Demonstrating value and ROI from social media marketing campaigns has been challenging since marketers first began using the platform to target prospects and customers. But should ROI even be a major social media justifier? Some say social media marketing success means looking beyond ROI, while others adhere to the age-old advice that says your company’s business objectives prove social media worth. “Social media actually goes beyond ROI,” said Hariraj Rathod, social media analyst at Numbertank. “It helps in achieving good branding effect on audience and also helps to showcase products and services by segmenting and targeting the correct audience. Social media marketing also helps a brand understand how well their products are being consumed or liked by certain demographics.”
Is social media even worth it for your organization? If it is, where should your focus be as a marketer? To answer these questions, we caught up with digital marketing pros who offered a number of social media marketing tips that can help you make the most of your social programs.
Understand Younger Generations and Their Growing Mistrust
Deciding which metrics matter isn’t the lone challenge for marketers using social media. Some say it’s deciding whether to invest energy and resources into it in the first place. After all, marketers face a growing mistrust of social media platforms in light of data breach scandals like Facebook-Cambridge-Analytica and shrinking social media audiences.
Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media, a marketing and new media consultancy, noted in a Forbes article last month that Millennials and Gen Z are annoyed with brands taking up space in their social media feeds, and a third of them have deleted their Facebook account.
Related Article: Measuring Social Marketing ROI: Possible or Pipe Dream?
Know Social Media's Place in Your Digital Ecosystem
Using social media is a thing of the past, according to Hyder. Companies should shift from a mindset of “using social media, to a mindset of adapting and thriving in an ecosystem where a highly connected, social, empowered consumer is now the norm, and traditional econometrics and data are no longer adequate to measure and track the success of content and campaigns,” Hyder wrote.
ROI is not the be-all and end-all for measuring success, she added. It's more effective that metrics match the “complexity, ambiguity and dynamism” of a customer’s journey, she said. Integrate social data and metrics with other KPIs from web analytics, CRM, etc. and view social media platforms beyond just a “marketing channel, and leverage it instead as one prong of a larger strategy and source of customer insight.”
Support Engagement and Education, Not ROI
Belinda Alban agrees. Alban, the founder of Your Virtual Assistant Service, said the focus of social media should not be on ROI but on growing your following to increase brand awareness, engaging with your customers to create raving fans and educating your potential customers about the benefits of your product. “The bigger your platforms are the more opportunities you have to do this,” Alban said.
Social media may or may not lead to an increase in sales, but it will give you the opportunity to build relationships with your audience and deliver “amazing” customer service. “On the back of the relationships and trust and confidence your brand has built with social media you should see an increase in the reputation of your brand,” Alban said. “And it is your reputation that can make or break a company.”
Related Article: Social Media Marketing: Looking Beyond Reach
Know Thyself, Know Thy Company
As long as your brand matches its social media playbook to its company objectives, you're on the right track, according to Maria Burpee, a B2B marketing consultant for MB Consulting. “The ROI — and the metrics — comes from the board and company objectives,” Burpee said. Do you want to be the most well known or favorite brand or build a community or movement? Social media, even if it doesn’t lead to sales, is key. Are you looking to generate leads? Social media listening is key. Are you trying to create high loyalty and referrals? Cultivating social media "love" and responsiveness is important. Do you want to have the best customer service and hang your hat on that as a differentiator? Social media can be part of the mix. Social media metrics wouldn't be found in a high-level executive dashboard, Burpee added, but rather the metrics are important to support a broader KPI dashboard.
Consider Using Unique URLs
One way to capture and track ROI on social media is using unique URLs. “Any time we post content that includes a link, we use a unique URL so we can track where the traffic is coming from and not for social media in general, but each channel specifically,” said Tiffany McEachern, social media specialist for PSCU, which provides solutions for credit unions. “Each social channel has a unique URL so you can see where your clicks are coming from and spend your time and efforts on those social media platforms,” McEachern said. “Even if social media isn’t giving your company a strong ROI, it builds brand awareness and in today’s day and age, companies are expected to be on social media.”
Related Article: 5 ways Marketers Can Improve Engagement in Social Media
Assign Specific KPIs, A/B Tests
James Bray is a social media marketer who works for the Equal Opportunity Community Initiative (EOCI), a nonprofit that relies on donations received from fundraising activities. Bray said his Board takes spending decisions more seriously than most, whether the costs are incurred by outright paid advertising or through the staff’s efforts to create and manage social media content. “The return on our social media marketing investment is therefore calculated in terms of engagement: profile views, click-throughs to the website, email subscriptions and volunteer recruitment,” Bray said. “These measures are a great deal more important than, for example, simply counting the number of Instagram followers, because they reflect the degree to which someone is interested in partnering with us.”
To ensure the nonprofit receives a return on its social media investments, Bray said the team needs to be clear about its objectives and how much time it can afford to devote to each. It then attaches KPIs to those goals to ensure they are met. “The EOCI’s communications team is constantly A/B testing its social media strategies, using a combination of each platform’s own insights along with Google Analytics to determine what sources constitute the best outreach and result in the most beneficial conversions,” Bray said. “Based on these results, the EOCI Board feels that our social media engagement strategy has a positive effect on our ability to connect with our target audience and reach our objectives.”
Listen on Social, Execute in Customer Service Channels
Clair Jones, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Witty Kitty Digital Marketing, said monitoring how your audience is talking about your brand through social listening is vital. You can use the data to inform your customer service programs. “You can learn so much about how to improve customer service and experience, tap into audiences you didn't know you had, and hone your branding and messaging,” she said.
Related Article: The Rules of Social Media Marketing Success: Relationships and Trust
Balance Between Organic and Paid Social Efforts Matters
If your organization is going to invest in social, consider the aforementioned tips and also strike a balance between paid and organic social media marketing. “Advocate for smart social that communicates the organization's mission and engages the audience,” said Maria Mora, content director at Big Sea Design. “And layer a strategic paid social plan over that for a stronger return and more targeted presence on social platforms.”