What’s the Real Business Value of a Social Media Following?

What’s the Real Business Value of a Social Media Following? Featured Image

Too many CEOs persist in applying 20th-century thinking when considering the value of social business. Little wonder that there’s no consensus in the C-suite when social media and its merits are the discussion items on the corporate agenda.

There are business leaders who, in spite of substantial evidence to the contrary, dismiss social media as irrelevant; there are those who, seeing a need to “belong,” simply jump on the social bandwagon; and there are the enlightened majority who, understanding its power as a bona fide business tool, embrace social for its ability to boost an organization’s performance.

A forward-thinking business has social media running through its corporate veins for one reason: to support its business objectives. Anyone who believes otherwise is misguided at best. Each organization has a unique combination of reasons for being on social media, but whatever the desired outcomes, they must align with every other aspect of the business plan in order to see the real business value of social media.

Social Use-Cases for Every Type of Business

It’s easy to see social media as a promotional tool that does little more than support a company’s marketing activity. While that remains a valid objective for a campaign, there are other, equally powerful activities ideally suited to social’s unique combination of reach and authenticity. Those most often cited tend to be:

  • Sales campaigns
  • Brand awareness and marketing
  • Customer service and support
  • Recruitment

Choice of use-case is largely dictated by the nature of the business; when implementing social media initiatives, consumer-facing companies distributing fast-moving retail products favor sales- and marketing-related objectives, while business-to-business and professional organizations often find richer pickings among back-office functions.

In each case, the key is to select an appropriate channel together with a measurable outcome that supports a relevant aspect of business performance. Using appropriate measurement tools is essential; tracking a headline metric such as followers or likes, when the desired outcome is, for example, an increase in registrations or click-throughs, is virtually meaningless. Each use-case requires careful consideration.

Matching Social-Media Channels to Use-Cases

Marketing specialist Jason Clegg, writing in 2013, likened social media to “the glue that builds a bridge between all of your campaigns.” Take this excellent analogy further: As the choice of glue depends on the nature of the materials to be joined and the use for which they are intended, so it is with social media. Considered in isolation, no single channel is perfect for every use-case — although, some cover more bases than others.

It’s tempting to pigeonhole social-media channels. Given its often irreverent nature, Facebook is almost exclusively the preserve of B2C businesses. Conversely, LinkedIn’s professional stance appeals largely to B2B organizations. YouTube, Flickr, and Google+ have their supporters in either camp, but there is a common thread running through almost every social-media campaign: the ubiquitous micro-blogging platform that is Twitter.

If social media is the glue, then Twitter is the universal dispenser. Equally at home in B2B and B2C campaigns, Twitter allows marketers to orchestrate a range of social communications, controlling both the tone and the timing of the conversation. A business without a well-managed Twitter account is one that isn’t covering all the social-media bases.

Let’s review the use-case benefits of the major social media platforms:

Sales Campaigns

Like many other forms of direct marketing, social-media sales campaigns and promotions lie in end-user- or consumer-facing territory. The objective is simple: Persuade the recipient to become a customer, user, or advocate for the product or service on offer.

Facebook is often the channel of choice, offering direct interaction with followers and the ability to extend the reach of a campaign beyond those already engaged with the brand. Using YouTube, Flickr, or Pinterest to support promotions and contests brings into play the weight of video content and imagery, the objective in each case being measurable engagement in the form of a click-through, a registration, a download, or a mention.

Around all this activity, Twitter weaves its 140-character web. A 2013 survey conducted by Market Probe International on Twitter’s behalf revealed that 72 percent of users are more likely to make a purchase from a small- or medium-sized business that they follow. An almost identical number follow companies to get information on future products, and one-third of respondents claim to have interacted with a company after reading an ad that contains its Twitter handle.

Beyond click-throughs, essential metrics include impressions, mentions, and engagement. Each of these latter three is now accepted by the Public Relations Society of America as a valid measure of social-media success. Driving followers to take action — whether that be clicking, sharing, or retweeting — is the desired outcome, and social media makes it easy for people to do just that.

Brand Awareness and Marketing

Developing brand awareness is rarely achieved by using any single marketing channel. Traditional methods, including print media, television, radio, and billboard promotion, remain hugely popular.

That said, social media marketing is ideal for increasing and maintaining brand awareness in both B2C and B2B markets. Whatever the platform (with Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter all popular choices), the drip-feed nature of a professionally managed social media campaign is guaranteed to keep the marketing message in front of customers and potential customers over a prolonged period.

Effectiveness is often more difficult to evaluate. While impressions, mentions, and engagement are equally valid metrics for brand awareness, measuring reach allows direct comparisons with competitive channels. Social media typically delivers a lower cost per thousand impressions, or CPM, than traditional media, yet many CMOs fail to recognize the opportunity it presents.

Customer Service and Support

Traditional customer-service roles are no longer the norm in business. Gone are the monolithic, inward-facing service departments, together with the accompanying barriers to access, seemingly designed to keep the public at bay.

Social media presents new options for customer service, making it possible for organizations of all types to respond promptly and directly to queries and support requests. The undiscriminating nature of social media allows both B2B and B2C companies to interact with customers, end users, and other interested parties, universally and often informally.

Facebook and Twitter are both ideally suited to the role, allowing team members to post updates and information in real time. Handling multiple requests for the same information becomes a simple matter: Publicly available pages allow staff to handle a markedly higher volume of traffic than with traditional methods without losing the essential two-way nature of the interaction.

Many organizations now encourage and promote subject-matter experts who provide access to a level of information previously hidden in technical journals or buried in the depths of user manuals.

Success in this area is demonstrated by high levels of engagement, with numbers of responses and likes being the key metrics. Click-throughs to downloads or information pages also give a good indication of an effective social-media service-and-support program.

Recruitment

Traditional recruitment methods can be time-consuming and costly; the advent of the Internet gave rise to less costly, faster online recruitment websites, but social media takes the game to a new level.

LinkedIn, the original “professional” social-media platform, still leads the way in digital recruitment, although other channels, including Facebook and Twitter, play an increasingly important role. Employee-owned social networks are now one of the most cost-effective recruitment tools available to an organization, with many employers encouraging staff to share details of job vacancies directly with their personal connections.

Social media provides opportunities for highly specific targeting, with candidate data readily extracted from profile information and available for promoted in-channel advertising — typically at a modest cost when compared with “broadcast” methods. The opportunity is open to all, with little distinction in this use-case between B2B and B2C organizations. As early as 2011, HR magazine in the U.K. reported that a major British electronics distributor used social media to cut the direct cost of recruitment at the senior level by as much as 90 percent, while reducing the number of man-hours required “significantly.”

Success is easily quantified: Responses to posts, advertisements, and promoted landing pages provide an immediate measure of campaign effectiveness. Recording reach and number of impressions allows direct comparison of conversion ratios for alternative approaches. It’s little wonder that this is one social-media use-case that most CEOs accept without argument.

Getting Value for Your Money From Social Media

Even the most unsocial of CEOs shouldn’t take too much convincing to adopt one or more of these social-media use cases to increase organizational performance. An effective social presence keeps a business in touch with its followers and supporters, provides ready access to a receptive audience whenever there’s something newsworthy to report, and ensures that customers and end-users receive timely support as it’s required.

Efficiency doesn’t happen by accident, and especially not by making hasty or uninformed decisions about which social-media channels to adopt and when to use them. It requires a consistent commitment to the cause on the part of an organization’s leadership team coupled with appropriate professional support — whether internal or external. Properly executed, there’s plenty of evidence that social media delivers business benefits on a grand scale.

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