Andy Hinder is managing partner at digital marketing agency STEEL, working with clients developing integrated brand and communications strategies for a digital world. STEEL works with a diverse range of clients including Debenhams, Talk Talk, and Greggs.
The rise of social media means digital marketing is no longer the poor relation within the marketing mix. The times of accepting our channel as a radically undervalued, response-only medium are over; digital media is at the boardroom table of our biggest, most valuable brands. Consumers are talking and we have started to listen. Social media represents everything that digital is and was meant to be - an open dialogue with your customers and a platform for your brand ambassadors.
To measure social media using the metrics that digital has been constrained by for so long doesn't make any sense. Social media is emerging as a branding channel, and also plays an integral role in shaping business strategy. As we know CPA (cost-per-acquisition), CPC (cost-per-click), etc doesn't wash when measuring branding. But, like many digital touch points, there are challenges in effectively measuring the role it plays in building brand awareness, associations and consideration.
Metrics currently available through third-party social listening platforms such as Radian 6 and social media platforms' own metrics such as Facebook Insights, only give us part of the picture. Being able to quantify reach, engagement, even virality, is a good step forwards, but we need to be able to measure branding in terms a marketing director can compare with other media.
Good case studies proving the ROI of social media are rare so it's important to be able to point them out. When Greggs, one of our clients, posted a rise in third quarter sales despite the doom and gloom on the high street, we would have privately taken pride in the role we played to support that. But to have the CEO talk to the financial press about our work launching a new product range of doughnuts - using only social media - to sell 1.4m of them in five weeks was unprecedented.
US social market research agency Conversition will hopefully launch in the UK this year to address social media's power going unmeasured. Conversition can measure branding on social media in terms many of us marketers are comfortable with. This type of measurement will change our expectations of social media as a marketing channel and help us to use the platform far more strategically.
However, outside the marketing department, realisation is growing of the wider business benefits of social media. From customer services to crowdsourcing ideas, social media is a direct route to your customers. This is why the decision makers within major brands are waking up to social media. Ignore your customers at your peril. If they are talking to you or about you, then you need to listen and acknowledge them.
Not only that - business processes need to be agile enough to respond, but intuitive enough to recognize when to respond. Here lies the challenge for most organisations. At what point do you let social media dictate business strategy? After all, not all your customers and potential customers are social media users. Not all social media users comment on or follow brands on social media. But for those that are there, brands need to be there for them, and prepare for the growth in numbers and influence. Where this tipping point may be will, of course, depend on the individual situation and type of business. What is clear is that we see more clients signing up to social media measurement or listening tools simply because they can react quickly to incidents revealed in social media.
Social media is set to become the most important, people powered, shift in marketing and advertising in years. The boards of many of the biggest brands have started to realise this. The measurement just hasn't yet caught up with its value and application.
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