Talking to the Experts
Are you looking to understand Social Media and where it fits into the marketing mixx? Not sure if its for you? Want to pick the brains of a bunch of professional social media marketers?
Well, I was seeking to understand and thats exactly what I did
The Journey Continues
A few weeks ago I wrote about my ongoing curiosities with Social Media marketing from a business perspective. You see, regardless of what the proponents pimping the social goodiness tell me, my business contacts and fellow marketers are often not altogether sure of it's purpose, goal setting processes, metrics and valuations. This time out, Im going to try and shed further light into the darkness of understanding the Value of Social Media Marketing . In this installment we'll look at some feedback I was able to get from some of the brighter minds in the SMM world.
A recent study by TNS Media, (as reported in AdWeek) polled more than 60 marketers in North America and the UK and came to the conclusion that most marketing agencies Dont get it. From a lack of focus in the SMM space to not having the technical abilities to carry out SMM campaigns, clients had many complaints. Apparently there was wide spread discontent with how many in the Social Media Marketing world were performing their jobs (or expectations of clients I would imagine) as highlighted best in a comment by TNS media man Jim Neil;
You get the sense that agencies talk a good game - They put up a good presentation about what social media is, but when you get to implementing campaigns, the day-to-day management skills are not meeting the marketers' expectations." - Ad Week
Ducks in a Row
For me much of this is not merely about the agencies providing the services, but also the marketers/clients that are not entirely sure what to expect and how to set proper goals and benchmarks for their SMM campaigns. There is no lack of people writing about HOW TO use various sites, create link bait and other modular aspects; very little about the business end of things. This is certainly the area that I hear about the most
- How do I plan a SMM campaign?
- What are the goals?
- How much does it cost (what do I charge)?
- Are there metrics to be tracked?
- How do I track them?
- Is traffic the goal?
- Is it for backlinks?
and so on it goes.
To that end I decided to call on some folks that are actually down in the trenches building the professional face of Social Media Marketing and see what nuggets of wonderment I could dig up.
The People - Of the social media marketers I spoke with all are actually servicing clients which I believe is important as one would be surprised at the number of schmucks writing about it that dont actually provide the services professionally (yours truly inclusive).
The group I spoke with are from a wide age range (younger and older providers) and have portfolios of SMM ranging from 4 to 16 projects on the go at any one time. While client types can vary, most of them seemed to be playing with larger enterprises as opposed to the SMB sector (small/medium sized businesses). This is certainly something I was expecting. Not because I feel it is an activity for the elite as much as there is always a tendency for larger enterprises to be early adopters and the smaller fish come along once the methodologies are more stable and proven.
Branding or Conversions - When asked if they offered SMM as a branding activity or as conversion lead asset most of the gang leaned towards both. The branding benefits of SMM seemed more predominant, which in turn does increase ones chances on the conversion end of things ultimately. Choosing the networks/websites that one is targeting to reach a relevant user model for the program was also highlighted as an important factor.
I know there may be a fire-storm in such assertions (that it drives conversions) but one does have to take into account that a professional program is crafted far better and is more targeted. Simply driving non-targeted, poorly relevant traffic to your site is not an end goal. Although at least one of the respondents did touch on the fickle nature of the traffic as far as conversions are concerned and even went as far as saying;
very rarely for direct conversions; its just not effective at that most of the time. Jeff Quipp; Search Engine People
While conversions were commonly referenced in my travels, I personally still see it as a secondary consideration in the end. While SMM can play a part in the development of product reach, saturation and the distribution life cycle, often the direct traffic is not easily monetized (initially).
Project Cost Considerations on the topic of tracking the costs involved in running a social media marketing campaigns most of the providers obviously tracked man hours spent promoting as well as creating content (though one was simply charging a consulting fee). Many of the crew actually priced campaigns based on a given time allotment as opposed to actual benchmark scenarios or consulting fees. There was no general consensus on that area though. Some cost related areas covered included;
- Strategy/Planning Sessions and Meetings
- Content Research
- Content Creation
- Site re-development (extending existing functionalities)
- 3rd Party Expenses (copywriters, developers)
- Market Feedback (paid Stumble Upon for example)
- Content Promotion (man hours spent)
For me, this is part of where the rubber hits the road in that the market, site readiness, program goals must be tightly defined prior to venturing off to start your SMM campaign. When we begin to scratch the surface of some of the actual hard costs involved, one can see how the dollars, (pounds, euros) can start to add up. This goes back to the ability of the SM Marketer to drive reasonably relevant traffic and establish realistic goals (branding v conversions v SEO v CRM) with a client early on.
Tracking your efforts obviously we want to be watching the effects of our programs and to that end I asked about what types of tracking were common and which applications were being employed. Here are some common factors being tracked;
- Traffic Profiles (where they come from and what they do on the site)
- Engagement metrics (bounce rates, feed subscribers, comments)
- Backlinks (generated by the campaign)
- Buzz tracking (reputation management, conversation analysis)
- Conversions (primary and secondary)
As far as applications Google Analytics, Ominture and Web Trends were popular choices (barring in-house 3rd party applications being in place) and there was even mention of more obscure apps such as Crazy Egg and Robot Replay. On the reputation management end of things usage of Google Alerts, Technorati, Bloglines and other locales were common.
The topic of engagement metrics is a very trying one which we can look at that later as it is a discussion all of its own. While there is no consensus in the analytics community, there are some benchmarks that one can use for valuations depending on the goals of your SMM campaign - just don't conside them hard data. If you missed the Blog Benchmarks post, be sure to check it out as well. Some potential data sources can be found there. And there are some resources at the end of the post
Digging a little deeper
Now lets crank it up a bit and look at some of the more interesting areas that speak more to the heart of this beast. Considering this post is all about the value of social media marketing, I wanted to see if I could inch closer finding purpose and relevance.
Whats it all about in discussing how they market the service to their prospects and clients, the ever so fuzzy world of branding entered the arena. This furthered my thinking that conversions are not the core goals and that creating reach most certainly is. Now, the value of this activity does seem to vary somewhat with the respondents including secondary considerations such as the SEO values of SMM, link building being a predominant factor;
The real story is getting noticed by the influencers and getting authority links from major media, industry experts and the like which ultimately ties into SEO and results in the SERPS. That being said, social media is still measurable when you assign a value to engagement items (i.e blog/social/forum comments, Twitter followers, RSS subscribers). Brian Wallace - NowSourcing
Engagement metrics were of importance as well as hard traffic numbers. In the end each provider had a slightly different approach and much of it one can also attribute to varied client types and needs (and the background of the respondents themselves);
(It) depends on the client and their goals so there is no set answer. For example, some clients are interested primarily in traffic because they have a CPM model. Others are interested in links. Others are interested in direct sales. Chris Winfield - 10e20
There was little discussion of actual Return on Investment, (ROI) which furthers many of the assertions I have been making towards the branding/engagement goals over pure conversions/ROI. Ultimately only a few of the interviewees discussed this as a prominent factor with clients.
While there seemed to be some consensus of branding being a major player, it is puzzling to see so much effort in quantifying the value. As any analytics buff will tell you, engagement data and branding measurement are exceedingly difficult if not impossible. This seems to be a bit of a conflict and may speak to some of the confusion as to the ultimate value of social media marketing efforts.
the Qualitative Connection along those lines, I found it interesting that no one had really looked at how social media/networking could be used for qualitative research which could potentially glean some interesting demographic and market trend information (cross-over with the R&D/CRM departments even). One would have to consider that once you have a reasonable access point to your demographic that utilizing some interactive elements to gain insight into ones target market (via qualitative means) would be a strong consideration. Another area I am sure to look into moving forward.
When to be social next I decided to broach one of my favourite topics relating to SMM and that is when to use it and when not to; or specifically, is it viable in every situation? Are there market and budgetary limitations that precludes some from getting the most out of the process?
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. Jim Tobin Ignite Social Media
Amongst the respondents there was certainly a flow of belief that it is certainly NOT for everyone. Some of the reasoning behind potential blocks includes;
- Budgetary considerations (front loaded cost)
- ROI Cycle (returns are generally not as immediate)
- In-house resources (when budgets dont allow otherwise)
- Geo-targeting (can be more difficult than SEO/PPC)
With that being said it is also important to note that some form of social media marketing program can be viable in most situations. Considering the potential for it to cross over with other areas such as SEO, CRM (Customer Relations) and even R&D (Research and Development), often a minimal campaign can be had in all but the furthest niches.
So when I say some form of SMM is viable - I mean it. There are forums out there for every business. There are blogs out there. There are people interested in your products/services (or else you wouldn't have a business) so there is a way to reach them through social media marketing. Chris Winfield - 10e20
..as part of an over-all marketing plan, consideration to how best to utilize SMM can be the call of the day;
Sometimes it will be amongst the best tools for the job, other times it wont be. The trick is in understanding its strengths and weaknesses. Jeff Quipp - Search Engine People
and at least one respondent felt it could be used in any situation, one merely had to be more creative;
SMM can be applied to any industry/company size. Sometimes you just need to be more creative. The key is to deeply understand the clients brand and what they are trying to do. Brian Wallace - NowSourcing
I know I am more comfortable advising it than I was before and find that not only can one off-set the cost factors with its partnerships with other areas of the mrketing mix. I have also learned I truly dont think outside of the box creatively enough when looking at client's existing business models. There are some interesting considerations to be had from whence I started this journey, (my man Jeff should be happy about that).
marketing should never be about employing only one tactic. Instead, a more holistic view must be taken, and each medium should be assessed for its potential contribution to the objectives. The more contributors the better typically, which leads to the marketing mix. Jeff Quipp - Search Engine People
So whats it all mean?
Well I cant speak for the rest of you, but for me I have a much stronger understanding of not only the nuts and bolts of social media marketing but the why and wherefore as well. I personally have some more questions and some homework to be done, but the picture is clearer. The main stumbling blocks seem to be;
- Understanding the value of branding (and word-of-mouth)
- Potential Budgetary limitations
- Struggling for quantifiable metrics
- Maximizing cross-over potential (with SEO, CRM, R&D and so on)
If website and company owners can start to better manage some of these factors and approach SMM with at least a minimal presence, there are certainly benefits to be had. I personally am going to look more into the areas of qualitative research as I believe it lends itself well to the medium and can create further value from our activities. In the end this isnt a one trick pony and understanding the intricacies involved will take time ;
Many just jump into social media seeing what it can do for them. It doesnt work this way. You need to sit on the sidelines and watch the conversation. Then when the time is right, come in and speak your piece. It isnt all about you though, so dont just submit everything thats yours.
Social media is reciprocal. And its a specialty in and of itself. Some SEO, marketer, or programmer type isnt born with this innate knowledge. It takes time and experience, just like anything else. Brian Wallace - NowSourcing
As for you would-be social media marketers waiting in the wings, I hope you have a better idea on the how AND the why.
I think that the problem with companies who offer SMM services is this;
Many of the smaller ones see a quick opportunity to jump on something "hot" so they are "offering" services without knowing much about it themselves. Then there are larger agencies who are focused so much on branding and "attention" and there isn't a real strong ROI there either (if any).
The sweet spots are the companies that understand business and uses social media marketing to help you accomplish your goals (if it's the most appropriate use of your money). In order to do that though - they have to actually understand SMM and be able to deliver as well :) Chris Winfield - 10e20
While Glen Warns;
Moving into social media as a service is very different from doing it on a personal level especially when you might have no knowledge of a certain niche. Glen Allsopp - Viper Chill
As with many answers they create new questions and this journey was no different. I think many of the specifics we covered can be expanded upon by others in the medium. Much like my past experiences in web design and search marketing, part of the growth period involves educating business owners and other marketers. As more defined goals, reporting methods and benefits emerge, social media marketing is sure to be more and more respected and find its place in the marketing toolbox.
I want to truly thank my guest riders for not only taking time to be involved, but also for their candor and willingness to share a glimpse into the inner workings of the SMM world. I for one am much more comfortable sharing space with my SMM brethren and have finally stopped sitting on my fence glaring with wonder and confusion.
Jeff Quipp Search Engine People
Chris Winfield 10e20
Brian Wallace NowSourcing
Glen Allsopp Viper Chill
Jordan Kasteler Search and Social
Gennady Lager Send Traffic
Jim Tobin Ignite Social Media
..and to Lee for the inspiration
Some more reading you say? Of course
dont I always?
Discussions on the Business of Social Media Marketing
Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing - DoshDosh
An interview with 4 experts Viper Chill
How to Sell Social Media Marketing NowSourcing
Using Social Media to Build Authority Search Engine People
A look inside a Social Media Marketing Campaign David Wilson
How to start a Social Marketing campaign Jack Humphrey
Getting rich quick with Social Media Marketing Brian Solis
What makes a successful marketing campaign on Social Networks Web Strategist
The state of Social Media Marketing - Britopian
On the Value of SMM
3 Case studies on the importance of Monitoring Social Media Linear.ca
Social Medias influence on Search Rankings Search Engine Journal
The importance of Social Media Marketing Dosh Dosh
Authority building tools of the trade Search Engine People
Social Media is NOT the final frontier Brian Solis
Social Media marketing for Small Business Social Media Trader
Measuring and tracking
Measuring engagement online; the next stage Eric Peterson
Engagement Metrics; Methodology and Measurement Analytics Guru
How will my Social Media Marketing campaign be measured? Ignite Social Media
Social Marketing Metrics Jack Humphrey
Social Media Metrics ClickZ
Exploring Social Media measurement Social Media Explorer
Life after page views; Web analytics 2.0 Computer World
My Journey; SMM; is it for you? | Getting a grip on Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketers need a better identity | the Value of SMM Part I
What's next? We're going to expand on qualitative research and SMM - Stay Tuned