Sensible Approach To Social Media

Ed Burghard“If you do not have great content it does not matter at all how you deliver it.”  Author Unknown

I have been thinking and studying about social media for some time now in an attempt to wrap my brain around the most effective way to think about it as a branding channel. It is a frustrating area because there are so few real success models (outside of direct selling) to learn from. And, there is a general resistance in the community that evangelizes social media to embrace the need to calculate a positive ROI. Instead they advocate a series of new measures that have not been statistically correlated to business success (e.g. the data on “Likes” in Facebook is decidedly underwhelming). In 2011, BloombergBusinessweek reported only 8% of marketers surveyed indicated that social media actually drove their business, and I haven’t seen a newer report that suggests the number is markedly higher now that the channel is 2-years older.

The thrust of my past posts has been that this is, and should be viewed as, an experimental media. My advice has consistently been, and continues to be, that you should by all means test the impact potential of social media – just don’t bet the farm on it. With the exception of direct selling, my gut continues to say social media is best used as part of a holistic branding mix and not to be relied on too heavily to drive results.

Here are some previous posts on the subject.

Making Sense Out Of Social Media

Social Media Revisited

Marketing In The Groundswell

I just finished reading a book authored by Chalene Li and Josh Bernoff titled “Marketing In The Groundswell”. It is the first book I read about social media that provided guidance I felt was well worth listening to (code for it aligned with my preconceived notions). And, if you are serious about leveraging social media as a branding tool, I would encourage you to read it as well.

The authors created an acronym for a 4-step planning process to help you think through how to effectively use social media. Their process is called the POST method.

Here is the POST method in a little more detail and (as always) translated into the world of economic development.

P – People. The fundamental question is “What is your target audience ready for?”. Not everybody is going to engage well with social media. You can get a handle on how well your target will engage by creating a technographics profile of the people you are trying to communicate with. I used the tool to assess people aged 45 – 54 in the U.S.. I picked that cohort because I felt was a reasonable approximation of key site selection decision makers and consultants. The profile data suggest 71% of people in that cohort will be spectators (they might read but are unlikely to engage). The results suggest it might be a stretch to see these people as “social”. Just as another data point for reference, Global Corporate Expansion published an article  about a panel discussion of site selectors use of social media. The panel sentiment was less than encouraging about social media being an effective channel to engage them (or their colleagues). So the bottom-line is to start with an understanding if your target audience is likely to be involved in social media before going any further.

O – Objective. Assuming your target audience is likely to be involved in social media, then you need to clearly and concisely articulate the business objective on your investment. What do you want to have happen? The authors suggest there are 5 plausible answers: 1) listening to understand your target better, 2) talking as a way to share the reasons why your community is a good choice for a capital investment, 3) energizing your target so they help you spread the word about your community, 4) support the companies in your community so they maximize the benefit of being there or 5) embracing your target audience so they can help you design a more attractive business environment. When you think about your current social media efforts, which of these 5 objectives are you focused on?

S – Strategy. Basically how do you want the relationship with your target to change and what is in it for them? If you can’t explain what the differences are between your current and desired relationship, then you haven’t thought it through deeply enough. For example, do you want them to get more information from your website and interact with your staff less? By the way, this could be a very valid goal if speed of getting information is a key competitive advantage you’d like to leverage. Or, do you want them to pre-determine which incentives their company might qualify for so the conversations with your staff are more productive and you have to say no less often? What ever the relationship change is, you need to be clear in describing it and your community leadership needs to be aligned to the value of the new desired relationship.

T – Technology. Only after you have thought through the first three steps are you in a position to determine which social media channel is best suited to achieve your objective. The social media world is in constant flux, so selecting a technology base and then answering the other questions makes no sense. You should also try and get a sense for emerging technologies and how easy or hard it might be to migrate your effort.


What I really like about the book is that it is a clarion cry for discipline in thinking through the most sensible use of social media. Like any communication channel, the choice of social media may or may not make sense depending on your target audience and your business objectives. But, since you have been asked to be the steward of donor funds and often taxpayer dollars, you have an added obligation of ensuring the discipline has been instilled in the process rather than simply investing in social media because “everybody else is”.

I still think I will be counseling people that social media is yet an unproven branding channel, but a channel that they need to understand and continue to explore the possibilities of. I hate being the “party pooper” by demanding evidence of impact. But, that is exactly what I demand of every branding channel so I don’t feel like I am being exceptionally tough on social media. Just to illustrate that I really would live for social media to be a driver for capital investment, here is a list of positive evidence I have found and my commentary on each.

Social Media Works For Business, Study Says; 2010 – My problem with this study is it reports on intent to purchase (or recommend) rather than correlates to actual purchase behavior.

Show Me The Sales, How Does Social Media Impact The Bottom Line?; 2012 – This article is interesting because it dances around the question and then tries to convince you it is the wrong question to ask (Hmmmm).

MediaMeasurement; no date – The article talks about the impact of social media on buying intention But, intention doesn’t always translate to purchase.

Social Media’s Influence In Purchase Decision; 2008 – This is a PDF of a slide presentation authored by Professor Rajeev Kumra. Despite the title, it never really delivers on answering the question. But, it is a good read anyway.


If you have causal evidence that social media works in economic development, please share it in a comment. If you are a brand builder in the private sector and have evidence that it works to build business (with the exception of direct online sales), please share what you can. Even though your example will not be in economic development, it might provide insight that can be reapplied. Thanks in advance for sharing, your insights will help everybody improve their game.

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8 Comments so far

  1. […]   […]

  2. Brent

    May 28, 2013

    What a solid and useful article. Thanks for the great read.

  3. […]   […]

  4. Ken Sethney

    May 29, 2013

    Ed – I liked your comment on “Social Media Works For Business, Study Says; 2010 – My problem with this study is it reports on intent to purchase (or recommend) rather than correlates to actual purchase behavior.” I learned early in my ad agency days that focus groups will tell you anything, because they have no skin in the game. If you want to know what customers really want, talk to them after they’ve plunked down their own money to buy it.

    In your article, you said you were looking at the POST model from an ED perspective and targeting key site selection decision makers and consultants aged 45 – 54. In an infographic dated 4/22/13, the Yahoo Advertising Solutions team presented data collected by Pew Research. ( )

    Of course, these numbers (which look pretty good, by the way) refer to the population as a whole, not your specific target. Before I would dedicate much of my budget on the social media aspects of a marketing campaign, I’d want to talk to my Class A prospects about their use of LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

    Have they ever plunked down their hard earned money, or their company’s or agency’s money, based on something they discovered on a social media site? Have they ever said, “there’s no way we’re moving our operation center to Acmetown,” because of something its town leaders posted on Facebook?

  5. […] The Burghard Group | Strengthening Brand America:  […]

  6. Susan

    May 30, 2013

    Ed, great blog! I agree – social media is best used as part of a holistic marketing campaign and not the end all be all. Any firm that sells it as the end all be all without thinking of integrated marketing is definitely not one you’d want to partner with!

    Personally, I love using social media to listen to industry trends, engage with key audiences and to help promote the content I’ve helped DCI and clients create. I know you use social media to do the same.

    In my opinion, content marketing (which includes social media) is the beginning of the sales funnel so the goals and metrics should be tied to awareness, thought leadership and brand/relationship building.

    As for an EDC that has gotten a sale from social media – I do know that Shelby Schneider from Saratoga EDC has had success with LinkedIn leading to face-to-face meetings and ultimately in one case an expansion of a company in the region.

    And thanks for the book recommendation! I’ll check it out!

  7. […] been concerned for a while with the fascination the economic development profession has had with social media.  I’ve attended a number of panel discussions (and participated on a few) where the speakers […]

  8. […] Of course, book authors took the position that it was a totally new method of communication not subject to the proven learning from newspaper, magazine, radio, billboard, word of mouth, or television communication.  One book author actually started his book by saying: “Fasten your seatbelt.  You’re about to experience some turbulence, because that’s what happens when you leave the solid ground of convention behind.”  In retrospect, this type of rhetoric was bunk. Social media turned out to be simply another communication channel to consider in your marketing mix. And while there are certainly some executional uniquenesses to consider (just like there is between radio and television), the basic marketing principles of effective communication continue to apply. […]

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