Check out any marketing publication and you'll probably see a version of the same thing: "SUPER AWESOME SOCIAL CAMPAIGN DOES SUPER AWESOME THING."
Maybe you read the article and thought, "Wow, that's really cool. I wish I thought of that first."
But the reaction more often seems to fall somewhere between disbelief ("How did they pull that off?") and defeat ("I could never build that."). B2B marketers in particular tend to complain the most. We think we're not as sexy or crazy as the rest of the social world - we're no Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style, that's for sure - but that can't be an excuse.
Here's why: jaw-dropping social campaigns are no accident. They're the result of an intentional, strategic framework that's both scalable and accountable. Attaining that "wow factor" isn't mutually exclusive with delivering measurable business results, but it requires tackling the following five steps:
The framework. I love creative concepts and big ideas in social as much as anyone. But the first - and most important - step in building a measurable social campaign actually has nothing to do with social. Instead, it has everything to do with your overall business.
Specifically, you need to spend as much time as you can clearly defining your overall marketing objectives. These are goals larger than any one channel or campaign: Are you responsible for generating a target amount of sales pipeline or raw leads? Are you repositioning your brand or entering a new market? Know your goals, know your target metrics, and know your audience. Nothing derails a marketing machine faster than a campaign that - however awesome it looks on paper - takes away from the overall focus of your company.
The concept. The best social campaigns don't retrofit an idea to a channel, product, or event. The concepts are instead a direct result of intense problem solving: What are my objectives (from step one), and what's the most creative and effective way to achieve them?
The beauty of social is that no idea is too big. (Come on, when the star of a huge event like SXSW is an unhappy feline, you know anything's fair game.) It doesn't matter whether you're at a startup or a Fortune 500 corporation, your brand can be bolder.
But bolder doesn't mean stupid. The goals you set in step one are the ultimate accountability tool, no matter how crazy your idea. When you wonder, "Have we gone too far?" think back to your overall objectives. As long as you're still aligned, you can be confident you're working toward delivering needed value to your business.
The experience. Every concept must pass the human test. I cannot emphasize this enough. Every social campaign you create must absolutely resonate on a basic, human level.
Here's what I mean: in B2B marketing, we often think of people exclusively as potential customers. We forget that they're, you know, people. People who like cool ideas. People who like engaging with cool ideas. And people who enjoy being treated as human beings, not potential sales.
So once you have your concept, test the viability of every user interaction point. I don't mean talk through the plan on paper. Literally, get a group of people you trust - I've found co-workers or friends to be best - and physically act it out.
Pay particular attention to the areas where the campaign seems confusing or less likely to compel a desired action. After all, if your concept falls flat with people invested in your success, you know you have work to do before taking it public.
The measurement. At this point, you should be pretty pumped. You've got your goals, an amazing idea, and an experience people seem to respond to. Life is good.
Don't get lazy. No matter how awesome a campaign is, at some point you'll need to be able to quantify "awesome."
So set yourself up for success. Get to know your analytics tool really well. Make sure all your digital properties are tagged appropriately. Create unique campaign IDs that allow you to measure the engagement on every single tweet, post, and update. Walk through the entire user journey yourself - and then dive back into your analytics - to confirm every action is captured, from first click to conversion.
And look for the metrics that matter. Impressions and reach are great, but look back at your marketing objectives from step one. How can you push deeper? Move past exposure and influence and look at engagement (clicks, retweets, shares). Focus your attention on conversion points and eventual ROI. Your sales cycle might be months long, but the ultimate payoff will come when a deal closes down the line and you can track that first touch back to social.
The content. I've intentionally left content to the very end. The reason: just as the creative concepts are the result of clearly defined marketing objectives, so content is a direct result of a clearly defined concept and user experience.
Again, remember the human test. Forget your sales pitch or marketing message; think human. How would an everyday user read your post and react? Keep it simple, keep it fun, and keep it clear - those three things alone can be a powerful combination.
Next week, I want to show you what a campaign like this looks like up-close. Incisive Media and Webtrends (full disclosure: Webtrends is my employer) have teamed up to run a social campaign called #didyouseethat at SES New York. Rest assured this isn't a shameless plug; it's an invitation and a promise of transparency. After the show, I'll be back here telling you how we built the campaign, how we measured everything, and most importantly, why it did (or didn't) work.
After all, as B2B marketers, we're all in this together. It's time to be the new cool - the kind that delivers big-time business results at the same time.
John Lee is Manager, Brand and Social Marketing at Webtrends. In 2012, he was recognized by PR Daily for creating both the year's "Best Branding Campaign" and "Event of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @lee_john.