customer experience, Digital Marketing Files: 10 Ways to Prove Your Social Program Works

Forrester issued a report earlier this month that noted marketers are frustrated trying to get executives to support their social marketing programs. 

Shocked? We're not either. We know C-Suite wants ROI. We know they want you to show, not tell, how your social marketing programs work.

Prepare with Real Data

Like most anything, it helps to be prepared, confident and have a little something called actual data. This much, Forrester learned through its recent research targeting marketers and their social programs.

Forrester researcher Kim Celestre wrote that the successful social marketers she spoke with each had insights from sources like listening platforms, marketing systems and web analytics. Others went with third-party research to fill the gaps. "Without data," she reported, "there is no platform to build the business case."

CMSWire.com caught up this week with Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications to find out why marketers fail in their social programs — and what helps them succeed. B2C and B2B have similar challenges, but speaking of B2B specifically, how can those marketers show social-program value to C-Suite?

"The best way is usually to ask customers," Gillin said.

Post a short survey, he recommended, or just make a few phone calls and find out how customers use online resources in general and social networks in particular to research product decisions. "The results of these surveys can often be compelling," he said.

Provide Existing Evidence

We all have tools that could be improved to help us in the day-to-day business operations. Your mouse doesn't work great. If you shut down your desktop when you leave for the day, it takes too long to load it up again the next day.

When you speak up, you get what you need (we hope anyway).

Same goes for social marketing programs.

"Look at the performance of existing marketing programs and evaluate how well they're working," Gillin said. "In most cases, they're not working as well as they used to. This is a good argument for trying something new."

Seek New Customer Data

Research the demographics of customers you don't currently have, Gillin added.

"Many B2B companies become complacent believing they already know who all their customers are," Gillin said. "They are often unaware of new customers who have different buying behaviors."

Discover new research about how those customers research their purchase decisions. Is that in sync with the techniques you're currently using? "Chances are younger buyers use channels you don't even know about."

Don't Spread Yourself Too Thin

Too often, Gillin said, organizations set up outposts in multiple social networks, including platforms that "really don't make sense for their market." Then, they find themselves unable to deliver enough content to keep them active.

"It's better to start small with one or two communities and really understand how they work, then grow from there," Gillin added.

Stick with the Program

Success in social media marketing comes with time and persistence, Gillin said, and the payoff is low in the first few months but high after a year or more.

"Companies often become frustrated with the lack of immediate results and abandon their efforts," Gillin said, "often just before they would really begin to see results."

Don't be 'Overly Promotional'

Success in social media marketing comes from building social authority, which translates into word-of-mouth promotion by people who value what you say.

"This can be enormously powerful because you don't have to buy access to their social networks," Gillin said. "They provide it for free. The key is to be helpful, not overtly promotional."

"One of the reasons people use social channels is to avoid marketing pitches," Gillin added, "so if most of your messages are self-promotional, people will simply turn you off. The more you give, the more you get. That concept can be difficult for many marketers to understand, but it really does work."

Measure Results

Track leads that come from social channels. Understand the actions that prospects take when they engage with the company.

"The only way C-suite executives are going to buy off on any new marketing tool is if they can see tangible results," Gillin said. "It's not difficult to put this tracking in place. Simple tools like Bit.ly and Google Analytics can show where your visitors have come from and what they do when they arrive at your Website. Nevertheless, I find that few B2B marketers are measuring this activity with any kind of precision."

Show Your Savings

And don't forget — if you don't have tangible results to show your C-Suite how much money they can make off your social program, you can at least show them what they save.

Cappy Popp of Thought Labs gave us some great advice last month in this regard. His approach included making the most of social media marketing by defining social media metrics in three ways: activity, engagement and acquisition.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Forrester's Celestre summed things up best in her report this month by suggesting questions to prove impact on business outcomes:

Will the proposed social marketing initiative help the company meet its revenue goals through increased leads? Will it help a cost-control goal through support-call deflection? Will it contribute to a rebranding strategy through positive brand sentiment?