By Allan Maurer
One of the problems with social media, says Leigh George, PhD., Director of Digital Strategy at R2Integrated, “is that all the agencies think it’s sexy. Clients all think it’s sexy. But when talk turns to whether or not it is driving any business, moving the needle, or having any impact, everyone starts wringing their hands.”
What can be done to show ROI for social media activities?
“Typically,” says George, “What’s done is that mounds of data are collected spread across millions of tabs in an Excel document. But that is completely meaningless. Executives can’t make decisions based on those numbers. Or they may be sexy and visual with charts and graphs. But at the end of the day, if an executive can’t look at it and decide, ‘These are the steps we need to take,’ it’s not useful.”
Move away from quantity to quality
So, George suggests, “Move away from information gathering based on volume to an approach based on quality. You don’t need to know everything, just what’s critical to the success of the business.”
At R2Integrated, George
Strategy at R2integrated, helps clients develop, implement and track strategic plans for brand awareness, customer and member acquisition, relationship management, online engagement and community management. She is a frequent speaker on branding and digital marketing and has a Ph.D. in branding history and theory from Binghamton University – one of only a handful of people in the country with that distinction.
George is one of dozens of digital marketing experts, thought-leaders and technology gurus participating in this year’s Digital East conference in Herndon, VA, Oct. 2-3. The conference includes speakers from AOL, Mashable, IBM, comScore, PBS, Google and other top brands.
George echoes many other social media experts we’ve talked to when she says that when you plan your social media strategy, “Start with your business goals. A lot of businesses will say they want some ridiculously high number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers. To what end?”
“People latch onto metrics without knowing how they fit in with their business goals,” she adds. “I’m not saying traffic patterns or unique visitor numbers to a site are not important. But presented without a context, they’re meaningless.”
Use data to understand a goal
Context might be that traffic spiked because an email went out pushing people to a registration page. “Use data to understand a particular goal, not just because you’re interested in numbers. Move from data to information. That comes from analysis and insight.”
You don’t just want a bunch of data monkeys spending all day collecting data without a goal. “You want some action that helps grow your business. So make sure your data collecting supports mission critical goals.”
If its your job to handle a social media campaign for a client, George suggests, “Collaborate with the client. Make sure that you know what you’re trying to achieve. The first thing you talk about should be their goals. That decides which networks you’ll go on, what data you gather and what insights you’ll be providing. Start thinking about reporting from day one.”
Huge opportunity to reach audiences
She also suggests that you research social networks and channels that the company doesn’t own. “If someone is on your own property (such as a company Facebook page or Twitter account) they probably already know and like you. But a lot of times, the action is happening on properties the company doesn’t own.”
If people are talking about a company’s products or services on those unowned properties, “It is a huge opportunity to reach audiences.”
To find those, you research to identify communities of interest organized around topics or conversations. Then, based on criteria the company is interested in, you weed those down to the ones with the greatest impact and identify influencers who set the tone of the debate.
Then you find access points where the brands can intersect with those communities. That might be via a paid advertisement, guest blog, comments, and Twitter feeds.
George points out that the large social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming more and more like mass media, but smaller niche networks are emerging that serve very particular audiences. Some of the visually oriented networks such as Tumblr and Pinterest are of growing importance in the fashion and design worlds, for instance.
Still, George emphasizes, “Don’t get into a cloud mentality: everyone is on Pinterest so we have to go there. It’s important to be really strategic. If you look at the number of networks available, it’s mind boggling. There is no way to maintain a healthy presence on all of them. From the beginning, you want to focus your attention on the question, ‘Why do we want to be on this social network’ and let that be your guide.”
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