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Published 26 March 2013 10:55, Updated 10 April 2013 07:32
Could the extraordinary rise of social media be starting to slow? A survey of senior marketing managers by the Australian Institute of Marketing has found the number of marketers looking to pump more into their social media efforts has fallen for the first time in four years, to 66 per cent from 77 per cent.
It hardly suggests a big pullback in social media marketing, of course, but it does underline the fact that some marketers are grappling with how to best use the channel and, perhaps every more importantly, how to accurately measure returns from it.
There is much debate about how best to design social media metrics. This is a symptom of the tension between digital as add-on marketing and digital first marketing – or digital marketing the way it really should be. The power is shifting and a new frame of reference is becoming clearer.
To understand this concept of digital first marketing, it’s important to examine where we have come from. A little while ago, digital marketing was viewed as the add-on communication touch-point. It was a second-class citizen, constantly overshadowed by the marketing spend on television, radio and print. That position is rapidly changing.
Digital marketing, social media communications and data utilisation in particular are now leading the charge for the smartest brands worldwide.
This is where the tension lies. Many marketers have come from a traditional background. They want to measure social media using the methods and metrics developed and tested in the traditional marketing spaces. But this approach fails to capture the true value of social media and can produce a completely inaccurate assessment of effectiveness.
The two are simply not compatible.
The digital as add-on marketing world developed the way it has because marketers tried to force rules designed for traditional print and television media onto digital media. This approach focused on spikes in activity and classifying audiences into broad segments. They did not attempt to understand individual viewers, because that simply was not possible for broadcast media. The digital first approach must and will discard traditional rules and develop techniques and measurements that focus on building long-term relationships with individual customers. The new world is about delivering personalisation in scale.
If people connect with your brand early enough, they may bypass the search and price comparison step altogether.
Social media is relatively new to the marketing scene but search marketing has been around for much longer.
When a consumer uses a search engine they are focused on finding what they want, and in the quickest possible way. They are displaying search-and-buy behaviour. They are in “buy” mode. Paid search marketing, such as Google AdWords, relies on this behaviour and displays ads that are aligned to the viewer’s search results. As they click on these ads we can quickly determine if this has been effective or not.
Social media is different. People are not necessarily in “buy” mode. They are interacting with their networks – they are in “social” mode. They may be telling the world that something in their life has changed, which may suggest a new product or service might be suitable but they are not actively looking for it. Individuals enter the “social” mode early in the sales cycle and that is what makes social media platforms so potentially valuable. If people connect with your brand early enough, they may bypass the search and price comparison step altogether.
When consumers are in “social” mode they behave very differently than they do elsewhere on the web. They share, connect and have conversations. They complain, praise and ignore. In short, they involve themselves in developing relationships and they expect the same from the brands with which they interact. In this mode, the hard sell will get the same kind of cold reaction as a sales pitch at a wedding.
While social media channels were in the early stages of development, the methods of measuring a brand’s marketing success mattered less. Now that social media channels are eating up an ever-increasing amount of market share (at the expense of other digital and more traditional channels) it has become vital that marketers deal with the measurement issue.
Consumers are moving away from a search and buy mentality – driven by instant access to search engines and a desire for the best price – to a browse-and-discover mind set. In other words, another stage in people’s shopping habits has also moved online. Social media has been the catalyst for this and it will accelerate in the coming years.
It’s clear, then, that to measure the marketing performance of social media channels, different and more sophisticated metrics need to be developed. We need to have a much more holistic view of a customer’s online journey and be able to connect social media with other online activities. Let’s examine some of the factors we need to take into account.
There are many ways to look at social media marketing activity. My advice is to start with data. Different platforms give you access to different types of data. Facebook, for example, gives you the ability to gather email addresses, demographic information and, if analysed in the right way, psychographic data. If you can work out what is valuable to your brand and how that might be used to convert potential customers, developing a return on investment framework that connects the digital dots becomes much easier. As The New York Times stated in an article called “Marketers Celebrate Glimmers of Recovery” in 2011, “Data rules . . . content may be king in media but in advertising, it is data”.
Do you know what part social media plays in customer purchase decisions? A social media interaction may result in an immediate conversion or it may help influence the process in a more indirect way. These two types of conversion, one focused on the last interaction before the conversion and the other focused on the number of interactions in the path to conversion, must be compared to get a clear view of the true value of your social media efforts.
Your content may not be king but it is the fuel that brings the engine of your social media strategy to life. The technology means nothing to your market. It is the content they interact with. You need to know what type of content they respond to and what types of behaviour they display when they do. Tagging and measuring social media activity by its intended function (sales, customer service, brand development, conversational, thought leadership) allows you to optimise your content and see what really drives results.
Do you have a model to work out how much the site traffic generated by social media activity would have cost had it been generated by paid search marketing or display ads? It’s a calculation that can make a big difference when you are deciding where to direct your resources.
There are many other ways of identifying the real value of social media to your brand. What is important is that you spend the time necessary to get something meaningful that aligns to your business objectives. The world needs to move away from viewing digital media through the lens developed for traditional media. We need to value each customer as if they were in the same room and speaking directly to us.