Should Social Marketing Still Get Your Vote?

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My point of view to this important question is an emphatic “NO*.” But please, indulge me for a couple of minutes as I explain that little asterisk I put next to my answer.

First, let me start by saying that I get social. I was in a variety of product and marketing leadership roles from 2007-2016 for a leading company in the “social business” space, Jive Software. I was helping marketers adapt when the fundamental shift in consumer habits occurred – i.e., when the percentage of Americans who turned to social to get their news (vs. traditional news outlets) doubled between 2010 and 2012 (Pew Research Center). I read analyst reports, such as Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2015–16, which showed that 65% of CMOs rank social marketing as a top-five area of technology investment. Also, I understand and am very familiar the many GREAT social listening, publishing and engagement tools on the market today.

At this point, you might be scratching your head a bit; my “No” point of view coupled with my “Yes” context seems rather opposing.

However, these two views are in fact not oppositional.

Here’s why: As simply as I can state it, I believe the majority of CMOs are wasting time, money, and effort focusing on ROI metrics like retweets, shares, followers, and likes for their social marketing efforts.

Marketing’s top concern should be creating sustainable growth. There’s no doubt a critical aspect of driving sustainable growth is building brand awareness, and social engagement and marketing efforts can indeed help here.

However, generating real demand (qualified leads and opportunities for sales), along with expanding customer lifetime value is ultimately the bottom line that marketing and CMOs get graded on. This intersection – or lack thereof – between social campaigns and metrics with key marketing goals around growth is, in my mind, where the crux of the problem lies and is why social marketing doesn’t get my blind faith and vote in today’s world.

I believe Michelle Moorehead, Forrester’s Research VP serving CMOs, had it right in her blog post at the end of 2015 when she highlighted that “2016 marks the year that the CMO will take control of the customer experience — or risk facing significant coordination challenges (and potential headaches) with some other fledgling executive who sees the opportunity to own it.” She also discussed how customer expectations around personalization will continue to grow.

There’s no doubt both of these points are spot on and they also both go perfectly together. While marketers need to take control of the customer experience with engagement that is laser-focused on areas that customers are most interested in, in order to increase conversion rates and ultimately customers, the marketer must fulfill the customers’ expectation of more personalized communications. Here’s the failure point though – all of that investment in social is not driving more personalized engagement, it’s not providing the nurturing that buyers want and that would increase conversion rates.

In 2009–2013 throwing money into social with a soft (or no) ROI was acceptable. Those were the rose-colored-glasses days where almost any money spent on social just felt right and wasn’t questioned much. Marketing budgets got bigger and the average CMO tenure was getting longer every year. However, by the end of 2013, CEOs started asking the hard questions around the ROI of social marketing. It didn’t surprise me, then, to see that the average tenure for CMOs dropped in 2015 for the first time in a decade (as reported in the Wall Street Journal back in March 2016). I believe part of these CMO changes had to do with too many marketers continuing to invest in social marketing without connecting those efforts to marketing’s key goals.

So there seems like a big, yet very solvable, challenge here for marketers. And the answer to this dilemma is how my asterisk would get removed and my answer changed from an emphatic “NO” to an emphatic “YES.”

3 steps to connect social marketing to growth metrics

To restate the challenge: marketers need to better connect their social campaigns and customer activities to core growth metrics. I’ll offer a three-step approach to solving this challenge:

1. Connect social efforts to further personalized outreach and nurturing

First and foremost, no matter what social media tool you’re using today – if it’s disconnected from your marketing automation system, you are blocked from leveraging social interactions as part of your scoring, segmentation and, ultimately, your nurturing tactics.

I understand not everyone has a marketing automation system today, but I use that as an example of whatever system is in use to further nurture prospective and existing customers. Social marketing efforts mean so much more if they are truly connected and driving follow up engagement and nurture efforts further on in the buying cycle.

2. Focus on attribution analytics that tell the whole story

Once you’ve got the social side connected to the marketing automation engine that’s driving your nurturing efforts and keeping score, you can now focus on reports coming from one place that properly attribute leads and opportunities to not only a webcast or email campaign, but also click-throughs from a tweet or a post on LinkedIn. Then you can measure social marketing efforts on par with all of your other campaigns.

3. Make it simple for your brand ambassadors to help you share

CMOs need to be of the mindset that ambassadors are everywhere – whether inside the organization, such as sales team members; or outside the organization, such as your best customers and your channel or technology partners. Tapping into these ambassadors while keeping everything connected will only help further amplify brand awareness efforts, as well as drive more leads and opportunities (that will finally get attributed correctly, per #2 above).

Getting to Yes

If a marketer can do all of the above, then social marketing most definitely should get the “YES” vote. I know I would change my vote to “YES,” as it would mean social marketing is leading to more of what customers want – more personalized engagement from companies around the products and services that they have an interest in further exploring.