The Three Goals of Social Media Marketing

This article originally appeared in the April ’13 edition of Edge Magazine

Years ago a new technology was developed. It was a disruptive product that would forever change the way people communicate. Initially it was misunderstood, and as a result met with considerable resistance.

What was this new technology? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? No, this controversial technology was the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell attempted to sell his patent, but the invention was initially dismissed by the business community. In 1876, an internal memo circulated at Western Union which stated “this telephone has too many shortcomings to be considered as a means of communication. The device is of inherently no value to us.”

iphone dialToday the telephone is a tremendously effective business tool. It is used to pitch ideas, generate leads and communicate with customers. We take it for granted now, but it really was a revolutionary communications device when first introduced.

Parallels can be drawn from the early days of the telephone and the emergence of social media which is a disruptive form of technology too. Three to five years ago many people questioned whether or not social media had a real business applications. Whereas today, everyone seems to be scrambling to harness its potential.

Often, when seeking direction in the digital space, companies will start the conversation off with statements such as “we need a Facebook strategy” or “should we be on Pinterest – we hear it’s hot right now.” When it comes to social media, it’s best to develop a strategic plan before making tactical moves.

Setting up a company Facebook page is not a social media strategy. It’s a tactic, and one that can quickly turn for the worse without proper strategic thought. A 2010 poll of IT executives revealed that social media mishaps caused organizations a combined $4.3 million in damages. That number is likely to be higher today especially when bad PR is factored in.

Some of the top Twitter blunders of 2012 included an American Rifleman post asking shooters of their plans for the weekend. Normally, it’s not a problem to engage with one’s audience except that this was the day of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. The backlash was so great the NRA deleted the account later that day.

Marketing departments often look to connect promotions with current events. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when strategy and common sense are not applied the results can be disastrous.

American Apparel and The Gap thought it fine to reference Hurricane Sandy, as the storm was bearing down on the Northeast, in order to sell more merchandise. They posted “All impacted by #Sandy stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” and “In case you’re bored during the storm. 20% off everything for next 36 hours.” People did not go think their posts were appropriate, and were quite adamant about their distaste.

Less glaring social media missteps occur daily. Leads generated by social media slip through the cracks because no mechanism is in place to capture them. Customer service complaints go unanswered via social media because no one is monitoring them. PR opportunities in the social media space are missed because the department is not empowered to watch for them.

Every great strategy starts with a goal. Define your company’s social media goals by examining the three components of marketing: brand awareness, lead generation and customer retention. Brand awareness is about exposing your product or service to as many people as possible. The goal is to make your company more recognizable so people know it by name. Lead generation is about finding qualified buyers for your product or service. Customer retention is all about keeping existing customers happy.

Align these components with existing departments and look at the bigger picture. Brand awareness is a byproduct of good PR. Lead generation drives the sales department. Retention is the goal of customer service.

Now you have a framework for how social media can be infused within established departments. Examine touch points — all the various ways prospects and customers come in contact with your company’s product/service, people and image. Dissect your marketing funnel and identify the steps taken to convert prospects into customers, and customers into raving fans.

Don’t make the mistake of placing social media in departmental silos. Instead, think of it as a lubricant that flows from system to system helping to keep all the parts of your marketing objectives operating smoothly.

Most every business has a telephone, but what if no one answered it? Imagine the sales department ignoring calls from prospects. What would happen if the customer service department stopped taking customer calls? This is happening daily in the online space. The time to get strategic about social media is now.