Only a year or so ago marketers were arguing about whether social media was a distracting time-suck or a valuable activity. That argument has been won by those who use social as a tool for engagement and brand awareness: a 2013 Aberdeen Group study, for instance, found that 70% of leading companies generate highly valuable inbound traffic through their social pages. Similarly, a report by Social Media Examiner revealed that 64% of marketers saw improved lead generation and lower marketing expenses for using social as little as six hours a week.
Yet even with these successes to its name, social can still be a tough sell for many a brand, as there’s no neat way of tying the time required to maintain a social page (or the campaigns run within a particular online channel) to revenue earned.
In essence, it’s tough to know what ROI looks like when it comes to social.
However, there are certain steps you can take and practices you can follow to make it a bit easier to demonstrate returns.
There’s no end to the forms and shapes social media can take, so it’s important that you get a sense of what it is that draws buyers to your brand, and what those potential customers look for in general.
Identify the channels buyers use most, and create content that speaks to those sites. Respond quickly to concerns and questions, so that your prospects feel heard, and make it a point to educate your followers (via helpful articles and sit-downs with industry experts), so people see you as a real resource (versus a soulless corporation).
2. Treat social like any other marketing vehicle.
When you get right down to it, social media simply offers us a different, newer way to communicate, albeit one with a built-in capability to capture feedback (and in real time). The more your channels can support broader product marketing strategies, the more resonant your messages will be, and the stronger your brand will seem.
To this end, you might try targeting your messages, creating a strong differentiator, and making communications trackable. For example: if you’re sending out a white paper via email, supplement that outreach with custom links on social (unique URLs that tell you clickthroughs).
3. Map social campaigns to larger business goals.
Be clear about what ROI means for your company and your efforts. Whether it’s the total number of sales, qualified leads, conversions, traffic, advocates and influencers, conversations had – make sure you’re consistent in your efforts so that you have benchmark for comparison that works across all your channels, over specific periods of time.
Take, for example, a Facebook “like.” If you’re looking to “likes” to gauge reach and return, define the “like” from a business perspective. What will you do to keep the community engaged after the initial like? When and how might conversions happen? Perhaps your conversion will be a straightforward sale, or the download of a white paper, or the publication of a complimentary post. If you run a three-month program and get certain results, you may want to change the program in one or two ways, then let it run for three months and compare results. It all depends on the journey your buyers make and the length of your sales cycle, so work closely with your pipeline to determine just what measures are needed.
4. Don’t neglect qualitative ROI measures.
While it might seem easier to look to pure numbers to track and gauge your progress, there are also a range of qualitative measures you might consider in appraising your social pages. These benefits may include customer feedback, market insight, connections to new partners and suppliers, even recruiting – gains that perhaps don’t fit neatly in a control chart or spreadsheet, but that have real use nonetheless and shouldn’t be forgotten.
5. Stay useful.
As you go about choosing the particular pieces of content you feature across social, think beyond the immediate channels you use. Make it a point to meditate on what your customers do AFTER they’ve connected with you online, and try where possible to speak to that. And when (not if) a problem surfaces, be aware that is your dirty laundry flapping in public. Respond quickly, with a friendly tone, and solve that problem. You can become a trustworthy hero if you make the most of this kind of opportunity.
Whole Foods, for example, has a mobile app that helps shoppers create meals around food they have on hand at home. Tesco, similarly, has a mobile app that lets wine aficionados purchase wines of interest simply by taking photos of labels. Be novel, be unorthodox, be fearless, and your followers are sure to return that attention tenfold.
At the end of the day
Of course, at the end of the day, not every positive result can be cached and measured easily. Often times, social media does its best work in the hard-to-quantify areas of trust and awareness, which is why you’ve got to think long and hard about the metrics that matter most for your business, and track them well. Social media has value well beyond marketing, and the sooner brands recognize it for that, the richer they’ll be for it.
For more ways to ensure that you can justify the ROI in social media, check out our white paper on the topic here, at Act-On’s Center of Excellence.