Putting a value on social media

March 2012

If there’s one topic I discuss with clients more than any other, it’s around what they should or shouldn’t be doing with social media. Not surprisingly, social media is also the topic which most features in the weekly marketing press – both print and online.

But the real question about social media is increasingly: “What value is it to my business?” Or at least that should be the question, but it often dismays me that many businesses launch into social media without a clear strategy and without any agreed metrics in place to measure effectiveness.

When social media emerged and for a good length of time after that, it was perfectly reasonable that marketing effort was put into it without there necessarily being a clear strategy in place. We were, after all, on a big learning curve. However, those days are now past and a clear strategy should now be in place, plus also those all-important metrics so the board of directors can see what value this newest of marketing disciplines is delivering.

But does the value have to be cash on the bottom line? Well it certainly could include that as a direct measure for certain businesses (e.g. an ecommerce operator) and arguably should always do so even if very indirectly, but there are a host of value benefits a business might consider using social media for – such as:

  • Prospecting for new customers
  • Gaining intelligence about competitors
  • Market research
  • Brand awareness and brand building
  • Regular communication with existing customers (perhaps easier for them than going onto your website)

As part of a wider and integrated advertising campaign
However, all of this somewhat assumes that we all want to engage with brands on social media and not just with our mates. And herein lays a fundamental problem: in the UK 61% of people say they don’t want to.

Of course that 61% is averaged out across all sectors and across all social media platforms. The reality is that certain types of brand will be far more appealing to certain groups of consumers on certain platforms – e.g. a fashion brand for young females on Facebook. An average B2B brand would probably have limited appeal on Facebook, but in certain sectors being on Linkedin would be a very smart move indeed.

With so many options, so much apparent potential, but equally with so much lack of knowledge about where best to put the effort (if at all), many businesses are struggling to find exactly where social media fits for them. The answer, then, should be that they turn to external specialists for help, but actually this often just makes the problem worse. Let me give you an example…

Last year one of my longest standing clients told me that they were going to appoint a PR agency, and this in part to give more specific PR focus over and above the more general work I’d been doing and would continue to do. This move very much got my support (I do some PR work but I’m certainly not a specialist) and I waited with some expectation to read their intended strategy.

That strategy has never materialised and unfortunately they seem to have set off on a winding road, and in the absence of on board GPS. In fact I’m not even sure they know what country they’re driving in. However, part of my real disappointment is the advice they’ve given my client on social media, which includes Facebook and Twitter activity and specifically to put both those icons onto the product packaging.

So what’s wrong with that you ask? Well nothing if the mutual client was in the business of cosmetics, chocolate, fashion or smart phones, but they’re not; they’re in the business of pest control. Want to follow them on Twitter to hear the latest breaking news on rat poisons? No, I don’t either.

Social media will continue to grow, as will the number of more niche players within it – Pinterest being the latest example. But let’s not lose sight of what social media is there for – the clues in the name (the ‘social’ bit). Many brands are, and will, do well from social media and their investment will be rewarded. But many won’t do well and are, and will, waste valuable marketing funds on it.

If you’re currently wading through the social media wilderness, my advice would be the following:

  • Ask yourself just what is it that you want social media to deliver for you – that list of bullets above isn’t exhaustive, but probably a pretty good place to start
  • When you have that list, consider if there might actually be a better way of achieving your objectives – e.g. if it’s market research then there are obviously a host of other ways to carry this out
  • If you still have any headings on your list (and no shame if you don’t), decide which platform/s are for you
  • Now you have an emerging strategy, which needs to be implemented with care and precision
  • Next up put some metrics in place so you can demonstrate the value of your marketing investment
  • And if you need help with all or some of the above, then ensure the person or agency you appoint actually knows what they’re talking about (and if the letters ‘PR’ are included then be on your guard).

Last week I heard a great marketing success story about Facebook usage: A client I have which rents out high-end holiday properties in the Scottish Highlands and some with salmon fishing included in the package, asked me to remarket a specific week for a specific property because their usual client had cancelled. The price? A tad over £7,000 for the week. (But a luxury lodge which sleeps 10 and some of the best salmon fishing in Scotland.) So I approached an agent who said he was confident he could secure a booking, and told me that one of the tools he’d use was to immediately post the booking onto his Facebook page which had several hundred followers. At first I was surprised at his choice of tactics, but then he went on to explain that a new, wealthy and younger community of salmon fishermen found Facebook perfect for finding out about last minute fishing deals and, no doubt, sharing their sporting successes with ‘friends’.

Anyway, it worked because he got my client the booking (albeit we got knocked down a bit on that £7k), he got his 10% commission, I’m happy, he’s happy, my client is happy, and no doubt the salmon fisherman was pretty chuffed too.

Any second thoughts around whether or not to follow the breaking news on rat poisons? No, me neither.

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