Many marketers seem to be trapped in a notion that social media success is all about the numbers. While metrics are important for assessing the impact and value of social media, they sometimes give a superficial perception of successful outcomes. Too often we're distracted by the urge to focus on building followers rather than engaging those we already have; or, put another way, on counting friends rather than cultivating friends we can count on.
Often, executives outside of marketing contribute to that push to expand raw follower numbers, as many are not familiar with the huge role engagement plays as a more compelling means to assess social media's role building relationships and connecting with targeted audiences.
For this issue of Marketing Coach, we invited top social media marketing experts Stephanie Grayson (@critiques4geeks), social media and content strategy advisor for top business executives, and Elissa Liu (@Elissa_L), CEO of SparkGrowth and Influential Executive, to weigh in and share their expertise on the virtual devices that are literally transforming our industry.
Quality Bests Quantity in Social Media
Social Media: Brands Building Relationships
Today's social media analytics make it easier than ever for marketers to understand their customer base and develop personal and meaningful content and interactions. Consistency in those interactions, however, is the key to ultimately expanding that base.
"Building strong, ongoing relationships with customers is important for any brand, but particularly brands that are marketing directly to consumers," says Elissa Liu, founder & CEO of SparkGrowth. "These days, many people turn to social media to communicate with brands, whether to voice praise, concerns, or questions, and thoughtful community management can be the difference between a brand individuals know and trust, and one they don't."
"Being there for your target audience in their moment of need is key," according to Stephanie Grayson, social media and content strategy advisor for top business executives. "It's not about your editorial calendar, it's about being there with help and answers and inspiration when and how your audience needs it."
Social media has made connecting with targets easier-allowing for faster, more frequent engagements. It augments public relations strategies by creating new opportunities for sharing stories and time-sensitive information, but can serve a more long-term mission at the same time.
While PR's role is about public education, influencing perception and generating awareness, "the ability to target on social media is more granular and nuanced, so we can get our messages in front of an audience based on a tighter set of criteria," explains Liu.
"For example, we can focus a message on people living within a specific city or within certain postal codes who like specific complementary brands or who are parents within a certain age group. With social media, there's the opportunity for much stronger two-way engagement and the ability to more deeply understand how your content is resonating with your audience. Social media also provides the ability to be much more targeted, and the ability to re-market back into audiences that have shown interest -- for example, engaging with the brand on social media or visiting the website," Liu elaborates.
Does Size Matter? Quality vs. Quantity
Social media has taken its place as a core, required component of the marketing and public relations mix. Since its adoption in the marketing mix, there has been much uncertainty and discussion over its impact, relevance and how to measure its contribution. Many brand marketers have a sense that they need more followers, but is it for credibility or actual audience development?
"To truly develop a vibrant social community with staying power, there has to be a non-promotional reason for new people to want to not only join, but then stay and engage," advises Grayson. "You want a relationship that lasts and not just a summer fling."
Over recent months and years, brands have been taking a step back to "look beyond just 'vanity metrics' on social such as number of followers and instead looking to the data to see the outcomes that have resulted from the social media engagement that their content created," according to Grayson. While numbers can be critical to clients, it's more important in the long run to gauge the traction your brand is gaining through audience shares, click-throughs, or call-to-action responses.
The number of followers and friends depends on a client's market size and its competitive landscape. "For example, a small, but credible B2B firm might look at their competitors and see one very large competitor with 50,000 followers on a particular platform, and then several of their more direct competitors at 500-2,000 followers," explains Liu. "For them, 1,000-2,000 followers may be fine from a credibility standpoint."
"If a brand has a targeted, relevant set of followers and is putting out great content, the audience should be engaging with that content. One of the biggest red flags we see is a very large number of followers, but very little engagement. This shows a mismatch and is something savvy prospects and customers pick up on."
Liu notes that "the value of a follower has decreased over time for brands on most platforms, as brand content has been de-prioritized in algorithms, resulting in fewer followers seeing the content brands are putting out...his has pushed brands to use paid social media programs to complement what they do organically. We look at engagement metrics as some of the most important, as these indicate how our content is resonating with the audience. Strong initial engagement will often result in your content receiving more impressions," she added.
"We do still look at impressions because it gives us a sense of how the algorithm is serving our content and whether it 'prefers' content with certain attributes like links, images or a variety of other more nuanced factors."
"Today, smart media relations and PR professionals realize how important social media content and engagement are to their strategy and planning," says Grayson. Focusing on the data that matters and exploring tactics like influencer campaigns will help shape an effective social media strategy that will positively impact the bottom line, build equity and keep the brand moving forward.
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications. To find out how ICCC can help you and your company build your reputation contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.