On one level or another, every marketer I know is looking for ways to beat the changing tides of social media marketing. What was once a free-for-all, “everybody wins” landscape, is now a tough, competitive, demanding and sometimes ugly venture. Social media is not the free market it used to be, and no one wants to face that reality without a fight.
Images of the California Gold Rush in 1848 come to mind. Picturesque landscapes and beautiful scenery, glistening gold in the sunlight – these images were replaced with overrun streets and victimized townspeople. Is this an extreme comparison? Maybe not.
Marketers are not all the same. Some are not so honest in their attempts to “game the system,” and sadly, that makes the job harder for those who, like the Polka Dot Impressions team and many others, are genuinely interested in building long-lasting results for their clients through social media marketing initiatives. This forces the attentive business owner to take a good look at some tough questions around social media. Is social media optional for the business? What’s the purpose of social media marketing, and are we ready for some changes in our attitudes if we want to move forward appropriately?
Social Media ROI
Business owners and CEOs will all agree with this statement. There should be value in the things that a company spends its money on or the business will suffer. (Value, in this case, is defined as a return on the investment, ROI, of time spent on the task.) This is true for staff members evaluated on their performance, office supplies used in the process of doing business, utilities and rents paid on store locations and services, and a myriad of other things that fall into the “cost of doing business” category.
But where does social media marketing fall? Is it a cost of doing business, or is it a fringe expense?
This is a difficult decision for any business leader because of the implications of the answer.
If social media is determined to be a cost of doing business, then the time and monies allocated to staff and contractors, ad campaigns, etc., are no different than the cost of having a telephone for the business or turning on the lights. It’s built into the general operating costs of the business, ideally as a line item in the budget. The ROI of this perspective of social media is usually measured by overall contribution to the organization, not on granular delivery of success. As an example of overall contribution, an under-performing employee may be fired, but the position is kept open until a replacement is found. The position isn’t terminated when the employee is.
On the other hand, if social media marketing is determined to be optional, a fringe expense, then only discretionary monies will be spent on it, leaving marketing the business up to the discretion of the bottom line – after the fact. In this case, other expenses take precedence, and the monies available for marketing, no matter how little or how big, are evaluated on a very rigid basis. Discretionary money is always held to a higher level of scrutiny, and ROI is determined by very specific achievement of objectives in situations like this. For instance, a company may or may not take their employees on a staff retreat if the business owner can just give each employee a personal pat-on-the-back and stay within acceptable profit margins.
The Purpose of Social Media Marketing
To determine the answer to the first question, is social media marketing a cost of doing business or is it an optional, fringe expense, every business leader must first address an underlying question. Why are you on, or why would you consider taking your business to social media?
The short list of possible answers includes:
- Acquiring new customers
- Brand awareness
- Customer retention
- Customer Service
- Enhancing SEO
- Generating traffic to your website
- Lead generation
- Online sales
- Seasonal promotions
- Screening affiliates
- Thought leadership
There are other reasons as well, but every business leader should have an underlying “why” when it comes to their social media purpose. The obvious reason is that this “why” will drive the methods by which you evaluate your ROI. In most of the cases above, social media marketing would clearly fall into the cost of doing business category (customer service, as an example) and in others, it could fall into the fringe category (for example, online sales).
I believe a solid case could be made for every business having a social media presence. I need to say that up front. For example, what business wouldn’t benefit from brand awareness, thought leadership, or SEO benefits? Any business would! However, the underlying “why” determines the content strategy and marketing budget for any business, which in turn contributes to the basis by which social media’s ROI is evaluated.
Changing Our Social Media Marketing Mindset
So how do we put this all together in light of the changing landscape of social media? As I said earlier, social media marketing is no longer an easy “get in, get rich” prospect for any business leader. Like the gold miner who realized there was a lot of hard work to be done, some gave up and some settled in. Some miners relocated, and some got to work. The California Gold Rush had about 4 years of boom followed by a trickling down of momentum for several more years, but gold is still found in California, and miners still exist.
Social media marketing may have had its easier days, but no one expects social media to disappear. Yes, it’s getting tougher and tougher to strike it rich through social media marketing, but as a lifestyle, it’s not going away. If social media isn’t going away, and the generations of millennials (Generation Y) and post-millennials (Generation Z) who’ve grown up in a digital world are becoming increasingly tied to social media, then where do you suppose customers will be in business growth and business future? Where do you need to do the work?
But, like the smartphones that we’ve all upgraded to, the news that we find faster online, and the immediate customer reviews we look for in social media, our lifestyle has forever changed. As consumers, the way we seek information is not like it used to be. The way we research, purchase, and support businesses and products we like is all online now. For the marketer, it’s all about the consistency of purpose – across social profiles and the web. Do they match? What do others say? What will the consumer find when they search for you, and where will they search?
In my opinion, social media marketing as a fringe option is a false assumption in business. I believe the attitude shift that business leaders must make to stay relevant and marketable is to understand that social media marketing is a cost of doing business. The ROI in this is that your business is present, approachable, attentive – valuable. This is the shift of the lifestyles we lead, and it’s a shift of the lifestyles that our customers lead.
Business leaders who are looking to the future will realize that social media must be integrated into daily operations. There are many strategic ways to implement social campaigns, depending on the big “why,” but marketing attitudes must change! When it comes to your social media presence and the way customers “find” you, stale is a cold trail, and the ROI of nothing is always nothing!
 For instance, not every business conducts online sales on a regular basis, but they might have an occasional “special offer” to promote.