Social Media: Marketing Myths and Universal Truths
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May issue of FS sister publication eM+C. It’s written for for-profit e-marketers, but the information is equally applicable to nonprofits looking to increase their presence and fundraising power online.
Social-media marketing opportunities proved to be viable additions to existing online advertising strategies for many of the top brand marketers in 2007. But the seeming complexity of these opportunities and the variety of social-networking sites and online communities available still are difficult hurdles for many marketers to clear.
Challenges such as structuring the appropriate campaign for target audiences, measuring engagement and results, and proving ROI still remain for social-media marketing. But many of these perceived challenges are, in fact, based on myths rather than real-life truths about the potential for success.
What is social media?
At its highest level, social media is defined as the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives with each other. The focus of the interactions can be personal interest, consumer-oriented or business-to-business.
Marketers are adapting to social media in a number of ways. Tactics include transforming customers into fully vested brand champions by adding social-media tools — like blogs, discussion forums and wikis — to their existing Web sites, as well as exploring existing online communities that can offer the ability to target audiences beyond existing customer bases.
The world of social media can be an extremely valuable tool in targeting prospects — as many marketers have discovered. According to an October 2007 survey of 116 senior marketing professionals, San Mateo, Calif.-based digital marketing optimization solutions provider Coremetrics discovered that 78 percent of respondents view social-media marketing as a way to gain a competitive edge. Yet, only 7.75 percent of total online marketing budgets are allocated to social-networking sites. This disconnect between the recognized value of social-media marketing and current budget allocation reflects the perceived risk and learning curve that marketers associate with advertising through any new medium. But a closer look at some of the myths and truths of social-media marketing shows that many of these risks can be minimized through a deeper understanding of the opportunity at hand.
Myth: Social media requires a radical change from the current online advertising approach.
Truth: Many of the same principles, and even the same advertising units, that apply to standard online marketing campaigns can be reapplied and repurposed for social-media campaigns. Since users of these social-media sites are generating significant volumes of content that is highly specific to their needs and interests, ad-targeting systems on the sites that ensure relevancy between advertising and user-generated content can supercharge online inventory for an advertiser.
Myth: There is no proof that social-media sites deliver the same ROI offered by traditional Web sites.
Truth: Social media, especially in a B-to-B setting, not only is helping advertisers listen to conversations their customers are having online, but it also is helping them integrate into these conversations in ways that are welcomed and valued by users. For these advertisers, results of social-media campaigns go beyond mere engagement to include measurable ROI that matches and sometimes rivals their success with traditional Web site advertising. For example, Information Builders, one of ITtoolbox’s advertising partners, achieved 750 percent ROI and surpassed its lead-generation goals through a series of whitepapers that demonstrated its thought leadership and technical expertise with decision makers and influencers in the ITtoolbox community.
Myth: Social-media sites are good for consumers, but the options for the B-to-B marketer are minimal.
Truth: The basic principle behind a social-media community is to bring together peers to share experiences and knowledge. In the business environment, social-media sites can be used to help professionals make better decisions, from IT purchasing to health insurance benefits. In fact, research shows that purchasers are turning to user-generated content sites to help make their purchasing decisions.
For example, the 2007 ITtoolbox/PJA IT Social Media Index: Inaugural Survey Results shows that executive decision makers spend an average of 3.5 hours a week consuming or participating in social media — the highest usage profile of any IT audience. And that nearly two-thirds of IT professionals surveyed believe that social-media content and user-generated tools have made for a more informed purchasing decision; more than three-quarters believe they have made their lives more efficient.
Tapping into B-to-B, user-driven communities allows advertisers to reach an attentive target audience and leads to positive marketing results.
Myth: The barrier to entry in social-media marketing is too high.
Truth: Marketers can lower the barrier to entry for social-media marketing by taking advantage of existing online communities focused on their businesses or industries. Rather than undertaking the creation of their own online communities and social-media tools for their existing customers — which can be a significant drain both on time and money — advertising with existing social-media sites both lowers costs and allows marketers to reach out to new customer bases.
Myth: It’s hard to ensure brand consistency across social-media sites.
Truth: Social-media marketing, like any other marketing campaign, doesn’t afford the opportunity to control every message focused on a particular brand. However, safeguards can be implemented to help with brand consistency. These safeguards include careful selection of the social-media site to ensure that the community’s focus and tone is aligned with the brand; a thorough review of the community’s moderation policies; and, perhaps most importantly, active engagement with customers in the community.
By monitoring and taking part in conversations where they are advertising, marketers can address any concerns or negative feedback about the brand that may be expressed by members of the community. And, by exploring social-media sites in the target market before pursuing a campaign, marketers can ensure that target sites include high-quality, user-generated content and focus is aligned with the corporate brand.
Social media and online communities offer marketing opportunities that have the potential for high ROI. In many cases, the campaigns and creative content already being used in standard online opportunities can be repurposed for a social-media marketing campaign to achieve superior results. FS