In this increasingly connected digital age, social media activity has become an integral part of the communications toolkit. The increasing popularity of ‘new’ media channels around the globe has created a hunger among clients, keen for a share of the social media pie, but often without a clear strategy or goals.
A Strategic Approach
Social media activity should be approached in the same way as all other communications – with a clear-cut strategy, objectives, and measurement and evaluation tools. But the evidence suggests this isn’t the case where social media is concerned.
According to a recent survey of B2B marketers in the US by Pardot, almost 30% of companies do not track social media on lead generation and sales, even though they are spending millions of dollars annually on these campaigns.
Social Media for B2B
There remains clear scepticism around the use of social media for B2B communications. While it is certainly true that B2C brands were the early
adopters of social media and are more prevalent across the web than their
B2B counterparts, B2B is rapidly catching up with use of sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and industry-specific blogging.
Where to Start
As a first step, it is vital to establish who the target audience is and where it sits online. It may well be they are not online, or can only be found in niche blogs and forums rather than on the well-known sites. This analysis will determine whether social media is likely to be effective and if so, which channels should be used. Once the most effective and appropriate channels have been identified, activity on the site needs to be monitored to establish when the target audience is online and responsive. Is it early in the morning? Lunchtime? Or even at the weekend?
Choosing the Channel
The Pardot survey found LinkedIn to be the most successful social media tool in terms of generating business leads. This was followed by blogs, showing the favourability for channels which provide an opportunity for long-term content and discussion, demonstrating thought leadership and brand positioning.
Twitter was shown to be the social media tool most used by marketers, although this obviously presents more challenges in terms of determining ROI. The micro-blogging site, which sees in excess of 175 million tweets per day, is used much more for information gathering and sharing news instantaneously and plays an increasingly important part in customer service, crowd-sourcing feedback and reputation management.
Content is King
As communications professionals, we have all heard the age-old mantra about content, but nowhere is this more true than online. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for social media content generation; it needs to be as unique as the brand messages themselves. This content will depend on the strategy and objectives, but should be based around adding value to followers, enabling discussion and engagement, rather than the hard sell.
There are standard practices which apply to social media in the same way that they would any external communications, in terms of legal obligations, respect and sensitivity. This may seem like common sense, however, 31% of respondents to Pardot’s survey felt it was appropriate to critique a competitor via social media. We have to question whether they would apply the same approach in their other communications.
This is the danger represented by the perception of social media being an informal conversational channel. Commentary on competitors and peers is a fine line to tread and while staff and stakeholders can be the strongest online brand ambassadors, there needs to be a code of conduct to ensure messaging is on-brand, appropriate, respectful – and legal!
We have all seen examples of an inappropriate tweet causing irreversible damage, yet Pardot’s survey indicates only 11% of marketers have a formal social media policy. When this statistic is compared to the 91% of respondents using Twitter, this raises serious concerns about the level of awareness of those individuals using such social media sites.
As the final stage in the campaign management cycle, measurement and evaluation of social media activity is vital. However the plethora of different measurement tools on the market, combined with a lack of clear objectives and performance indicators, often leads to marketers taking the easy road. This theory is supported by Pardot’s findings which revealed more than 64% of respondents use ‘internal, free tools’ to manage their social media campaigns – of the 70% who are actually monitoring at all.
But monitoring can only be effective if the goals are clearly identified. While the number of content downloads, group opt-ins and campaign-specific interactions can be effective in measuring the uptake of a digital campaign, these numbers alone are not enough to measure influences on sales, or impact on core business, especially in the B2B landscape where the buying process is notably longer than
The issue of monitoring ROI (and using this to obtain management buy-in) remains one of the biggest challenges in digital marketing. This is linked to the lack of education and understanding of social media and its role in the communications mix. As communications professionals we all have a responsibility to familiarise ourselves with these dynamic and complicated channels in order to educate our clients and remain at the forefront of innovations in communication.