What am I getting for this spend?
It's something I have heard way too often in the past several years, and has become a difficult number to justify in a clear sense. I'm talking about social media ROI. Problems often exist where managers or C-level individuals have issues with computing the complete return on investing in social media. Despite it being 2012, and nearly every brand out there doing some sort of social media engagement marketing, it still remains a difficult number to justify cleanly - even today. Five years ago, if you tried to explain to your manager that you wanted to spend any dollar amount on social media, they probably would have snickered and balked at any "strategy" you threw on the table.
"Social media is free, go figure it out."
Yes, that's true, in some sense. But like almost any form of marketing, nothing is free. Social media draws the illusion that you can "engage" enough on any social platform to draw interest in your product for no cost - or so it would seem. And you certainly can, but without any social media budget, or monetary support, you're heading into a battle with little ammo.
Whether you're a small business and have little incremental spend or one of the top brands in the world and your budget lives in the seven-figure range, the same social media budget equation works.
Budgets work best when split among these five different types of spends, according to a recent eMarketer study.
Engagements > Fans
These seem like five categories that are a safe way to invest any spending, but let's quickly look at the key metric you need to focus on with social media in 2012 to make any of this successful. Three years ago, everyone was running up the mountaintop, screaming for more fans. Unfortunately, that won't work as well in today's marketing scheme. Engagement is the new key. Think of it this way: the best platform to draw an example from is Facebook, only because it's the most relevant among the masses for everyone.
If you gain a fan in Facebook and that person doesn't "engage" with you in some way, what value exists there? (In terms of definition here, we refer to this in Facebook as a comment, a "like," a share, or a story created about your brand on a user's Facebook page.) If you don't have that person interacting in some way on your Facebook page, they are near worthless.
Your fans most likely came in through some of the common tactics that brands use to quickly gain fans - contests. Contests and sweepstakes are great engagement tools, but they do tend to attract crowds that may not fall in your target audience. Nonetheless, that is an example of someone who won't act on your behalf within social media, and if they don't engage with you in some way, you're not getting enough value out of the fan page experience to draw any major return.
If you can turn your social platforms into communities where you can promote engagement or entice users to engage with you, that's where you'll see the largest return. Fan totals are great, and if you are a successful brand in social media, you'll always see this number go up on a cumulative level, and up and down month-to-month. That is just the tendencies of your marketing efforts there; some months create more activity or content for your brand, ultimately reflecting in any fan totals.
Engagements - that's a number you want to see grow. Notice here, from a sample Facebook report, we can see it daily in the first graph, and a monthly comparison when reviewing historic numbers.
The sample brand above had limited outbound engagement in July, then increased it greatly in the following months. This shows how that effect can quickly create success for the brand. The sample brand above utilized a certain amount of money per month, which in turn helped them increase both overall fans, and more importantly, engagements.
Social Is Not Free
The value of investing in social media, beyond headcount and actual monthly spend, can create lasting value for your brand with great effect. It starts with creating a better understanding for the need of a separate budget, and then acting on that budget in the right sense.
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Nick Cifuentes is the global social media director at Ancestry.com, the world's largest online resource for family history, with 2 million paying subscribers as of July 2012. An industry veteran, Nick has worked in digital media and marketing since 2004, functioning in strategy, copywriting, analytics, search, planning, online media, and social media. He is a frequent guest writer on various industry blogs, and publishes his own blogs as well, including one focusing on digital media, and another on his side passion, ultramarathon running.
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