2011: Social Media FTW

Why are you investing in social media?

I can ask this question pretty confidently, because last year was definitely the year that a lot of people got serious about social media. I would quote some awesome stat about the percentage of brands using social media, but I’ve seen too many and they all say pretty much the same thing: 2010 was the year every brand got some presence on Facebook and Twitter.

In this rush, though, the very clear question of why-are-we-doing-this pretty frequently got skipped right over. In fact, according to a new survey by the CMO Club and Bazaarvoice, 72 percent of CMOs using social media didn’t attach any revenue numbers to those efforts. Essentially, the entire idea of social media was simply to be on social media. We knew that the consumers were there, so there we went.

This seems to be a problem that has accompanied all of the technologies that come into contact with the marketing department, going back (at least) to CD-ROMs. As a new technology becomes available to us, we begin to think of all the things we can put on it. We become focused on the tools and channels themselves and feel that it is our responsibility to figure out what to put on/through them. Since Twitter exists, and our consumers are there, we need to start tweeting about something. Anything.

The thing is, your brand is always bigger than the channel you are communicating through. Our challenge (as marketers) has never, ever been to fill up radio time, prime time, or bandwidth. Our challenge has been to connect with consumers, sell products, and build loyalty. We need to always ask the question “how can this particular tool/channel help me achieve my goals?”

But this is a process that takes time. We first need to figure out exactly how the tool or channel works before we can really figure out how to use it most effectively. This happened with search. There was a lot of activity around search in the mid-2000s, though much of it was unfocused and there was a tremendous amount of waste. In time, though, data began to roll back in about the effectiveness of search campaigns, and people began to share their best practices with each other. Critically, a group of people emerged who truly had knowledge about how to get the most out of search (not just claimed they did) and overall, campaigns began to improve and the channel strengthened immensely.

In 2010, we finished up the experimentation phase with social media, and the CMO Club/Bazaarvoice data proves this out. Three out of four of those CMOs who didn’t have a link to revenue attached to their social media efforts would create one in 2011 and 64 percent are ready to increase their spending on the medium.

Back to the Question

So, back to you CMOs ready to look for return on your social media investment: what are you hoping to accomplish this year in social? Why are you investing?

Please don’t tell me simply that you want to use the channel to sell more stuff. Yes, of course, you will be able to sell more stuff through social media. But only if you are using the medium as it is intended. If you are looking for a return from social, you need to start with the four basic building blocks of a social media strategy: content, advocacy, fans, and engagement (which you can easily remember as CAFÉ).

Content is going to probably be your biggest investment – brands need to show up to the party with something to add to the discussion. Advocacy is the immediate value that you will generate, from your consumers talking about you, among themselves. Fans is how you should think not only about the consumers you are connected to, but of the network of people you are talking to: they are not passively waiting to hear your word delivered from on high, but rather looking to have a connection with you. Lastly, engagement is the notion that closes the loop: every piece of content you put onto social networks should be seen as an invitation to engage.

A solid social media strategy will see each of those four areas as an interlocking component, and all of them, together, as a single instrument toward achieving a realistic and valuable goal.

You see, it really isn’t nearly enough to simply take what you’re already doing and declare, “I want this to make me money.” That won’t get you anywhere. Remember: if you want followers, you have to be a leader.

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