Social media has the opportunity and obstacle of being at the forefront of marketing engagement. On consumer territory, not the brand, marketers face many new concerns and options: learning how to progress and build a program that engages the right audiences in a proper manner, how to align those activities with larger marketing efforts, and how to measure outcomes.
Social media interactions in the digital age have been around for nearly 20 years. While many people look to the entry of Facebook and Twitter in 2006, early sites like SixDegrees.com and the mainstreaming of “weblogs” started around 1997. Nearly a decade before marketers took note, consumers connected and exercised their newly found voice. As a participant in this process of sharing, marketers were collectively late to the party and are now trying to figure out how to fit with a channel that was created from an atypical perspective… bottom up.
Taking from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I have seen a maturation process marketers transcend as time, technology and best practice sharpens approach:
- LEVEL 1 – PRESENCE. The most simplistic and fundamental step, to extend an organization’s web presence into social media. We’ve seen this happen as people create a company page on LinkedIn, a fan page on Facebook and start a corporate Twitter account.
- LEVEL 2 – REACH. Soon, marketers realize that they need to produce a stream of content and share it. Through this process, they hopefully gain a following and some of their own “voice”.
- LEVEL 3 – ENGAGEMENT. Here we see a fundamental shift in social strategy, from broadcasting and self-promotion to providing audience-based value. This is done by shifting focus from quantity of messages to quality of content, targeting of messages and delivery on the provision of value to specific audiences. When done properly, audiences are inclined to like, comment and share the content, thereby extending the engagement of the network.
- LEVEL 4 – SCALE. Scale is to align social activity with all of the company’s marketing and communications programs, connect socially active teams across the company, and increase social participation.
- LEVEL 5 – INFLUENCE. When all of these things are done well, some organizations become participants in the shaping of opinion within an audience. The outcome is that the business’ social credibility is developed into authority on topics and they become a thought leader. These movements deliver the marketing outcomes we’re all looking for.
My sense is that the social media marketing industry averages a score around level 3, Engagement. Sure, there are “unicorns” out there who are absolutely standout in their efforts, though rare. As an industry, indicators appear as though programs are huddled into stretch goals to better integrate social media marketing into larger digital strategies (Scale) and find fundamental measurement capabilities and KPIs.
Of particular concern, I have also seen a large number of marketing organizations try to bypass Level 3, Engagement, by shifting focus and resources from organic social engagement to paid programs. I firmly believe in the value of paid programs but believe that the combination of the two strategies are much more powerful. Yes, the organic social engagement strategy has become increasingly difficult; however, without it, the resulting strategy ends up looking more like a legacy “push” program and misses the true promise of engagement. To make my point let’s examine a parallel concept, paid search.
What would a search program look like if all you had was a paid effort and no SEO? Sure, the paid program will deliver value but will also miss many other dimensions of value – for example, some people prefer organic results, and the combination of paid and organic produce better overall results. The same is true with social media marketing. Some people will click on your ads but a click on a paid ad is not the same outcome as a share or like on a post that you craft.
While social media possesses the greatest opportunity to actually fuse engagement between a brand and their audience, it’s also among the hardest of channels for marketers to accomplish this objective. Why? It’s not easy to succeed and scale on both the paid and organic social paths. Hard doesn’t mean impossible.
As you’re thinking through your 2016 objectives, consider the hierarchy model shown above. Where does your program sit on this continuum? What do you need to do to get to the next level? Don’t try to boil the ocean, find a manageable set of objectives to accomplish. For all but the “unicorns” who read this article, most would benefit from prioritizing a mix of these activities:
- Make sure your social team is 100% attuned with the organizational content strategy. Move far beyond sharing press releases. Are they able to read trade press and select articles that agree with key elements of your content strategy?
- Mix 3rd party content into your sharing stream. From the point above, find and share content that aligns with your content strategy. This produces wins for you on many levels: audiences tend to trust 3rd party content more, sharing content produces “friendlies” who in turn share your content, and it dramatically increases the flow of interesting content you can share.
- Find measurement that works for you. Few get to the point of attribution right away, so don’t let that hold you back from producing regular reports of stats you can measure. Get better over time. Both from the perspective of tracking to the early measures but also from the perspective of finding better tools and KPIs over time. One note, be honest with yourself and your organization when you go down this path. Where you start is just that, a starting point. Your objective is to go deeper over time.
- Bring to light the many socially active within your organization. Congratulate them, bring them into coordination with organizational direction, and don’t shun them. The average enterprise has more than a dozen socially active groups, chances are you have a great opportunity to enlist and enable a lot of people.
- Engage senior leadership. From the CEO down, your organization needs to understand the value of social media marketing within your organization. Help senior executives become successful in social media. In turn you’ll find more willing partners in your pursuit to enlist and enable the coordination of wider sections of the organization.
I hope 2016 is a great year for you and your social media marketing program. Following these simple guidelines will definitely build momentum for your earned and owned digital strategy. Best of luck!