[6 Steps to Proving Your Worth: Social Marketing ROI]

If you’ve ever had someone in your company say something like “What does social media marketing do for us, anyway?,” this is the article for you.  Really, if you’re in any marketing discipline that isn’t measured on an immediate sale and engenders questions like “Where is the ROI in [insert your area of expertise]?” and, consequently, leads to your budget being hit first when things are tight…

I have been one of those beleaguered folks looking for meaningful KPI’s to show senior management that things like The Twitter had a viable business purpose.  Those of us in “softer” social marketing disciplines (PR, brand, community, events, social media) have traditionally had a very difficult time quantifying our efforts to prove our worth, as it were, to higher-ups accustomed to the cut-and-dried metrics of direct marketing disciplines (SEM, direct mail, display).  Traditional PR and socially-driven program measurements like “ad value” and “impressions” are guesses that media outlets have applied to their real estate in order to provide numerical value to earned media, and these metrics can cause a raised eyebrow among C-level execs who want clear, quantifiable ROI.

Those softer metrics are fine for what they are, and “awareness” is actually a perfectly valid business goal: customers don’t usually give it up on the first date just because you winked at them.  But in the case of social marketing metrics, we have the technology to measure actual engagement.  First, though, we must differentiate between a direct marketing discipline and a relationship marketing discipline.  Direct marketing leads to single-sale conversion, and its metrics are very simple.  You send an email or post an ad with a prompt to buy, and a certain percentage of those people will buy.  The customer journey is clear, linear and trackable.

Now, established brands can use social media channels for quick, direct sales: Clif Bar, for example, once used Twitter to sell an overage of bars at a reduced price.  But one might be of the opinion that this effort was a direct marketing campaign that happened to be on a social channel rather than a social marketing initiative, and that’s another article (and it’s covered in our social channel strategy overview).  For the purposes of this article we’re going to talk about the fuzzier side of marketing, which is to say the relationship marketing discipline.  Social marketing is, at its core, about building relationships.

No matter how you view your sales funnel, we can hopefully all agree that awareness is at the beginning and purchase is at the end, the latter of which ideally leads to the happily ever after of customer loyalty and advocacy.  Relationship marketing is a nurturing model that heartily embraces awareness as the beginning of the customer path to sale, and carries with it an understanding that most customers will need multiple touches, or impressions, before they buy something from you.  Put more pithily,

Relationship marketing disciplines are nurturing models that serve a multi-touch awareness effort.

twitter birdClick to tweet

In exploring the difference between traditional monologue marketing and social dialogue marketing, we’ve discussed the importance of action-based social marketing metrics (read: a click).  These metrics are important not just because the ultimate goal of social is word-of-mouth marketing, but because this sort of measurement allows us to both follow a customer and set up a reporting process that will please the people wondering why they’re paying someone to fiddle around on Facebook.  With that in mind, setting up a workflow to make sure that every social marketing effort you undertake can tie to solid social media metrics looks about the same.  So, without further ado:

6 Steps to Having An Answer to “What Does Social Media Do for Us, Anyway?”

1. Make sure that your social marketing effort is servicing a larger business goal

As we discussed in our deep dive on social media campaign strategy, your social marketing needs to be crafted with a solid business goal in mind.  Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s a lot easier to measure it.  Don’t try to get more Twitter followers; look to engage social communities that make sense for your brand, and craft a Twitter campaign that leads to more followers as the cherry on your social sundae.

2. Use an action-based metric for your first round of social marketing tracking

In social media, this amounts to a click.  You’ve gotten their attention; now, what do you want to dowith it?  Do you want them to share?  Click off to a landing page?  Actually purchase something?  Participate in a contest?  Figure out what sort of action works toward your business goal.

3. Route your happy clickers to some sort of lead capture form

Clicks are lovely, but Facebook and Twitter aren’t going to tell you who clicked what.  Facebook is more amenable to lead capture, as you can set up custom Facebook tabs and promotions (something Meltwater Connect, among others, allows).  For Twitter, you can set up an offsite landing page.  Whatever you set up, you’ll want some sort of a form field that encourages people to give you their information so that you can carry on wooing them toward a sale.  By and large, most people prefer to stay within the native app (i.e. they don’t like to leave Twitter or Facebook just because a Marketer wants them to), so you’re best off doing lead capture within the native app itself if possible.

4. Prompt your leads to the next step of engagement

Now that you got his number, it’s time to use it… wisely.  Yes, you should wait at least 3 days.  If you have an email nurturing queue set up to add teeth to your social marketing program, so much the better.  If you don’t, you might consider getting one set up.  It’s up to you to determine how engaged and interested your leads might be in your product.

5. Follow these leads through the funnel

Your leads may ultimately convert off an e-mail or a sales call, and it’s up to you as the Social Media Manager to make sure that multi-touch attribution is considered and counted toward your own social marketing KPI’s.  Most affiliate models credit the originator of a new lead with the sale; your company may have a last-touch model.  Whatever your revenue attribution model is, it’s important for everyone that might touch a customer to understand where that customer has been touched along the sales cycle.

6. Report up in a format that helps your boss understand what you’re doing in social marketing

Senior executives are busy, but they do like to know what’s going on in your social marketing world, especially when revenue is down.  You might not have to do a Power Point deck, but it never hurts.  (Well, the doing of those slides hurts those of us generally pained by such exercises, but they’re almost never a bad thing to have.)  Make your reporting consistent, both in format and in schedule.  Some things I’ve learned over the years are summarized for you, brave social marketing catalyst, in the somewhat crude but entirely heartfelt matrix below:

Executive Thumbs-Up Executive Thumbs-Down
Data visualization Vague explanations
Short bullet points Reading expository statements
Real numbers compared against KPI’s Made-up metrics without hard data
A traceable path to ROI ROI?  *Shrug*

At the end of the day, it’s important that your higher-ups understand that getting people to click on a Twitter link is easy, but unless you’re a known brand with lots of followers and you’re having a deadline-driven sale, chances are that your social marketing has more to do with lead capture and nurturing than closing the deal.  Social marketing programs usually have an indirect but strategic connection to business goals: proving your value doesn’t have to mean an immediate sale off a click.  However, you must understand and demonstrate how your social marketing encourages the prospective customer along the purchase funnel, and set up a flow that nurtures the customer relationship in a such a way to assure a sale, loyalty and – if you’re really lucky – advocacy on behalf of your brand.

6 Steps to Proving Your Worth: Social Marketing ROI.