Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing. The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs. The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.
What does Success Look Like in Social Media?
Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for. That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve. We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others. What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs. It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions. Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.
1. Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals. The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance. Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.
2. Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.
3. Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information. Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation. Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.
4. The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories. This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies. The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.
5. The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.
6. Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems. Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through. Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
7. Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed. Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement. It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.
8. Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media. The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor. Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.
9. Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well. Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application. It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.
10. Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs. It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.
Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies.