Graduate To Social Media 3.0

A seasoned marketing veteran said to me recently that social media is simply "what we used to call buzz marketing." I bristled at this and mentioned that Donny Deutsch had also tried to categorize social media at the recent NYC 140 Character conference as "just another new and sexy media channel" like cable TV 20 years ago or the Internet 10 years ago. In my humble opinion, to look at social media through the lens of a previous communication channel is an old-school approach that is inherently self-limiting.

Instead, I would encourage marketers to graduate to Social Media 3.0, an entirely new dynamic that requires a high degree of professionalism, new strategic platforms, new metrics for success, new monitoring tools, cross-disciplined planning and an open-mindedness to social media in just about any business category. To that end, here are four courses of action that marketers should consider to really make the grade in social media.

Enough with the Interns

Because a lot of marketers consider social media experimental and/or the exclusive domain of Millennials, they fail to staff this relatively young field with experienced professionals. The result is a self-fulfilling mishmash of tactics that rarely yield sustainable results. Because social media can have an impact on everything from search results to PR coverage, lead generation to customer loyalty, marketers need to acknowledge its critical role and staff it accordingly.



Just a couple of weeks ago I met with a publisher of a major print mag that was way behind its publishing peers in social media. When I asked how he planned to attack this challenge, his response was: "We just hired a summer intern to outline our social media strategy." Are you kidding me? I couldn't help but wonder if this same publisher would put interns on the phone with his most important customers or ask an intern to figure out his long-term business plan. No wonder print is in trouble.

Don't get me wrong. I love interns. Just don't put them in charge of anything customer-facing -- especially social media. Take this stuff seriously, folks. Hire professionals, or your competition will eat you for lunch.

Align with Business Goals

Social Media 2.0 was mainly "ready, fire, aim." Marketers set up Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube videos and blogs when the spirit arose, all in the name of experimentation. Some succeeded, but more ended up with a disparate array of content that languished, raising serious questions in the C-Suite about the ROI of social media.

Social Media 3.0 is about aligning your efforts clearly and directly with your company's principal objectives of increasing revenue and/or lowering costs. If the emphasis is on the revenue side, then you can further break this down into customer acquisition and/or revenue per customer. A number of companies like Dell and e.l.f. cosmetics are using social media to drive revenue, pushing out offers to their networks of fans that translate into immediate sales and repeat purchases.

If the emphasis is on cost reduction, then consider how social media can lower call center costs and/or cost per lead. Best Buy's Twelpforce has responded to 28,000 customer inquiries via Twitter, dramatically lowering cost per response vis-à-vis its call center. A well-designed social media program can radically improve natural search results, which in turn will lower your cost per lead.

Get Serious about Metrics

Once your business goals are clear, establishing KPIs (key performance indices) and related social media benchmarks is a relatively simple task regardless of your business category. To that point, one of the most interesting social media cases I've seen lately was about a Canadian supply chain management company named Kinaxis, a company that is so serious about metrics for success that it hired Forrester to guide its strategy while making the business case for social media.

In 2008, Kinaxis set out to engage the greater supply chain community with the hopes of increasing Web site traffic, driving sales leads, generating positive word of mouth -- all with the underlying goal of improving natural search results. Using a multi-pronged online approach that included blogging, community building, video distribution and Twitter, Kinaxis was able to build and sustain an active community and triple its number of Web-based sales leads to 42,000 in 2009.

Though I can't do justice to the Kinaxis case here, suffice to say that it monitored a wide range of metrics including page views, impressions, referrals, email open-rates, conversion rates, word of mouth mentions, and more, all of which went up dramatically due to a well-planned and -executed program of engagement.

Conduct a Social Media Audit

As I stated at the beginning of this diatribe, social media is far more complex than a traditional media channel in which a marketer can simply buy some time and push out a message. Social media touches just about every aspect of your business, from customer service to corporate compliance, lead generation to public relations, advertising to corporate social responsibility and then some.

As such, marketers would be smart to conduct a thorough social media audit internally or, better yet, with the help of outside experts who can take an impartial look at both the issues and the opportunities. This audit requires the attention and participation of multiple department heads, since a well-conceived and well-executed program is inherently cross-disciplined, and turf wars must be avoided.

A thorough social media audit examines the competitive environment, defines an overall strategy in the context of business goals, outlines tactical opportunities and identifies any organizational and cultural changes required to support implementation. This highly disciplined approach will save countless hours of wheel-spinning, helping to ensure that your investment will be rewarded and you'll be graduating to the next level of social media success.

So instead of just toasting Dads and grads on Facebook this June, give some serious thought to how your social media program can graduate to a new level of professionalism and accomplishment.

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