Social Media For Business: It's All About The Leads

As business marketers, we feel obligated to participate in social media. But beyond the basics of setting up a Facebook page and Twitter profile, marketers are still finding ways to measure results.  While some believe the intangible benefits of having a voice for your brand engaged in various social media channels is reward enough, other marketing departments need to provide the CMO and CEO with a more quantifiable answer. The best way to accomplish this is by demonstrating the value social media brings to lead generation.  Not just lead quantity (volume), but lead quality (scoring) and conversion rates.  However, truth be told, tracking business leads from social media is neither straightforward nor easy.  It requires a serious investment in time and/or technology to get it right.

This Place We Call Social Media

Social media is a seemingly cluttered landscape with numerous vendors and customers vying for attention and voicing their opinions in 140 characters or less (in the case of Twitter). The origin of social media, which gained popularity with consumers, remains a space dominated by a collection of many individuals and few businesses. Admittedly, the challenge of reaching B2B customer prospects via social media is definitely more challenging than reaching individuals or consumers.  Generating even one qualified business lead against this noisy backdrop may look and feel impossible.

Ironically, the very noise of this environment can play into your favor. Although many companies are using social media, only a handful of them are using it effectively to actually engage in a meaningful dialogue with their audience.

The key is to match a call-to-action with a state of mind, so you can properly engage customers -- businesses or individual consumers -- and move them through the purchase cycle.   For example, a call-to-action on a blog post should match the visitor's state of mind.  Start with the simple assumption that visitors to a blog post are not there to buy the company's product or sign up for a free account (at least, initially).  Rather, they are there to read interesting content or learn more about the space. Therefore, the call-to-action should match that state of mind and prompt the visitor to "learn more" or "download a white paper." These types of call-to-action align with the visitor's reasons for visiting your Web site and are more likely to convert a visitor to a lead.

Social Media Takes it Personally

The biggest difference between social media and traditional media is the level of personalization. Social media is highly personal and interactive -- it's a two-way, interactive form of communication in real time. Traditional media is not.

In addition to being a more personalized communication medium, social media leads are more targeted than those generated through other online channels. This is a major bonus for marketers. If a call-to-action is strong, it can do an amazing job of bringing in solid leads.

If the channel and activity align, meaning you are using activities that are appropriate to the channel you are using, leads tend to be more engaged and thus more enthusiastic about a given product or service. As a result, leads involved in social media outreach tend to be more forgiving of problems with your product, as they feel more connected to the product and the company.

At the same time, social media opens up feedback channels and discussion loops that are muted or not present at all in traditional media.  For example, if customers are disappointed in a particular product or service, social media provides equal opportunity to spread their own messages in their own words. Some control will be forfeited.  This introduces new risks not associated with traditional media, as the reputation of your brand now rests in other people's hands.. These effects on a brand, both positive and negative, are often said to be hard to track and measure.

Better Business Leads

The bottom line is that social media has the potential to generate more business leads. These leads are more targeted and they know what they want. If your call-to-action is relevant and aligned with your message, leads generated from social media can be highly qualified. On the other hand, as with traditional marketing, some leads from social media will be less qualified and require more lead nurturing. The key, as a marketer, is to establish a set of objective criteria and automated lead scoring that can help sales distinguish a "hot lead" from a cold one once they hit your site.

Consider the following six suggestions to begin capturing stronger, more qualified leads.

Six Tips for Generating Business Leads from Social Media:

1. Think like publishers:
- Break through the noise and get people interested in what you have to offer.
- Choose unique, eye-catching headlines and titles, and incorporate good images.
- Content is the bait. If you don't make content sound and look good, no one will read it. 

2. Create good, interesting content:
- Social media with no content is like a bicycle without a wheel: You'll put a lot of effort into riding, but you will go nowhere.
- Again, content is the bait. 

3. Organize your efforts into campaigns:
- Campaigns are easier as a way to create and shape the right message and call-to-action.
- Enable easy tracking and monitoring.
- Can be measured and analyzed as a learning tool for future activities. 

4. Invest the time to make a campaign worthwhile:
- Social media takes time. It might be cheaper in dollars spent, but it's definitely not free in terms of time invested.
- Use time management tools to track and measure the time you invest in social media, so you can truly measure your ROI. 

5. Track and score your visits and leads:
- Qualify and score leads accurately to ensure the best conversion rates.
- Focus and align marketing and sales and force a discussion about what constitutes a good lead.
- Help with analyzing and prioritizing efforts.
- Focus on channels and campaigns that offer a higher lead quality based on your lead scores. 

6. Measure and report in real time for ongoing success:
- Prioritize your efforts and invest the time in the places with the highest payoff.
- Measure based not just on quantity, but based on quality too.
- Track all the way to a sale, not just to a lead. This will help you refine your lead score and truly measure ROI.

Is social media going to disappear into the background after the hype winds down, or is it here to stay? This author's opinion is that social media is not just a fad that will go away --it has become a significant marketing channel that can drive leads and increase revenue. Don't be consumed by the hype and forget all your other channels; marketing is a mix, and social media is only one component.

6 comments about "Social Media For Business: It's All About The Leads".
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  1. Gary Kreissman from Group PRM, June 24, 2010 at 2:07 p.m.

    You've hit the basics, but an important component needs to be added in the arena of scoring. That's the "return on time" as well as ROI stemming from segregating highest value leads from the run of the mill. Social can be leveraged to not only generate committed prospects, but to engage disproportionately with those worth the time, money and effort.

  2. Howard Sholkin from Sholkin Group, June 24, 2010 at 3:46 p.m.

    You covered key points I was most interested about the importance of content and acting like a publisher. I work for a BtoB media company and marketer clients are increasingly asking us to help with content that isn't promotional. The biggest difficulty most marketers have is developing a relationship with prospects over time. Too often the information is more like a brochure than insightful without a plug. I am always trying to be less promotional and more informational to set the table for sales.

  3. Sandy Miller from Success Communications, June 24, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.

    I find the lure with some of my clients that you touched on is that its "free". They seem to think that because there aren't checks being written to a media outlet this is free advertising.

    They totally lose track of the time it takes their staff to do it properly. Then when the staff gets crunched for time this is the first thing they feel they can get to later. That is why on some sites there can be big lags in not just engaging content but any content.

    They definitely need to consider your points on the true cost of social media.

  4. Uri Bar-joseph from Optify, Inc., June 24, 2010 at 8:37 p.m.

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Gray and Sandy are touching on the same point regarding the true ROI of social media and why time is an investment that should be measured as well. We recently hosted a webinar introducing a new framework for measuring social media ROI where we discussed the different metrics and tools you should use to effectively measure your ROI. The question of time management and time management tools was raised there as well, and was addressed by the speakers during the Q&A.The full recording is now available to watch:

    Howard, you mentioned a crucial point in social media: the balance between engagement and promotion. We addressed that balance during the webinar, and in our framework. The easy answer is that promotion can come only after you become a valued member of the community, and to do that you first need to engage and deliver value to the online community. On the other hand, there are social media tools and channels that are dedicated to promotional activities; if you only looking to promote your product, you can try them.

    Thanks again for your comments.


  5. Mark Burrell from Tongal, June 25, 2010 at 6:21 p.m.

    Well said!

  6. Clinton O'brien from Care2, Inc., June 28, 2010 at 2:52 p.m.

    Here's a simple and handy tool for measuring the ROI of your social media activities. It works like a mortgage calculator, in which you input some data and it tells you, based on your inputs, what your ROI is going to be. It's an eye opening experience, very helpful for planning purposes, to decide on how much of an investment to make in these activities compared to other activities:

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