Social Media and the Hierarchy of Marketing Needs

Some may know me for being the founding CEO of online marketing platform Responsys, but what I truly hope people remember when they think of me is my passion for marketing innovation. Having participated in several major cycles in the evolution of marketing technology, I see social media evolving itself in a predictable progression.

Like other channel innovations, social marketing practices were initially remedial. Having a presence or listening to conversations was a reasonable starting point. Parallel to prior learnings, technical capabilities increased and so did marketer demands. However, I firmly believe that social media is now perched on a pivotal moment in time, where marketer demands are ahead of existing platform capabilities. The proof is that at the end of last year two critical points were announced by the leading analyst firms in the industry: The Net Promoter Score for existing social management platforms was a negative number, and marketer priorities shifted from deploying point solutions to achieving higher value objectives—scaling effectiveness and engagement. I didn’t know that a negative NPS was even possible; regardless, the point remains that marketing needs are currently accelerated beyond technology capabilities.

Below is a visual model of how I see this phenomenon occurring; similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a pyramid is a great representation. Focused on outbound social media marketing and its earned and owned media capabilities, the lowest levels represent the most basic needs, and social marketers are motivated to achieve the next higher level as performance and capability increase.



Level 1: PRESENCE is the need to ‘be there’ on social media. The goal here is to extend a company’s Web presence into social media.

Level 2: REACH is to make the social presence more active and “pull” potential audience members and increase the number of followers.

Level 3: ENGAGE is to evoke a response from audience members and create a connection or conversation with them. This requires a fundamental shift in social strategy, from broadcasting self-promoting content to providing audience-based value. This is done by shifting focus from quantity of messages to quality of content, targeting of messages, and having a true focus on providing value to specific audiences. When done properly, each audience is inclined to like, comment, and share the content, thereby extending the engagement of the network. Contrasting this, an emerging trend has been to leverage teams of people known as advocates to amplify messages. While the idea of increasing social participation makes sense, the underlying technology lacks managerial guardrails and too often yields a “push” of untargeted noise and an organizational behavior that Altimeter Group calls “social anarchy.”

Level 4: SCALE is to align social activity with all of the company’s marketing and communications programs, connect socially active teams across the company (increase topic flows and consistency of message), and increase social participation. The goal is to reach targeted audiences with content relevant to each group, thereby building social credibility across the business. Social participation across the company’s groups needs to harness the individual areas of expertise. The flow of content that drives the social participation has to be streamlined into a workflow. This requires the company to develop replicable campaign processes that can align business programs with socially active teams and targeted audiences.

Level 5: INFLUENCE is to participate in the shaping of opinion within an audience and to fuse that objective to all aspects of the business. The goal is to extend the business’s social credibility into being the authority on topics and become the thought leader to drive top-of-funnel awareness and audience engagement. This is done by integrating social media marketing into all aspects of the business and by connecting content and updates into a social posting cadence. The results should be measured as desired actions from the target audience, which can generate a lead inquiry, a whitepaper download, an event registration, and so on. Success is measured as a socially derived ROI that directly correlates social marketing programs to these outcomes.

My belief is that current technological capabilities leave many social media programs incapable of really extending through the “Engage” phase. Often focused on paid media strategies or trying to “push” messages in a “pull” marketing environment, these capabilities are only well-served in the earliest stages of the Social Media Hierarchy of Needs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Where do you fit in this pyramid?

Anand Jagannathan is CEO of NewzSocial

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