to walk through the exercise of creating an advertisement so you can input your own criteria to get an estimate on how many people you want to dialogue with are actually engaged in any specific social media channel you are interested in. For example, Facebook estimates I can reach 277,160 CEOs with an advertisement (search terms CEO, CEO Founder, CEO Owner, Owner CEO, C E O, CEO Manager). In comparison, LinkedIn reports 2,000,000 CEOs. I know the results are not precise. But, if CEOs are the people I want to dialogue with, LinkedIn appears to be the better choice. Hopefully, social media channels will improve their way of helping us understand the demographics of their participants so we can make data based decisions on where to focus our resources.
- How committed are you to creating and sustaining a dialogue? I have been experimenting with social media as a communication channel for several years now. I typically invest roughly 12-hours a week in generating blog posts, tweets and managing a presence in both Facebook and LinkedIn. That is a lot of time to find week in and week out, and in 2012 I am expecting the time commitment to double as I work to further improve the Strengthening Brand America Project experience for economic development professionals. Aliza Sherman took a crack at quantifying the time people were investing in social media. The comments she got to her post suggest her estimates generally match people’s experience. Are you prepared to invest the time and incur the opportunity cost associated with doing so? My strong counsel is to think hard about it and answer the question before moving forward.
- Are you truly ready for candid feedback? Throughout my career, my approach to market research has always been to never ask a question if I wasn’t willing to deal with the implications of the answer. Social media is similar in the sense that when you start a real dialogue you better be prepared to deal with the feedback you will receive. Much of t will be opinion based and not data based. Some of it will feel unfair and judgmental. Problems will be identified and the people you are dialoguing with will want you to address them appropriately. Prit Kallas did a nice job of describing some of the challenges you may face in his blog post entitled “Managing Social Media Crisis and Negative Feedback”. If you are an economic development professional, how would you deal with negative comments that could damage the perception of your community? In his blog post entitled “How Should Small Businesses Deal With Negative Reviews?” Niall Harbison raises the risk of disgruntled employees or customers trying to get even by posting overly negative comments. Engaging in social media is not for the ‘thin skinned’. Are you prepared to get negative feedback and work to embrace it objectively and improve your performance?
- How will you know if social media is making a positive difference? This is not an easy question since there is no reliable way to calculate an ROI for social media unless you have a direct sales component. But, continually questioning of your decision to invest in social media without some data based way of evaluating it is counterproductive. The solution is to create a dashboard of in-process measures that will give you a directional sense and a reason to believe you might be getting a positive ROI. Experts are working hard at developing reliable measures. Oliver Blanchard has authored a book entitled “Social Media ROI: Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization”. You may find some metrics that feel right to you in it. My best counsel is to select a few and consistently monitor progress. Adjust tactics and investment levels if you do not like what you see. You need to actively manage your social media investment to ensure you get value.
I hope the above is helpful. At a minimum, I hope you found at least one new idea or perspective that helps you think through the role of social media in your organization. It would be great if you could share your experience on what is working and which performance measures seem to make the most sense for your organization to monitor.
Please leave a comment with any perspective or questions you might have. I am eager to hear and learn from you.
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