Social media as a marketing tool shows no sign of letting up. In fact, it is one of the fastest growing and most promising strategies a business can employ to boost sales and conversions. Consider: If it were a country, Facebook, with its 750 million users, would be the world’s third largest; Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day; and one in four of adults over 65 now participates in a social-networking site, according to eMarketer. It’s no wonder that, today, social media is one of the keys to building branding and engagement. But it is also a viable marketing channel of its own that can deliver genuine value to the bottom line.
Companies know they need to incorporate social media to reach new, existing, and potential customers and to demonstrate business impact, yet many are uncertain about how to go about it. How does e-commerce slot into the new medium? Will implementing marketing campaigns—or even e-commerce storefronts across social media channels—pay off financially?
Monetizing Social Is Possible. . .And Worth It
The good news is that social media is maturing quickly, and solid solutions exist to help analyze the return on investment (ROI) that can be achieved. Quantifying success in this new arena can be trickier than is the case with traditional marketing channels, such as advertising, and that is where much of the consternation and confusion arise.
The biggest difference from traditional marketing channels is that the results from social media often happen more circuitously than they do in direct advertising: A potential customer reads a tweet or Facebook posting, sees a status update, clicks a link to your company Web site, and then eventually purchases a product—but this action might occur at a much later date. This realization makes measurement more challenging, but it is absolutely possible using today’s solutions.
Setting The Parameters
As a first step in gathering useful data to gauge success, it is important to understand what you are attempting to implement, why you are doing it, and what you are hoping to achieve. Zeroing in on specific metrics once those goals have been clarified makes it easier to define success.
Too many marketing executives agree to create a Facebook page or open a Twitter account, count up their fans or followers, and then throw up their hands when asked to connect those efforts to the bottom line. That’s why the majority of professionals still does not attempt to measure ROI for their company’s social-media programs, thinking it is unachievable.
Adding to the challenge, many fear the lack of control that social media can engender. Here is where the powerful viral aspect of social media comes face-to-face with its potential for risk. Marketers can create blogs touting their companies’ products and technologies, but then you have to accept the resulting reader input—be it good or bad. This immediate free-form feedback loop unnerves executives who read anecdotes about social media gone awry or brands being damaged by social media “flare-ups”—and they become wary of the entire process.
Getting Into The Game
So why, as a marketer, should you start thinking about social media as a measurable business tool and monetizing it just as you would any other traditional type of campaign? Here are five reasons, among many:
1. Social media offers synergies among marketing activities.
Social media can support and integrate many functions at once: PR, customer service, market research, e-commerce, video and banner advertising, coupons/promotions, and more. The synergistic potential of all of these capabilities combined makes social media a superb marketing tool. Many of the principals of traditional marketing can be effectively applied to social media. Reach, frequency, service quality—and, yes, conversions and sales—all can be considered and measured.
2. Social media affects other channels and should be considered part of an integrated, holistic marketing strategy.
Social channels can have a significant impact, especially on search (SEO, paid), mobile, and email. More traditional digital marketers are getting much more involved in social because they are beginning to see how it affects other channels, and they are successfully altering their marketing strategies to address this trend.
Applification on a silver platter.
3. Social media is uniquely flexible and broad in its reach.
Social media encompasses a wide spectrum of forms, from weblogs to social blogs, wikis to podcasts, photographs to video. All offer marketers direct or indirect ways to reach customers and monetize their marketing efforts.
Consider the many different types of social media:
- Collaborative projects (Wikipedia)
- Blogs and microblogs (Twitter)
- Content communities (YouTube)
- Social networking sites (Facebook)
- Virtual game world (World of Warcraft)
- Virtual social worlds (Second Life)
4. Social media delivers amplification and leverages trust and recommendations among friends and peers.
When customers share a story about your business on Facebook, that story is published to their newsfeeds and their friends’ newsfeeds. Because the average Facebook user has 130 friends, a company’s message can be shared exponentially, with the influence and impact of a personal referral from a friend.
Social media can be compared with search—both are essentially methods of discovery. Yet search, predicated on algorithms, is less personal. On the other hand, social is based on networks of individual opinions. Results from social networks can be equally relevant, and they impart an even higher degree of confidence.
5. Social media could be more controllable than you think.
People who manage search ads consistently research the time of day, week, geography, etc., to determine optimum user reception. Marketers can utilize those same types of analytics in the social sphere. It is possible to understand the best time of the day to post on Facebook, for instance, as well as which messages drive engagement and deliver the greatest revenue impact.
Social Commerce—Versus Just Social Media—Is A Reality, Today
If these reasons aren’t enough to consider social media a genuine marketing channel, then research shows that, given the option, people want to shop on social-media sites. According to “Retailers Try to Monetize Social Media Outreach,” an August report from eMarketer, more consumers want to make purchases via Facebook, but many retailers do not offer that capability. By making that option available, retailers can benefit by beginning to showcase monetization for their social-media efforts.
Innovative companies such as ShopIgniter now make it easy to for retailers to leverage social media for e-commerce. ShopIgniter’s software platform enables retailers to reach customers in the channels where they spend most of their time—sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Retailers can open a full-branded storefront on Facebook and then use ShopIgniter’s tools to highlight their products, offer promotions and coupons, identify primary influencers, institute rewards and loyalty programs—all while building trust and turning customers into marketers, advocates, and drivers of revenue.
When asked to advise those nervous about incorporating social media into their business endeavors, Matt Compton, CEO of ShopIgniter, said: “You really just have to get into the game. There are already a billion consumers online, and the Internet is the most natural way to interact and purchase goods. Did you know that, according to Nielsen research, 90 percent of people value advice from friends more than any other source? When enterprise brands and retailers combine viral-social promotions with curated social storefronts, they are maximizing the power and reach of the social graph. It’s a powerful network that drives brand awareness, purchase consideration, and actions by customers and their friends.”
Social Media Is Monetizable And Measurable
During the past few years, social media has dramatically matured and evolved, producing results that can now be dissected, analyzed, and quantified. ROI from social media is measurable. Although success in social media is still often defined by effectiveness in building an audience and driving engagement, the good news is that substantive solutions now exist to help chief marketers delve deeper into the sea of statistics to justify program expenditures, fine-tune efforts, and pinpoint areas of strength and weakness. It is even possible to determine product sales or other conversion metrics that result from something as granular as a specific Facebook Like.
For organizations, the goal is to adopt the digital-marketing solutions that can measure social-media efforts, including such familiar marketing terms as visitor numbers, traffic sources, network size, quantity of commentaries, bounce rates, duration of engagement, activity ratios, conversions, and customer loyalty. It’s also important to find solutions that can dig deeper into metrics, such as virality—how many members reshare information gleaned from your site—or blog integration—incorporating two-way customer communication via comments, Twitter widgets, social voting, sharing, and bookmarking.
Most important, solutions today are available to track interactions, synergies, and, ultimately, conversions across channels, from a click on a Like button to a call to a contact center or a coupon redeemed at a brick-and-mortar store.
Once marketing executives understand that social media can be transformed into social commerce, and that its impact on the bottom line can be measured with relative ease, they can then proceed to make it an integral and profitable element of their e-commerce and marketing strategies. Social media—and social commerce—are no longer a novelty without rules and standards; it is, instead, a powerful set of malleable marketing tools that can be employed by virtually every enterprise—from one-person companies to conglomerates—to boost brand or product recognition, instill customer loyalty on an amplified scale, and boost conversions and sales.