Since businesses first appeared on social media platforms, people have been talking about how to get a return on investment (ROI) from their social media efforts. These days the subject of how to achieve positive ROI from social media initiatives almost seems like a cliche.
However it is critical for your business to figure out how to make social media worthwhile, for two reasons:
- You may have untapped growth opportunities tied up in potential social media strategies.
- If social media is not going to be worthwhile, you should not invest in it.
In order to understand if social media is justifiably beneficial for your business, we need to understand social media. This guide will break social media marketing down into meaningful, manageable pieces so you can start to drive real #SocialROI.
If we accept that we’re talking about major social networks, the question of ROI is more manageable.
So, for our purposes, we’re talking about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+ (if it’s still worth mentioning), and other niche or geographically-cordoned networks, such as Weibo and Xing.
Most people think of social media marketing as the simple act of publishing content to a social network.
This definition is incredibly limiting, partly because of the steadily declining value of this tactic in isolation (e.g. posting content to Facebook yields fewer and fewer responses due to Facebook’s declining organic reach), and partly because there are many other social media marketing tactics available to your business.
In reality, there are six ways your business can use social media to drive results...
The Uses of Social Media for Business
1. Social Publishing & Monitoring
2. Social Advertising
3. Social Sales
4. Social Customer Service
5. Owned Social Analytics
6. Social Listening
We will examine each of these tactics individually. You may know them by different names, but whatever you call them, any activity possible on a social network fits neatly within these categories.
In order to understand if social media is justifiably beneficial for your business, we need to understand social media.
Which of these tactics will grow my business?
Interestingly, only two of these six tactics actually drives sustainable, reliable growth for businesses: Social Advertising and Social Sales.
The other 4 tactics are either operational requirements, meaning that your business will suffer by not engaging in them (Social Publishing & Monitoring, Social Customer Service), or analytical practices, meaning they give you insight into your social and overall business performance (Owned Social Analytics, Social Listening).
1. Social Publishing & MonitoringDefinition: Posting original or shared (repurposed from another source) content to a social network, and monitoring responses for opportunities to engage.
Social Publishing & Monitoring has many names: community management, social posting, social content marketing, or even organic social marketing.
Despite what most social media marketers say, Social Publishing & Monitoring is an operational tactic, meaning it must be done but it doesn’t really grow a business beyond its current fanbase. Sure, more people may follow your Facebook page if your organic post “goes viral,” but virality is generally outside of your control, and encouraging it requires Social Advertising and sometimes Social Sales.
The goal with operations is to reduce the amount of time spent, whereas growth strategies should be optimized and increased until an undefined point of diminishing returns. As a broad business example: you don’t want to add more administrative roles to your company, unless they are absolutely necessary. But you do want to engage in and pay for tactics that actually produce growth - such as advertising.
i) Why should your business post to social media?
The “rules” of social media marketing are very much cultural affectations, meaning that they aren’t strict requirements but that it “looks weird” if businesses don’t follow them.
Social posting is necessary for most businesses to have a presence on a social network. This is less true of Business-To-Business companies, though LinkedIn Pages are required and publishing content is strongly recommended.
Business-To-Consumer companies must publish to at least one social network, and lacking certain accounts or pages will make customers question the viability of your business. It used to be an imperative for trendy consumer brands to publish to Facebook, but Instagram is taking the place of business imperative. Who knows what’s next? Snapchat, perhaps.
Social publishing best practices vary widely, ranging from 3-5 posts per week on Facebook to 20-40 Tweets per week on Twitter. Content practices also range from short to long, some studies citing short-form content as most effective while others, like this study from TrackMaven, prefer long-form content. In fact, just a few minutes scanning studies and statistics about social media will find a range of advice about when to post, how to post and what to post.
Businesses should remember to test their own audiences for their response rates based on timing and content. This is true now more than ever, since Facebook and other platforms are releasing segmented targeting for organic (non-paid) posts. This means you can target specific audiences without having to pay for advertising.
That said, it is rare to find effective social posts that have not been promoted for a fee. Most of the time, I tell my customers it’s worthwhile to have a small post promotion budget set aside for Facebook posts. Without it, the organic post performance falls flat.
Social publishing best practices vary widely, ranging from 3-5 posts per week on Facebook to 20-40 Tweets per week on Twitter.
2. Social AdvertisingDefinition: Paying a social network a per-metric fee to use its advertising capabilities to display branded content to its users, usually with the ability to click, share or otherwise engage with the content in some way.
Social advertising has become an increasingly popular means for businesses to leverage social networks. As paid media - advertising channels - expands to include more options, from image to video to gif, and from mobile to addressable TV to virtual reality, brands need to more carefully select which channels to use.
Social advertising continues to be a favorite among paid media managers and ad agencies, largely because most social networks have rich targeting capabilities. Facebook alone has over 1,200 explicitly-defined targeting options, not to mention millions of options from usergenerated interests and pages. Who would have thought a few years ago that I would be able to target advertising to only 34-35-year old dads who make $50,000-$75,000/year, and live in Boise, Idaho?
Some social ad networks provide self-serve options, like Facebook Ads (which includes Instagram Ads), Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Pinterest Ads, YouTube Ads, Quora Ads, and many others.
Some also offer an “exchange” such as Facebook Exchange (FBX) - which are built with integrations into other DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms) and typically seen as part of Display Advertising rather than Social Advertising. At the end of the day, exchange-based advertising is a strange mix of the two channel types, though it often comes with limitations. For example, FBX only permits ads on the right-hand rail (sidebar).
Still other social networks offer partner-based advertising, which basically means very expensive, invoice-billed contracts. LinkedIn, for example, engages brands to sell display advertising space on its network at a premium.
If you are business owner and have not yet investigated the value of social media for growing awareness, generating demand or leads, or even driving direct sales, I strongly recommend you do this immediately. If your objective is that your audience isn’t on Facebook or LinkedIn or what-have-you, consider that Facebook accounts for nearly 20% of the global population and nearly 90% of the US adult population.
Social advertising can take some work to do effectively, but generally is seen as much more costeffective than paid search, and better at driving results than display advertising.
Facebook accounts for nearly 20% of the global population and nearly 90% of the US adult population.
3. Social SalesDefinition: Using social networks to engage individuals as an individual, in order to sell a product or service.
Social sales (or social “selling”) refers to the use of social media for sales people and teams to generate leads and close deals. It can also be expanded to include the process of reaching out to
influencers on behalf of a brand, to encourage them to promote the brand’s products - in other
words, “influencer marketing” is conceptually a part of social sales.
Social sales is usually linked to LinkedIn, because of its wide use as a professional networking platform.
But in reality most social sellers leverage Twitter first.
According to this article on Forbes, Twitter overtook LinkedIn as the #1 social network for salespeople as far back as far back as 2015.
There are many reasons that contribute to Twitter’s popularity among sales teams, but primarily it is because of Twitter’s open culture (it’s easy to talk to strangers), lack of commonly-used privacy settings (unlike Facebook), and lack of a paywall (unlike LinkedIn).
In addition, Twitter has a well-established API that allows great tools like ManageFlitter to integrate with it.
Social sales works by searching for target users, and interacting with them directly. For example, a quick search for people on Twitter with “social media marketing” in their bios reveals almost 28,000 users:
Social sales is usually linked to LinkedIn, because of its wide use as a professional networking platform. But truth be told, most social sellers leverage Twitter first.
If I am looking to sell a social media marketing tool to these users, or to promote a webinar
or other product, my next step would be to engage them in a variety of ways, beginning by
following, adding them to a list, and liking some of their Tweets. But ultimately my objective is
best accomplished by offering a piece of content or something of interest to the target accounts.
Many sales teams use social media to complement their phone and email activities. With social sales, businesses drive return on investment by fueling their pipelines with greater awareness in front of potential customers.
4. Social Customer ServiceDefinition: Using social networks to handle customer complaints and issues.
Social customer service is now an established business practice among most consumer-facing
industries, particularly telecom, aviation and retail. Some companies prefer to handle customer
service complaints through email or chat, while some are willing to handle tickets through social
networks - especially in Twitter’s Direct Messages.
Typically, large enterprises will dedicate a sizable team to handle social media support tickets, and most often have an expensive tool like Sprinklr to assist these teams. Airlines and telecom companies, for example, would suffer dramatically if they turned off their Twitter and Facebook customer service capabilities.
It is important for large consumer brands to dedicate resources to running customer service programs on social media for several reasons, but here are two key reasons:
- The typical business only hears from about 4% of its dissatisfied customers. Diversifying options for customers to engage with their feedback helps increase this percentage.
- Customers who have had complaints dealt with over social media are 20-40% more likely to spend more money with the company in question.
Not all customer service queries over social media are private. In fact, most of the wisdom on social customer service revolves around how harmful failure is, rather than how much growth businesses see because of it. This is clear evidence that social customer service is operational, and not a growth strategy.
Apparently, the vast majority (over 90%) of brands “fail at social customer service” - which tells you how difficult it can be to do effectively.
5. Owned Social AnalyticsDefinition: Evaluating performance of a company’s own social network presence.
Owned Social Analytics is a very specific name, for a very good reason. “Social Analytics”
technically encompasses a variety of analyses, primarily Owned Social Analytics and Social
The “Owned” in “Owned Social Analytics” is important: analyzing mentions of your brand from other users on social media is not “Owned” - it is “Earned” analytics - and analyzing performance of social advertising is “Paid” analytics. “Owned” refers to the social networks run by a business - such as ManageFlitter’s Twitter account: @ManageFlitter.
Here is a good example of Owned Social Analytics in action:
Here, ManageFlitter is telling me critical metrics in numerical snapshots, as well as a trend of follower growth for the last two years. Another example is a tool like Rival IQ, which gives a landscape overview of followers across six social networks for Transform, Inc. and its competitors.
Owned Social Analytics is critical for social media marketers looking to grow their impact, overtake competitors and generate demand. Engagement, activity (posts) and audience (followers) are all quickly available metrics from tools of this kind, as well as top content and optimal times to post. ManageFlitter, for example, merges your followers’ location data with time zone data to provide insight into when they are most likely to be online:
6. Social ListeningDefinition: Leveraging insights from technology that monitors the “social web” (i.e. the Internet since the mid-2000s) for mentions of keywords, which the technology then processes for further insights such as sentiment via Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Social Listening has had a few years of spotlight in the social media world, but that has done
little to lessen the confusion around what exactly “Social Listening” is.
Social Listening is distinct in its ability to provide big picture insights into brand, product and topic trends around the world (but, let’s be honest, usually in English). Social Listening is sometimes synonymous with Social Monitoring, although Social Monitoring is often meant in a way that implies action on behalf of the Monitor, such as in Social Customer Service.
Marketers can derive a great deal of value from an intelligent use of social listening software. For example, a search for “ManageFlitter” from January 1, 2007 to today in Infegy Atlas - our preferred enterprise social listening tool - yields over 1,200,000 “mentions” across 300+ million websites since ManageFlitter launched in 2010. Infegy Atlas - like most social listening tools - then analyzes the “mentions” for sentiment, showing an average of 91% positivity. (Nice work, guys!)
Where social listening becomes supremely valuable is in competitive, comparative and topical applications. For example, a search across six common social listening tactics shows fascinating trends in the way marketers and software vendors talk about social media for business:
Of course, this is the raw volume, and because Infegy Atlas recognizes their sources have changed and grown over the past 10 years, they provide a view of the results with “Word Normalized Volume” - which is a more accurate representation of the trends. Here, we’ve removed “Social Media Marketing” so you can see the other topics more closely:
Social Monitoring was a much more popular topic in 2010 and 2011 than it is today. Social
Advertising has moved to the top spot, similar to where it was in 2007 but with even more
volume. Social Sales (Social Selling) has made substantial gains in interest and awareness in the
past 2 years.
Applying insights from social listening requires some degree of creativity, so it’s important to do your homework on how to use social listening for business. And since there are dozens of expensive tools in the space, we recommend reading reviews in this social listening landscape audit.
7. How Can Your Business Drive ROI Through Social Media?
Now that you understand all possible applications of social media strategies for your business,
here’s how to set the right activities in motion.
1. Publish Content with Efficiency
Do not spend a great deal of time and money on developing content specific to your social channels. Instead, leverage content from other parts of your business - email, blog, advertising, etc. - to furnish your social teams with images and text that they can translate quickly into many social posts.
The benefits of this approach are many:
- When it comes to content, it’s much easier to edit and revise than it is to create
- Your company probably already makes more content than you think
- The same messages work well across all these channels, as long as they are settled into the right formats for the different publication platforms
I have yet to come across an industry that should not be doing social advertising - at least testing it. Even business-to-business companies can use Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads and (of course) LinkedIn Ads to target people by company size, industry and job seniority.
Testing the effectiveness of different messages on different audiences (A/B or Multivariate testing) is a powerful way to improve how far your ad budget goes, and even learn about your customers’ interest in your products.
Not only that, but most companies can also benefit from influencer marketing and peer-topeer social sales. By using ManageFlitter or other tools to identify influencers, and reaching out to them directly, your business can broaden its reach and create loyal communities on social networks.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to figure out what’s right for your business, which will look a little different from what’s right for mine. But this guide gives you the framework you need to begin breaking down social media marketing into meaningful, manageable parts - so you can start to drive real #SocialROI.