Rethinking Social Media Success

The practice of measuring social media success is fraught with misunderstanding and uncertainty. It’s been that way since social media first became a buzzword, and continues to be a contentious subject. However, I noticed a shift in 2014 that I see as extremely positive, and one that will surely continue to become stronger in 2015 and beyond.

The shift I’m referring to is a change in how we value social media. For years, everyone was trying to fit social media into a direct-response mold. To many, especially those working in social media on a daily basis, it was an obvious inaccuracy. But because it was a seemingly new medium (I say “seemingly” because word of mouth, content, relationship building, and awareness marketing have existed as long as brands have existed), it threw the industry off. Mostly, I blame the ability to collect massive amounts of data. Since we could collect metrics for every tweet, every like, every comment, every share, we thought we had to and these metrics had to mean something for our bottom line.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. Every brand should know how social media affects its revenue. But it was the belief that the impact should be instantaneous that had myself and so many others up in arms. That’s not how social media works, and shouldn’t be how it’s evaluated. But I’m happy to say that I’m seeing this mindshift across various departments and levels at the organizations I work with. While I know that there are myriad reasons this shift is occurring, I believe there are a few key elements that have led to the change and will continue to do so. Following are four of these key elements:

Advanced Omnichannel Tracking and Metrics

Social sign on and the ability to track and target users across devices via their social profiles has had a major impact on how we understand and value social media. Previously, we relied on cookie-based tracking, which is limited to devices and browsers.

Social media allows you to target users based on their ID – making it possible to reach the same user regardless of the device they are using, and letting you reach multiple users on a single device. This is a unique benefit that isn’t provided through other online marketing media, and makes social media more appealing than other forms. We may not have it all figured out just yet, but this is a compelling reason to really try.

More Paid Social Media Options

Paid media options help to validate social channels. Rather than just viewing social media as a free service that only warrants the attention of college interns, investing advertising dollars makes it seem important and worthy of attention. Everyone loves free things, but let’s face it, they don’t care as much about them.

I expect more advertising budget will be given to paid social media campaigns in 2015, and brands will experiment with new functionality and new channels (e.g., Pinterest Promoted Pins, Twitter Offers). The social channels, in turn, will continue building both their paid and organic functionalities, and provide more insights and analytics for both, which also contributes to the validity and understanding of social media success.

Refocus on Brand Advocacy

Brands have understood the power of celebrity endorsements and customer advocacy for hundreds of years. Josiah Wedgwood is often cited as the first person to use celebrities to promote his pottery company in the late 1700s, using royalty and artists to approve of his products and thus charge a premium. He didn’t need Facebook Insights or Google Analytics to tell him it was working, though. He saw sales increase with every endorsement and knew. It’s the recent overabundance of data that I believe has led us astray from understanding the true value of these endorsements.

Again, because we can track everything, we did. And we were looking for proof of the value in the minutia of this data. Brands are learning to step back and look at the full picture of how endorsements and word of mouth impact the bottom line, rather than looking for a magic metric from the firehose. This change of heart, coupled with the understanding that social media is an extremely efficient and effective way to bring endorsements and testimonials to a broader audience makes brand advocacy a key element in the mindshift.

Email List Generation as a Conversion

Pay per click was and is a great marketing option for brands, but I believe it set unattainable expectations for every other type of digital marketing. You spend a dollar in AdWords, get a dollar-fifty in return and everyone is happy. You spend a dollar’s worth of time managing a Facebook page, you’re certainly not going to see that, if any return.

This is hard to swallow when you view a sale as your conversion on social media. But if you change your conversion, and shift your approach, you can see a great deal of success. One of the biggest conversion shifts I’ve seen, and one that has a great deal of success, is moving from driving sales to driving email sign-ups, and social media is excellent at it!

Whether it’s through a blog subscription, contest entry, or access to content, you can gather a great deal of emails. From there, your approach turns to marketing automation, drip campaigns, and retargeting. It’s a long play, however, not the instant gratification provided by direct response.

By no means do I think we’ve 100 percent figured out how to prove the value of social media, but I do believe we’re moving in the right direction. 2015 should bring new technologies and innovative approaches that will further help us define the role and impact that social media can and should play.

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