Marketers are rushing to ramp up their social media marketing efforts. Despite the excitement, the bottom-line results from social media marketing are elusive. A recent SIIA study looked at marketers of software, a group on the leading edge of tech and social media adoption. Sixty percent of these very advanced marketers reported that less than 5 percent of their deals originated from social media marketing.
So how can the excitement and potential around social media marketing transfer into real business results for marketers? We must remember that social media marketing is new and still evolving. Marketers are charging into this brave new world, learning and iterating the model. Three stages of social media marketing have emerged: amateur, messenger, and publisher. It is only as marketers evolve to this third and most advanced stage, publisher, that the potential of social is realized and enormous bottom-line benefits are generated.
"We've got to get social!" declares the CEO and the marketers rush into action. They jump on Facebook. On YouTube. On WordPress and Twitter. On Slideshare. On Tumblr. On Pinterest and LinkedIn.
In this stage it is chaotic. Social is the directive, but nobody knows the plan or the specific objectives. There is poor coordination: often different departments and groups are all tweeting independently without the benefits of focus and scale. Little is accomplished, but it is a first and necessary stage for an organization to get exposed to the world of social media.
Most early adopters of social have evolved passed the amateur stage. And late movers now getting into social are doing it with guidance and structure that puts them immediately past the messenger stage.
The messenger stage focuses on the revolutionary ability that the Internet and social media have given to marketers: to communicate directly with prospects and develop relationships with them. Thus the objective at the messenger stage has become to establish these relationships.
Marketers have focused on social networks to get this done, because it is the easiest place to get it done. Social networks are where users spend their most time. Marketers need to simply convince those users to click on "like" or "follow" and they have established the relationship. And the effort to produce appealing content on social networks - typically in short message format - is relatively low. Marketers have found that the fun, appealing content best wins the "like" or "follow," and thus produce eye-catching photos, alluring contests and giveaways, and entertaining games and polls to grow their fan/follower counts.
So many businesses are now executing on the objectives of the messenger stage. They are growing their likes, tweets, fans, and followers.
But what has this "social engagement" won for marketers? As the study cited earlier notes, still quite little on the bottom line.
But advanced marketers have taken the potential of social to another stage, the publisher stage, and are reaping social's benefits. They realize that short, sweet messenger content can win likes but does little to generate leads. Instead, they have had to invest more time and resources into producing longer, more thoughtful content pieces in the form of blog posts, infographics, e-books, and videos. Rather than entertain, this content addresses the real concerns and interests of prospects and provides them with valuable information.
These "publisher stage" marketers still use social networks. But the networks serve as a way to distribute links to their content, which is centered on their own website. As prospects navigate to the marketer's site and consume the content addressing their interests and concerns, they build trust in the brand and an appreciation for the brand's understanding of their own interests. And as these prospects return for more content on the brand website, critically they are only one click away from finding information about the brand's products, completing a transaction for a more B2C brand, or submitting a form and entering a nurturing funnel for a more B2B brand.
Now the publisher stage is not easy. It requires a significantly greater commitment to producing high-quality, thought leadership content. That content must be so compelling that it pulls users to the brand site, whether the users come from social networks, from other sites, or from search engines.
But more and more marketers are making the transition to the publisher stage and having great success with it. And most importantly, they are not simply generating engagement metrics, they are generating new leads, new opportunities, new customers, and new revenues. The promise of social media marketing has generated great excitement in marketing departments. Publisher stage social media marketing realizes the potential of social and translates it into enormous benefits for marketers' core objectives.
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Toby Murdock is co-founder and CEO of Kapost, the leading content marketing platform that enables brands to succeed as publishers. Toby is also publisher of The Content Marketeer, a publication covering how marketers are using content marketing to win in the digital era.
Prior to Kapost, Toby was the co-founder and CEO of Qloud, an online music application that grew to over 25 million users before being acquired by BuzzMedia. Toby lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and three daughters.
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