Not long ago, a research report from Forrester made headlines when it claimed that less than 1% of online transactions reviewed in the study could be traced to a specific social media post. Despite all the hype, the report concluded, social media was failing to generate any results, and businesses were being lured by the bright lights and shiny new platforms only to end up empty handed.
So I suppose I should pack up my things and leave my pass and snake oil certificate with reception?
Well, maybe not just yet.
As my colleagues in the US have identified, there is much more to social media than getting people to click through to buy from a single post. As they correctly identified, the report from Forrester was based on 30 days’ worth of data – not much when you consider that 2.5 quintillion (two and a half billion billion, or 25 followed by 17 zeros…) bytes of data are created every day – which presents two problems in my eyes, and two core principles behind business success in social media that this report fails to address.
Firstly, social media is not a 30-day campaign, or a 60-day one for that matter. Social media requires a long-term view and commitment to develop tangible results. There is no switch to flick which will lead to instant business success. Unfortunately it’s not just Forrester that is critical of the short-term pipeline issue around social media, with many Australian businesses adopting the perception that a Facebook page will result in increased revenue. Why? Will having a website without a clear strategy and mapped user journey lead more people to buy your product?
We need to move our thinking away from ‘what can I get from social media?’ to ‘what potential can I unlock by integrating social media as part of my broader communications and business activities?’ and we are starting to mature in our approach. This attitude is beginning to shift, with marketers locally beginning to understand the importance of developing a relationship before earning the opportunity to sell to customers. In fact, a recent report from iStrategy revealed almost 50% of marketers have ‘engagement only targets’ for social media, while one in five had already implemented ROI targets for their businesses. For me, this indicates that marketers are still struggling to pin down the exact measures for their social media activities, but it also suggests there is work to be done in developing a clear understanding of customers’ needs and how to use social media channels to engage them.
For Aveeno Australia, the brand was looking to drive awareness of a new product launch while also activating brand ambassadors and driving word-of-mouth around its product suite. It understood its customers and prospective customers, knowing there was a disconnect between awareness and consideration. However, once the product was tested, customers were convinced and converted to using the product. Based on this insight, Aveeno developed a campaign targeting Facebook users to drive consideration and purchase, seeing a 7% increase in sales as a result of the campaign. While the sales increase was welcomed, the CRM benefits of capturing an audience of potential advocates to engage with around future product launches and brand activities was a valuable secondary outcome.
Secondly, social media requires investment in building and nurturing relationships, understanding stakeholder needs and meeting them wherever possible. You may not produce an instant sale or conversion, but you will develop stronger ties to those with whom you will do future business, both in the B2C and B2B environments. Social media provides the opportunity for businesses to connect with people where previously impossible. While your enewsletter or direct mailer may not make it past the trash, engaging in conversation via a LinkedIn Group with your target audience affords you the opportunity to showcase expertise and value with an audience where no formal working relationships previously existed.
One of the best examples of this investment in relationships comes from American Express who, through its OPEN Forum online community, provides a unique value proposition to small businesses online. Rather than trying to generate immediate sales, Amex has developed a collaborative forum offering advice and insight to SMBs, providing them with the tools and expertise to do their jobs more effectively. Far from being a one-trick pony, this community engagers influencers, showcases real business success stories, ties in offline campaigns (like the Small Business Saturday movement), and ultimately directs users to Amex products and experts for conversion. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a comprehensive social media listening and monitoring process ticking away in the background as well. This concerted effort to have a conversation with stakeholders rather than push product ensures Amex better understands their needs and provides an enhance service as a result.
Ultimately, if the only value social media provides for business is driving less than one per cent of sales, I expect corporate investment will rapidly taper off and companies like LinkedIn and Facebook should probably start jettisoning stock immediately. But if businesses use social media channels to develop a clear understanding of (and engagement with) their customers, choose the environments or platforms they are active in, communicate via compelling and engaging content, and create a sound social strategy based on listening to customer needs and wants, there is no reason why they can’t drive not only sales but valuable, lasting business relationships.