Is Social Media Marketing Worth It?
The word on the street is that social media is an integral part of your digital marketing strategy. The experts all claim that you’d missing out if your social streams aren't all fired up and constantly pumped full of content. But is social media really as important as all the experts claim, or are too many of us only doing it because everyone else is?
For some marketers, social media is the constant thorn in the side of a well-rounded strategy. Getting your hands on solid metrics that point directly to a positive ROI is tricky, and so much of many social strategies are geared toward harder to pin down metrics like "brand lift." Maybe you're finding it frustrating to prove that social media is worth it, but you're afraid to pull back because of all the pressure on marketers to be social and engage with your audience.
So, what's the verdict? Does social media marketing really add depth to your strategy or is it just a waste of time — especially for B2B companies?
The Purpose of Social Media Marketing
Before we can understand whether social media is worth it, we have to first decide what "it" is. Social media marketing is different from other marketing channels in that you don’t always have a captive, one-sided audience. This two-way channel can provide some unique opportunities as well as some interesting challenges.
These are the most common goals of going social:
- Building Your Brand. Having the opportunity to communicate directly with consumers in an informal, non-sales capacity provides you with the chance to present information, receive feedback, and stay in the conversation as your consumers' ideas emerge and evolve. You also have the ability to see — in real time — when some ideas fall flat so you can change course on the fly before too much damage is done.
- Drive Traffic to Your Website and Boost Conversions. Here's a tangible metric that all marketers can grab hold of. Depending on your industry or products, nudging conversions directly from social media can be a distinct possibility. List all the possible actions that a consumer might take either from your social media pages or from your website. These could be as direct as completing a sale, or as long-term as a newsletter signup. The former will drive real sales while the latter will funnel new leads into your content marketing machine.
- Spreading Awareness. The social aspect of social media marketing provides your audience with the opportunity to expand your reach well beyond the borders of what you may be able to accomplish on your own. In much the same way that companies get word-of-mouth referrals, social media can become word-of-mouth marketing.
These goals all sound well and good if we're talking about B2C, but how does this play out in the B2B marketplace? The answer is the same — you must hit the right platforms with the right messages. It is unlikely for big B2B brands to do well on Pinterest because people don't (ok, shouldn't be) hanging out on Pinterest during the workday. Few people are going to turn to Instagram when it's time to find a telephone answering service or tax consultant. On the other hand, it is very likely that you'll find answering services and myriad consultants hanging out on Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Facebook.
The Cost of Social Media Marketing
The real cost of social media marketing can be tough to nail down. On the one hand, every social media site is free to join, free to post, and free to interact with other users. On the other hand, it's becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to gain a significant presence on any social media platform without shelling out some cash for advertising as well as having a dedicated person or team to manage social accounts.
The biggest advertising drain is possibly from Facebook. They've realized that companies will pay big bucks to get their information in front of an audience. Twitter allows for sponsored posts, but for those already in your network, it is still on a real-time posting basis and your followers will see your updates without a bribe to the stockholders. LinkedIn remains the stalwart choice for B2B communications — and most interactions are completely free — but the glacier-like pace of interactions means that without multiple efforts, you'll fall into the abyss. LinkedIn advertising or Sponsored InMail are options that can get expensive for cost of conversion.
The second factor in social media cost is the cost of producing content and maintaining interactions. Someone has to be there to respond to questions and comments and most social media users tend to want answers within an hour or so. Remember that the power of social media comes from the ability to interact so if you're not prepared to have someone at the helm of your platforms, you're essentially missing out on the best possibilities of harnessing the potential of this channel.
Recycling content onto social media is a great idea — no need to reinvent the wheel here. Feel free to share your blog posts, promote your ebooks and whitepapers, share your how-to videos and Q&A sessions, and drum up participation for webinars. But you risk being a megaphone, which people will quickly tune out with unfollows.
One thing remains constant, however. Dipping your toes into social media marketing will only ever cost you the resources of the person doing the dipping. If you have a well-rounded digital marketing campaign, you already have plenty of content to get the ball rolling. It is possible to take some time to get to know the platform and its various formats, see who is out there to interact with, and run a few small test campaigns to see if you get any bites before plunging in.
Is Social Media Marketing Worth It?
Our conditional reply is.... yes. Sort of. Social media marketing is only going to work when you have an audience that wants conversation and people on your team willing to engage. It's never a one-way street so no matter how many tools promise automation and scheduled postings, you must always have a real person on standby ready to engage with the recipients of your messaging.
You must also have goals that are attainable for social media. If your intent is to directly boost sales, start by making a list of all the actions that a potential consumer could make that would drive sales up directly from social media. Can people download a sample or register for a free trial? Will users share your information with their friends and expose your brand outside its usual bounds? Social media marketing is only going to be worth it if there are direct actions that users can take that will drive up real metrics for your company and those users are on social media looking for such actions.
If your audience isn't on social media or you're just tossing cool stuff out there to get a response from anyone, and then using those positive metrics as proof that you're in with the hip crowd, then you may want to rethink your strategy and the time and effort you're putting into it. However, if your audience has shown its presence and you have well-defined goals and the resources to engage, social media will prove itself as an indispensable tool in your marketer's toolbox.