Social media doesn’t work!

OK, so now I have grabbed your attention either because you think social media does work or because you think social media doesn’t work!  We have run a series of experiments over the last 18 months and now seems as good a time as any to review our use of social media, so please read on and discover if I have simply grabbed your attention or is there some substance to my opening statement.

Background

A few years ago – when Ayrmer Software was in its infancy – I attended a network event and asked someone what the difference was between sales and marketing; it was an open question on a table of around 8 people from a variety of sectors and I got an interesting definition.

Ask yourself how many businesses could use your service and then ask yourself how many of these businesses know of you. The answer – unless you are a global brand or in a niche sector – is going to be 0.000001 % (or something similar).  Marketing is increasing the 0.000001 % to something greater. Sales is a consequence of marketing and is about closing the deal.

No doubt the person that provided this definition was in marketing, but it stuck and seemed to be a really good way of explaining the difference between two disciplines so often perceived as one persons responsibility (certainly within the SME environment).

Marketing has gone through a revolution recently with the wide spread use of the internet, enabling businesses to increase exposure to potential clients via search engines and an entire new industry – Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – has been created in its wake. And just when everyone thought they were getting to grips with the internet social media came along and exploded onto the scene.

New challenges

Online marketing – especially social media – is still in the very early stages of development and as such there are few rules, little experience or indeed expertise in how to harness a tool within the marketeers box of tricks.  For many marketing directors the entire concept is repulsive and some businesses have alienated themselves from a potentially huge opportunity. However others have approached this new phenomenon with open minds!

Changing environment

Up until the latter part of 2008 we had used business networks as a primary marketing tool and it had paid dividends time and time again.  However, following the collapse of the banking system, businesses seized up and people sat on any cash they had within their businesses as they weathered the storm.

We saw the effectiveness of business networks falter as people hid behind the parapet and focused on survival.  Ironically, this is when people should have utilised their networks, but for some reason appeared (in my experience) not to.

There were some sound reasons behind the turn to online networking – not least to reduce the cost / time invested in business networking – and keep in touch with the contacts we had established over 4 / 5 years of offline networking.  As a business we had already dipped our toe into online networking via LinkedIn and Ecademy, so it wasn’t a giant leap forward for us to switch our focus to online rather than offline networking.

Plan of action

We initially changed the focus of online networking, focusing on LinkedIn and whilst dropping Ecademy.  The first step was to ensure we connected with as many people we had already met via LinkedIn – using their import contacts – and making sure our profiles were up to date and monitoring any activity.  We also focused on LinkedIn Answers that enables business people to post questions and submit responses within reasonable well defined areas (see previous article How to get the most out of Linkedin – get engaged).

In December 2008 a marketeer asked us to develop a tool that could be plugged into any website that allowed users to post a tweet on the host website, utilising the Twitter application platform interface (API), which drew our attention to Twitter as a social media platform and I later created an account in November 2009.

I cannot say I was overly enamoured about the prospect of tweeting, after all David Cameron famously said “too many tweets make a tw*t” and for many of us this was another example of instant gratification and self promotion so pervasive within our society today.

So, with some guidance from colleagues we embarked on working out how we could use the myriad of platforms available to support our marketing strategy.  Actually, calling it a marketing strategy is slightly misleading; we are a small business and were trying survive a recession and were using anything we could find to increase our chances.

In all honesty, social media happened and we evolved with it (to some degree) and it was only in the autumn of 2010 that we really focused our effects in any sort of constructive manner. Did it start out as an experiment, no, but it has become one for our clients as more and more have asked about social media and in turn asked “does it work“?

Vince McConville joined the team at the beginning of 2011 and bought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience about online marketing (including social media) and had presented a number of seminars for Business Link SW about the subject.  He reviewed what we had do to date and then looked at how we could push forward our online activities.

  • We created a Facebook page last summer (2011)
  • Leveraged our LinkedIn company profile and individual profiles
  • Published regular articles on our blog
  • Published regular news articles and press releases on our website
  • Used Twitter to distribute content and draw website visitors on to our website
  • Engaged with people via social media platforms

The object was simple, increase awareness of our brand and services that would result in an increase of good quality leads and other opportunities.

Measure, measure, measure

We would also recommend that you measure the effectiveness of any business activity, but especially within a marketing environment, as this allows you to determine which channels are the most effective.

A few months ago I was talking to a client who said they were thinking of scrapping advertising in a sector specific publication, because the asked people to quote a reference and used a separate telephone number and email address and had come to the conclusion that it had not yielded any return on their investment.  I argued against this as I suggested that the constant unconscious peppering of their brand meant that when a potential client came across their brand there would be a subconscious recognition of the business that would create an initial level of trust.

This kind of measurement is extremely difficult to measure, but is equally important.  We can ask clients new clients where they found out about the business, but rarely get a concise answer.  When clients provide us with details and / or we can work out where they came from – using tools like Google Analytics – we can capture the source, but all too often this is a holy grail.

There are measurements that you can record, that would indicate if specific objectives are achieved, but you have to ask yourself if these lead to meeting the businesses primary objectives.

  1. Number of connections made (LinkedIn)
  2. Number of followers (Twitter)
  3. Number of likes (Facebook)
  4. Number of engagement – conversations, etc., – between you and the connections, followers or fans.
  5. Number of click throughs (bit.ly and other URL services)
  6. Number of click throughs to either your website and / or blog
  7. Number of posts (blog)

It is worth monitoring some of the above, as they are early indicators as to the effectiveness of your campaign, but they need to be seen within the context of the bigger picture.

So does social media work?

Remember our initial objective – increase awareness of our brand and services that would result in an increase of good quality leads and then work out how to best evaluate the success / failure of our online marketing.

There are two ways of approaching this question: -

  1. The number of leads directly related to a specific stream, e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, articles, etc.,
  2. The more holistic approach that measures the entire online marketing strategy.

If we use the first approach one could reasonably argue that social media does not work as only a small percentage  of leads can be directly attributed to a specific social media platform or activity.  However, when you use the second approach the business has seen a 100% increase in visitors and a 276% increase in projects that have resulted as a direct result of our online marketing, so one could conclude social media works.

We have worked with a number of clients over the last twelve months using a variety of different approaches that include: -

  1. Integrated social media feeds and platforms into their websites.
  2. Integrated blogging platforms into websites.
  3. Ensured websites are properly optimised and utilise sitemaps to ensure search engines read pages deep within their websites.
  4. Creation of mobile e-commerce website that compliments the standard website.

Using a variety of approaches like this has enabled us to out perform their previous online marketing significantly in every case. However the issue of effectively measuring this still exists and is still difficult to quantify.

We analysed one website and  could see that although the number of orders had increased, the average order value had dropped by around 9% (slightly disappointing but in line within the specific sector).  If average order values had remained consistent they would have seen a 13% increase in what is essentially a bull market.  Another client saw an increase of 35% in traffic that resulted in 23% increase in sales within a month, but that wasn’t solely down to aspects we have discussed in this article.

Other clients have seen significant increases for lead generation.  In fact, I am often envious of one of our clients, who has seen a 100% increase in lead generation and has said that the leads are of a better quality than before we took over their website!

Conclusion

Social media is a new tool that provides businesses with new ways of achieving brand awareness to a far greater number of people than before and although it is still difficult to attribute the success of any online marketing campaign, without it you are attempting to climb Mount Everest without clampons!

Businesses will use social media in different ways – depending on their sector and / or target audience – and for some businesses it is an accepted tool, but for many others it feels alien and business owners are struggling to understand it.  I have heard business owners say “… I don’t see the appeal of living my life in a fish bowl …” or ” … I don’t want staff sitting on Facebook all day, they are here to work!” that I fully understand, but to ignore it is a missed opportunity.

So my conclusion – based on our experience and that of our clients – is that social media does work!

If you would like to know more, please contact us on 01626 834433.

Resources

Unscrabbling social media is child’s play

How to get the most out of Linkedin – get engaged

Social media – how it all fits together

Social media is just one more tool for your online marketing

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One Response to “Social media doesn’t work!”

  1. Charlie says:

    A great article by Graham Jones that asks Is social media making companies any money?

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