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The Value of Social Media Marketing

Written by David Harry   
Friday, 15 February 2008 19:00

A Quest to find meaning in a world of warm and fuzzy….

(be sure to catch Part II in the series)

There is one thing that can be said of me when it comes to Social Media Marketing (SMM); I am unconvinced. While it is fun and there is a certain level of glamour to it, ( 15 minutes of fame and all) I have been hard pressed to embrace it as a method of marketing that is appropriate for every situation. When it comes to Small and Medium Sized Businesses, (SMBs) there is often a need to have the marketing dollars return a positive cash flow in a timely manner.

Considering much of SMM is a branding exercise, that a strong social media profile can take time to develop and show any sort of potential return, often it is not an ideal match. The same can be said of budgetary constraints that mean attaining maximum ROI on the marketing dollar is paramount. Most small businesses have a limited if not nonexistent budget for branding activities. These concepts have fallen on deaf ears with some SMM people I know until only recently (yes, one actually conceded it “isn’t for everyone”).

Making sense of Social Media Marketing

 Along this path you will notice more often than not post after post about How to do your social media marketing. You will find plenty of SMM bloggers that sing the praises and give us little tidbits of goodiness to enable us to attract reams of (poorly converting) visitors to our websites and bask in the glow of a crashed server. But there is not enough information on;

 
  1. How to plan a program ( with a real-world example)
  2. How to time manage said program
  3. Hot to measure and manage costs
  4. How to measure it (KPI)
  5. How to determine ROI (return on investment)

 

Much like SEO, each situation is going to be unique and the key performance indicators would vary; this I understand. I still don’t see many in the community talking about how this all plays out in the end. There is no lack of data (surveys etc..) on ROI surrounding other areas such as PPC and SEO, where is it for SMM? What are the timelines to achieving a positive cash flow and what value can we expect from it? What are the common steps to getting to this point? Once again, being a branding activity primarily this will be VERY difficult to establish and furthermore, exceedingly difficult to justify for clients with shorter turnaround expectations for their marketing investments.

 

When in Rome 

Ok, let’s head on over to the hub for the cool kids of marketing, Sphinn, and see what’s around. We can take some of the more popular SMM stories and writers to see what exactly is out there and who’s actually doing it. See if we can’t crack this nut open a little wider.

Hot Topics; a sampling of the latest goodies.

9 Tips for planning a SMM Campaign – this is more of the basics such as; setting goals, researching communities, networking, monitoring and so on. It doesn’t mention the time required creating content, promoting it and subsequent methods for maximizing/measuring ROI.

the Inconvenient Truth about SMM -  Aaron (Wall) seems to touch on some of the downside issues but there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel for a focused campaign. Obviously nothing here relating to a positive value for our SMM understanding.

..and that was it for the Home Page, let’s go to the SMM section….

Bla blab la… RSS Curse, Stumble Trolls, Nowsourcing interview, blab la bla, Writing for Stumble, oh… that may be something;
          
  How to write posts for Stumble; hmmmm… standard fare here. I don’t see a mention that you should watch how long you spend on a post since STUMBLE DOESN’T CONVERT. I think you may want to tell a company that it is all for the glory not the bottom line ..ha ha ha… I jest. Anyway, nothing here about the business end…. Moving along…

The 10 Commandments of New Social Media – (what’s gives with the ‘new’?) this turned out to simply be yet another post telling me ‘How to be Social’… some elocution lessons if you will. I think that the 11th Commandment should be – Thou Shall not Seek ROI
 

…and so it goes. That didn’t give us much now did it? As I looked further down the list it began to look like advice on how to USE social networking/media sites and not so much on leveraging them as a marketing tool.

Heck, some of these would make nice FAQs for the sites in question, just nothing that would fit into a formal marketing plan.

 

Let’s try my old friend Google; SMM and ROI

Measuring the ROI of your SMM programs – I had hopes for this one. Turns out to be a sad case of Title Bait (nice work Google.. ). There is now mention of ROI and it quickly turned into measuring in ‘qualitative’ means… which unlike quantitative, is nearly impossible to measure, that is the nature of qualitative research and measurement.

SMM Success Metrics – wow… nice one again Google, there is next to nothing here that wasn’t covered in the first one really. Once again, more qualitative suppositions, than there are quantitative metrics.

Measuring ROI from SMM – jeez… this one is from Neil Patel (yr old post) and even Andy chimed in. These are not metrics for ROI guys, at least not in any conventional sense. If you read the comments you can see the problems I have oft highlighted as the business model of RSS subscribers is limited at best.

Measuring Social Media Marketing – ok this one is getting somewhere. I am not a huge fan of engagement metrics, but at least they are reasonable benchmarks. There is also some mention of SM Metrics, which are a tad hazy and remind me of a recent Blog Benchmark post. This post comes closer than any others so far, but still not quite over the top.

 Show me the money!

I have spoken in the past about areas of SMM that cross over with SEO; links being the most viable. This is in no way a concise metric for measuring the value of social marketing though. At least for the SMM industry I certainly hope not. It can also not be about benchmarks such as subscribers as that means it is limited to sites that have content worth syndicating. It can be about brand recognition and market reach, but that would omit smaller companies with limited budgets for said activities. So what is the value of SMM and where does Show me the moneyit fit into the marketing tool box?

You can see the dilemma here; no clear path to understanding the benefits. I dare say formal programs are hard to find and even less is written about key performance indicators and tracking time investments for purposes of actual hard costs and how one offsets them. Could this be the Achilles heel? Is there a reason there is little in the way of chatter to this end? My recent Beer Break has me all the more curious

Is social media marketing for everyone? Or is it merely the lack of formal goal setting, tracking and expectations to blame for some grumblings in the marketplace.

 

Does Anybody Know?

All of this had me thinking... Recently Lee was gracious enough to add my blog to his Big List ( with some kind words) and I had mentioned in the comments that;

“ While I appreciate the ’social marketer’ tag, it’s not much more than passing interest still and I don’t generally provide the services- still a search geek at heart… makes me wonder about how many SMM Bloggers actually do? I know a few of the ‘cool kids’ in the medium that don’t actually provide said services professionally… is an interesting convo…hmmmm… ”

to which Lee relied;

“ … You bring up a good point. There are a lot of SEOs who pay lip service to social media as a subset of services, but all they really do is submit/vote on social news and bookmarking sites. Most of the SMM bloggers are no different.

At the same time, there are several popular/opinionated social media bloggers who don’t “advertise” that they provide consulting, but I know that they do on a personal basis. ”

I guess we should next try and get some formal opinions on this from those in the know right? I have been asked on a few occasions about doing SMM but have yet to take on any formal contracts as I find the expectations of many SMBs are out of line with what I perceive to be the intent and value of social marketing. I also believe that SMM works better in some situations than it would be for others. But what do I know?

 

What do the Pros say?

So who among us are professional SMM providers? Maybe some of those folks will be able to clear the muddied waters for us. I decided to contact a few folks and ask them;

  • Do you actively offer Social Media Marketing services and roughly how many clients do you currently service?
  • What size is the average client’s enterprise? SMB? Corporate? Fortune 1000?
  • Do you offer it as a branding activity or as conversion lead asset?
  • Do you track the man hours and content creation costs? What other costs are involved?
  • When you ultimately pitch the service, does ROI get involved and do you sell it more based on qualitative KPI or on quantitative? That is to say are there hard numbers or is it more about further understanding the consumer base and increasing brand reach.
  • If you are tracking, what types of analytics applications do you employ and what primary and secondary metrics are tracked?
  • Do you feel SMM is viable in any situation? Or are the market and budgetary constraints to be considered?
  • Is there anything you’d like to add to the discussion?

We shall see what responses I get back, so be sure to ‘Stay Tuned’ for the next instalment.

If you are a Social Media Marketer that is interested in putting you thoughts in the ring, feel free to contact me - try and keep it civil.( I will use the best of what I get for publication to be sure :0).

 (be sure to catch Part II in the series)

 

Comments  

 
0 # Networking 2008-02-16 07:27
Awesome Post! Thanks a lot for the information.
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+1 # Barry Welford 2008-02-16 19:00
What an excellent post to open up the question. I fear that at the moment we tend to ask the other members of the choir and they all chorus, "Of course, singing is good for you." :-)
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0 # Dave 2008-02-16 19:15
@ Mary (network) - well we're light on information, big on ranting at the moment. Hopefully some of the SMM people that have agreed to humor me will shed some real 'information' on things.

@ BW - I have been fortunate enough to have some of the better minds in SMM agree to ride along, so we might just get a better picture in the end. This is truly the desire, I get so any questions relating to these apects.. it would be nice to have some answers.

Dave
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0 # Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Med 2008-02-17 20:57
It's interesting to me that the top of your website talks about the future being a mystery, yet you're so openly skeptical about a relatively new medium.

Having said that, you've at least done your homework, which I respect. To add to the conversation, I'd start by sending you over to Lisa's recent post on how to measure social media. How to measure a social media campaign (www.ignitesocialmedia.com/how-will-my-social-media-campaign-be-measured/)

The short answer: It must be measured if this young industry is going to take off, but it's not one size fits all (some folks need branding help, some need to convert traffic to sales, etc.).

To answer some of your other questions, at Ignite we mostly work with larger brands who (a) have a larger geographic footprint and (b) have larger budgets from which they already utilize advertising and public relations.

I struggle to see how social media would ever help a local dry cleaner. A large dry cleaning chain? Yeah, maybe. But 5 stores in Central Virginia? Probably not a lot if at all. Could they do Twitter updates on specials? Sure. Cost = $0. Time equals 10 seconds a week.

But for big brands, they've got to learn how to communicate beyond advertising and PR. It can help them in customer service, retention, brand building and yes, even sales.

Is it early in the game? Very... Part of the proof is that we were one of the first 10 social media agencies in the U.S, and we just formed in July 2007. (I'm very intentionally not counting SEO folks, PR firms who dabble, etc.)

Is a LOT not figured out yet? Certainly. But is the power of social media to drive traffic and to empower brand evangelists adequately demonstrated? Without a doubt. Does that mean any of know how to help every company do that yet, when the answers vary dramatically? Of course not.

But I feel a lot better for the national brands who are allocating small budgetary percentages to figure it out than I do for the brands relying solely on the old-school methods.

~Jim
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0 # Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Med 2008-02-17 20:58
hee hee... thought you wanted my title, which I thought was a bit strange...
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0 # Dave 2008-02-17 21:23
Actually, I am not ‘openly sceptical’ as I am ‘openly inquisitive’. As I mentioned, I do not offer said services but do get many questions about it and know more than a few folks in the SMM space. I am merely voicing things from the angle which I receive/perceive them. As for my ‘homework’, I have put that one aside with some others that have been passed along over the last few days. I will certainly touch on some of those points in the second instalment.

I actually find myself in an interesting position being a part of this discussion. Once more, I am NOT a SMM provider… but I have been having conversations related to this with a few mates in the biz. As always it is the dialogue that helps to further any discipline. My intentions here are truly to learn more about the industry and discuss publicly the issues that are common in my private encounters.

For the record; I am a proponent and believer in the value of SMM – just not in each situation and market. I am looking to learn.

BTW - thanks for the input, it is all valued.
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+1 # James Duthie 2008-02-18 05:10
I have to say that I tend to agree with you here. I utilise social media fairly heavily, yet do so without any monetary goals. It's more about learning and networking for myself.

I couldn't see myself recommending it as a corporate marketing tactic given the time taken to develop a respected profile and the lack of conversion rates that social media generates. As you identify, generating a reasonable ROI is highly unlikely and it is likely to be written off as a failure after a couple of months.

I suspect most social media communities would be more than wary of a corporate identity. I also question the reach of social communities outside of engaged industries such as digital marketing. Will the traffic benefits occur when the audience aren't active Stumblers, Sphinners etc?

The only model whereby I think it's feasible from a business perspective is for personal consultancy, whereby a self employed individual chooses to utilise their own time to develop a personal brand/authority.
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0 # Geld Lenen 2008-02-19 01:11
Hi James, nice comment but not really matching the facts here in Europe.

"ost social media communities would be more than wary of a corporate identity"

These communities here are just one big plus :-) good to see the developments.
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0 # Victor363 2008-02-21 20:46
This article really resonated with me Dave, as most of your posts do.

Social media marketing may work wonders for selling marketing services (i\'m not in the industry btw), however, its not a universal tool for every e-commerce endeavor.
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0 # Gregorio 2008-03-15 19:26
Hi! Let me talk just about some of those five or six points at the top and I promise I will be snappy:
1º How to plan a program 2º How to time manage said program
3º Hot to measure and manage costs
4º How to measure it (KPI)
5º How to determine ROI (return on investment)
1º Well, let me tell you what I do. I have a goal of SMM a day / week. When I am mad at something in the job, I just start with SMM. I think about it like a relax of some minutes a day, or a relax of some hours a week.
2º, 3º & 4º How do you measure the cost of your leisure time?
5º Well, seriously talking, I've tried many times and always with different results. I don't think it could be wrong just to do ours best on it
Thanks
:zzz
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0 # reasonable robinson 2008-03-19 16:24
As an Business School Academic (and ex Marketing Director of several medium sized enterprises) I think the post and discussion raise alot of fascinating issues.

Clearly the issue of ROI is crucial and the 'marketing' profession is sadly full of gurus and mystsics who try and focus attention of issues like salience, recall, reach, personality, and their new media variations etc. These people seem to be very good at spending an orgainsations money rather than creating proven additional revenues. I go along with Shaw and Merrick - see their book Marketing Payback who urge great caution against marketeers who have lost sight of the 'money'.

As for the 'Brand' chestnut it pays to be crystal clear about what exactly we 'mean' by this term otherwise the risk is that people will talk past each other and nothing will gained.

Its also very tempting to see SMM as 'New'...Having been blogging for nearly a year I can see that the medium and some of the techniques might be novel...I don't see any Principles that are new. Nothing with the Idea of Marketing has changed.

As for SMBs/ SMEs not falling head over heels for marketing in first place and the 'new social media' in the second place, again an old chestnut and almost certainly the result of undue 'marcomms' emphasis and a total lack of commercial understanding by the marketeer who is pitching. SMBs are often B2B and highly dependent on trust reputation and relationships with well known clients and customers, and usually within a well defined sector.

Surely the first rule of anyone picthing services it to determine the need and value and then provide a meaningful value proposition. If the SMB isn't buying then presumably the Value Proposition isn't good enough...and with a clue like Value in the title then surely it has to be something to do with demonstrable ROI.
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0 # Ukraine 2009-02-16 11:46
thanks for giving such deep information on social media marketing, i was searching for it for a long time but no one provided such insight into the topic. clearly you are lifting curtains from many myths in smm. You have given good detail on goals, brand ,measure AND the most imp ROI(return on investment). The six points you have covered in the following steps are those that are not covered in any of the sites i have searched earlier
1º How to plan a program
2º How to time manage said program
3º Hot to measure and manage costs
4º How to measure it (KPI)
5º How to determine ROI (return on investment).
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0 # Chris 2011-11-20 05:39
Facebook made social media marketing easy with the algorithms and cooking the sites you use with the "like" button :lol:
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