When speaking with many regional entrepreneurs, investors, and some larger brands, the topic of social media is often debated. A social media manager of a major brand recently told me with great excitement that he had over 100,000 Likes, while the CEO of a digital studio told me I can buy 10,000 Likes for only $1,500. This may make social media measures sound relative at best or useless at worst, but, on the other hand, if you don’t have a social media campaign, you are considered archaic and missing younger consumer segments. But is this true? Does social media really provide a lot of benefit?
A quick search on LinkedIn shows a number of new social media manager positions in the MENA region, and an increasing number of companies hiring agencies to manage their social media needs. Yet, when you explore more mature markets and companies, an alarming reality is revealed: No one can really quantify the benefit of social media. Yes, communities are formed, two-way communication is enabled, and digital brand awareness is heightened. But so what? Where are the repeat sales, the brand advocates and the viral awareness? I’ve summarized a few of the realities of social media that insiders discuss that you should be aware of:
Reality 1: Return on investment (ROI) is questionable. Facebook and Twitter fans and posts have not been proven to translate into repeat sales for most campaigns.
Reality 2: Algorithms change. Facebook, like Google, changes its Edgerank algorithm (the algorithm that determines which stories show in your newsfeed) on a regular basis. Therefore, what fans see from one day to the next, changes. Your carefully worded campaign may not be visible at all this week.
Reality 3: Likes don’t mean anything. Unlike in the real world, where I struggle to win Likes from colleagues and friends, Facebook Likes are easy to buy. Although Facebook is trying to clamp down on bots, even real Likes don’t generate much value unless used wisely. Ask yourself – after you have liked a page, how often have you visited it unprovoked?
Reality 4: There are no social media experts. No one, not even managers of sites with over a million fans, really understand yet how to leverage social media effectively. Although, there are a few ahead of the curve, most social media ‘gurus’ have yet to crack the case of human social behaviour online. Do people engage a brand because they really like it, because their friends like it, because there are financial motivators or just because? The tricky part is not algorithms, it’s the convergence of online and offline that social media facilitates that is perplexing.
YOU NEED A SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
Ok, so those realities speak to the skeptics. But, they don’t change the broader fact that social media is beneficial if used correctly. If you excite users, form a community, and keep them engaged, there are benefits to be reaped. And to maximize your effectiveness in those dimensions, you need a strategy. Not a back-of-the envelope sketch, but a comprehensive, detailed plan of attack. You need to move from the thinking that social media is a channel to transforming your business into a social organism.
Here are the 5 strategic questions you need to answer today:
Strategic Question 1: What is your ultimate objective with social media?
Is the purpose of your social media activities to increase brand awareness or increase sales? What do you want this paid or unpaid traffic to do? Should you direct them to your Facebook page or your website page? Really understand your goals before moving forward,
Strategic Question 2: Finish this sentence:"My community will…."
Everyone talks about building a community. People come, people talk, and hopefully they say good things. How do you convert this into something positive? Are you offering group discounts? Are positive referrals rewarded? How does a community move offline? Figure out what actions people will take when they are virtually hanging out on your Facebook page.
Strategic Question 3: What is your target ROI?
Experts may tell you that social media campaigns cannot be measured. That’s a lie. In actuality, the results are poor and thus no one wants to talk about it. There are a host of tools that allow you to track performance in real-time. But social media campaigns do cost money, so even if the amount is minimal, determine your spend and expected return before proceeding.
Strategic Question 4: Is social embedded in your DNA?
This question is harder than others, particularly for larger established companies. But to be effective on social media, a company needs to do two key things: First, the social media team needs to be empowered to seek answers or create campaigns and promotions without the red tape. Second, the lines of communication between key departments need to be encouraged. A complaint received through social media should be resolved quickly by the responsible party, similar to the way it’s handled in more traditional customer service channels.
Strategic Question 5: What is the right balance between engagement and boredom?
This might seem simple, but can be a difficult question to answer, as balance depends on the website. An airline’s social media outlets maybe updated frequently with new promotions, whereas a bank may choose to wait until seasonal or promotional periods before updating fans. Certain users check their social media streams daily, while others less often. The long-tail of the Internet requires you to cater to different habits and so should your social media strategy.
In conclusion, before you throw money or resources towards your social media strategy, take a step back and analyse your user base. Understand the usability of your product, how often they would like to be engaged, and test using a small budget. Measure your campaigns frequently, and don’t be afraid to tweak or pivot as needed to keep engagement, and ultimately your financial return, high.