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Social media: Results and reality

The ongoing saga of Facebook’s stock price has spurred countless conversations about monetizing social media. Any social media purist will tell you that putting the word monetize even close to the words social media is a strong indication that you don’t get the medium at all. The minute you start looking at sites like Facebook or Twitter through the lens of monetization, you lose site of the real value of social media: customer intelligence.

We need to look at social media in a way that’s different from the way we regard other digital media channels. It can’t just be about the investment returns, as it is with other channels. Thinking about social media as purely a revenue-generator is 100 percent the wrong approach. This is not a direct-response medium. It’s an engagement medium. It’s about building relationships.

Yes, those relationships will ultimately have a positive impact on revenue, but building campaigns in the social space cannot be purely about the immediate ROI. For one thing, consumers are wary of having products marketed at them in a social setting. They can smell insincerity a million miles off, and if your content has even a whiff of ShamWow to it, you’ve lost their interest, and probably their trust.

For another thing, social media interactions occur much closer to the top of the funnel. A like or a follow isn’t even close to closing a deal. While a like is certainly a show of interest, it’s not a show of intent. The context is different—you may have conveniently caught a consumer actively shopping, but it’s more likely that they saw your promoted ad or post in their feed or on a friend’s timeline. Essentially, you’ve come up in conversation, but probably not near a decision point. The like or follow is the first step in the relationship, but you need to continue to engage, genuinely build trust, and gently steer consumers toward conversion from there.

Current customers are certainly more likely to like or follow a brand, but again, the relationship still has to be maintained. There’s an opportunity to build lifelong customers and brand ambassadors through excellent customer support, exclusive deals, and first-to-know information. There’s also an opportunity to lose customers to more engaging competitors.

Advertising certainly has a place in social media; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter offer fantastic targeting options and many of their new ad units are promising. Advertising on these networks is certainly an effective way to attract new fans and followers, as well. But advertising cannot be the end-game in social. It has to be about turning these ads into customer intelligence.

That’s the real value of social media. By gaining followers and learning, in aggregate, what they like and dislike, which brands they follow and which they respond to, what they share, and so forth, you gain a wealth of knowledge about your audience. That knowledge can provide the information marketers need to build effective communications further down the funnel, when it will directly impact ROI.

As an example, if you learn from your data that fans of your product on Facebook access your page via mobile devices 70 percent of the time, you know that mobile is a channel you should definitely consider moving forward. If you learn that your fans like a particular magazine or TV show, this will not only give you a hint as to where your next media buy should be, but it may also give you some insight into the types of creative that appeal to your fans. (Say for example, the show was “Game of Thrones.” You might consider adding some Westeros references or animated dragons to your new creative.) This creates communication that’s likely to resonate, because it’s based on what you know your audience actually likes.

So while effective social media efforts will, ultimately, affect the bottom line, we have to remember to keep expectations in reality. A few tweets are not likely to dramatically increase sales. But, consistent, honest relationship building in the social channel ultimately can generate stores of useful data—and from that data, real customer intelligence can be gained. That intelligence will plot out your roadmap to ROI once and for all.

Molly Glover Gallatin is VP of marketing at Compass Labs.

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