Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Five Tips To Help CMOs Improve Social Media ROI in 2015

The coming year will be a watershed one for social media marketing, I predict, and not in a positive way. A topic that was only whispered about in private conversations early in the year is now being openly discussed: For many brands, earned media and content marketing are not delivering results in line with the investments. Some claim our metrics and strategies must mature, but it is getting harder to ignore the limitations of marketing in the social channel. So unavoidable is this discussion that even at the Social Media Today Social Shake-Up, a confab of social elite, a speaker asked from the main stage, "In a year, will any of you produce a deck with 'social' in its title?"

While social circles are buzzing with increasingly sober discussions of the channel's difficulties delivering marketing results, that conversation seems not to have reached the ears of the CMO quite yet. Mainstream marketing media, which was late to recognize the growing investment in social media marketing, is now tardy in covering the growing body of data demonstrating social's challenges as a marketing channel.

Adweek, continuing its trend of being impressed with engagement rather than results, recently featured an article on the "top Tumblr posts of 2014." These posts were not selected as "top" because they delivered any marketing ROI but because lots of people liked them, and thus Adweek has once again uncovered that deep marketing insight that people love inspirational quotes, hot models, animated GIFs and pets. (Shocking!) This is representative of the coverage that social media continues to receive from the marketing media--big numbers lead while investments bleed.

Since your CMO does not seem to be getting good advice to guide decisions on social investments, I'd like to offer up five tips to help him or her consider how to manage social media budgets and efforts in 2015:

  • Stop trying to make your brand interesting with tweets and posts; instead, give people a reason to talk about your brand in meaningful ways. The organic reach of brand content on Facebook is dying. Not dwindling; dying. The story is little different on other social networks. Brand engagement on Twitter is minuscule and, although engagement on Instagram is fine today, it is only a matter of time before Instagram goes the way of other social networks before it.

    By the end of 2015, the talk will be about zero reach in brands' organic social media marketing efforts, and it will become impossible to ignore that brand publishing is not and never was going to be the way to succeed in social media. The real social media strategy that has worked from the beginning is to get people talking with each other, not about brand content but about actual products and services. The reason is that people trust each other far more than they trust you and your brand.

    There are several ways to leverage peer-to-peer brand communications. Bring trusted consumer ratings and observations into your site, integrated on the pages where prospects consider your products and services, as USAA has done on product pages. Leverage trusted relationships to create connections between your brand and prospects, as Ameriprise does with its LinkedIn "Find an Advisor" feature. Encourage positive comments, not on Twitter where tweets are quickly lost in the void, but on the rating and review sites that people trust to help them make purchase decisions. In 2015, CMOs will be forced to realize that the key to social media success is not publishing content but getting people talking with each other about brands' products and services.
  • Stop trying to go viral; instead, use social media to solve consumer problems:  Viral posts get a lot of attention because everyone loves big numbers, but there is little evidence they drive brand value. KMart had the most viral brand video in 2013, but it didn't stop the retailer's continued slide. The same thing happened in 2014: This year's most viral brand campaign was the Ellen Oscar selfie, but despite Publicis CEO Maurice Levy's claim it delivered Samsung a billion dollars of value, Samsung's smartphone market share slipped 25% from Q3 2013 to Q3 2014. (Where viral campaigns tend to help is not with established brands but with up and comers such as HelloFlo and Wren, but even then, the one-in-a-million shot of achieving "viral' scale is so remote, the few success stories hardly suggest that viral marketing is a smart strategy.)

    Your marketing goal is not to go viral; it's not even to get engagement. Your marketing goal is to deliver demonstrable business results, and that means changing consumer behaviors and attitudes. Viral videos too often sacrifice brand impact for entertainment value, and that is a lousy trade to make.

    Rather than try to be funny, instead focus on solving consumer problems. Fifth Third Bank didn't make the waves that Samsung did, but its Reemploy campaign got unemployed mortgage borrowers back to work and delivered the brand the sort of "buzz" that encourages consideration. USAA partnered with the NFL for a Salute to Service campaign that increased appreciation for military service members, raised over $400,000 for military support organizations and generated considerable social media buzz with on-field events.
  • Stop saying "Content is King." Start focusing brand-building energies on the Customer Experience. First exercise: Other than brands whose product actually is content, name a brand you purchase regularly because of content it produces. Now list the brands to which you are loyal because their products or services furnish a great and consistent experience. How do those numbers compare?

    Here's another exercise: List brands you know that have achieved significant success in the past two decades years with content. Then, list the brands that came out of nowhere with little advertising or content but built World of Mouth based on their product or service experience. (Here's a list to get you started on the latter: Ebay, Amazon, Uber, Nest, Square, Flip Video, Google, Krispy Kreme, Zappos, Tesla, Facebook, Apple Store, Jawbone, Angry Birds, PayPal, Evernote, Dropbox and Warby Parker.)

    There you go--I have cured you of the need to ever again say "Content is king" in just two paragraphs. Content is not king--customer experience is king. Why do marketers keep repeating that tired and untrue phrase? Probably because content seems easy to do (just a hire a "brand journalist," whatever that is), is in their wheelhouse (they have been producing ads for decades, after all), and marketers generally control content but not the product and service experience. Well, it is long past time for that to change.

    Advertising and content are important, but nothing is more powerful than Customer Experience. This has always been the case, but in an age of transparency where media is splintering, mass media is slipping and consumers have greater control over communication channels, it is not content but Customer Experience that fills the top of the funnel. Marketers can no longer afford to ignore the high-impact product and service experiences being fashioned by others in the organization while they worry about less powerful ad impressions and social engagement. Smart marketers must turn inward and ensure that the brand experience is crafted end-to-end--not just what happens leading up to purchase but what happens afterwards--because that is where true brand building occurs.
  • Stop being lied to and start demanding better information. Who do you expect will tell the CMO the truth that social media marketing is widely failing to meet expectations? The professionals getting paychecks to produce content for social channels? The agency trying to maximize utilization of its storytellers and community managers? The authors whose books extolling the value of earned media launched their careers? A social media industry has been built to separate the CMO from his or her budget, which is why marketing leaders must seek out the real, unadulterated and unbiased data and insight about social media marketing.

    There is a lot of bad data and analysis out there, and even data from reliable sources can be twisted and misrepresented. For example, dozens of blog posts have mentioned that IBM's recent Black Friday white paper reported that Facebook traffic delivered an average of $109.94 per order over Thanksgiving weekend. That sounds important, but is it really without knowing the scale of orders delivered? IBM is suspiciously silent on that topic considering its 2013 study found that social media drove a mere 1% of purchases. While IBM may not be divulging social network traffic's share of purchases, Custora is. The company evaluated data from 100 US online retailers, 100 million online shoppers and over $40 billion in transaction revenue in the first two weeks of December. It found that social media (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest) drove just 2% of orders (down from 2.5% during the same period in 2013).

    The time has come for marketers to get more critical about the data and analysis they receive. If marketing leaders rely on incomplete, unreliable or misrepresented data to drive social media decisions, they have no one to blame but themselves for disappointing outcomes.
  • Your social media metrics suck, so change them. Social media has been Goodhart's Law in action: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

    Likes, retweets and shares were briefly meaningful in the early days of social, when brands earned them solely by offering great products and services, but the second those social engagement metrics became goals rather than measures of success, everything changed. Brands started buying fans with contests, sweepstakes and giveaways. Community managers started gaming engagement with posts of puppies and "like-bait" images. Fan counts soared and engagement rose, but since these tactics were designed to yield positive social media metrics and not valuable business results, it all amounted to little for brands. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of CMOs have no quantitative idea if their social investments are paying off or not? (They're not.)

    If you have a social media scorecard with counts of likes, fans, retweets and pins, throw it out and demand better. Those metrics are easily manipulated and are not measures of business success. Marketing leaders need to focus on more important measures in 2015: Improvements in preference and purchase intent, enhanced share of wallet, beneficial social behaviors such as recommendations, and financial measures including repurchase, clicks and conversions. Those are not as easy to measure as likes and retweets, but the most valuable marketing metrics are rarely the easiest of obtain.
By the end of 2015, I believe we will be having a much different conversation about social media with substantially less focus on brand content and more about social products, social services and social good. If your CMO uses the five tips mentioned above, he or she can be ahead of the game and ensure the company is aligning its marketing budgets to the strategies most likely to deliver results that matter. Or, brands can keep running social sweepstakes, doing funny videos and begging for likes and shares, but I can promise those tactics will not get the job done for the Marketing department, and by the end of 2015, that will be impossible to hide.


Hal Thomas said...

Amen. (This coming from a guy with both "content" and "social media" in his job title.)

Augie Ray said...

If I get an "Amen" from you, Hal, that means I did right. Thank you!

Amrita Chandra said...

This is thought provoking post and a refreshing one in the sea of social media cheerleading. I agree of much of what you are posting, but wanted to mention 2 things:

In my own experience of investing in social media for startups, it has been beneficial for: 1) helping develop relationships with people who are easier to reach through social than through other channels 2) driving traffic to our website.

I am also wondering whether social/content can be of value in a market where there is less perceived differentiation between products in a category? e.g. Mailchimp's use of their blog in the email marketing software space?

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comment.

There are definitely verticals where social works better than others, and I think startups fits. Still, I'd argue that no one cares what a startup SAYS but what it DOES. I listed a number of startups that succeeded in the past two decades, and none did so via content--they did with a great product or service. I think brands have to stop resting on the crutch of content and invest more time and effort in the product itself.

As for less perceived differentiation, it still comes down to people's ability and interest in consuming content. Mailchimp is a B2B company, and B2B definitely is a vertical where social works. That said, if I think of canned peas, batteries, or toothpaste, where I perceive less differentiation, I simply don't see those brands generating enough interest to make content differentiating.


Terry Golesworthy said...

Your best post of the year and that is saying something. So good that I have nothing to add. It should be required reading for social media strategy planning. Maybe if people think this way, there will be a future for business social media.