Fueled by a combination of popularity, curiosity, necessity, strategy, and trendiness, marketers are embracing a new recipe that injects a proactive, social approach to outbound communications and engagement - with or without all of the answers before they jump in. This approach, while courageous, has required faith, conviction, and champions who didn't necessarily have access to metrics and case studies at the SMB and enterprise level. Many of the most and also least effective campaigns were implemented as a way of learning. As we all know, some Social Media campaigns have excelled while others have publicly flopped and contributed to the cynicism and fear of embracing a transparent form of open and public dialogue.
While dollars evaporate from traditional budgets previously earmarked for advertising, public relations, events, and other ROI elusive programs, the general sentiment seems to recognize Social Media as a cost efficient experiment for maintaining visibility without falling completely off the radar screens of potential customers, stakeholders, and influencers.
Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang recently published a report that showcased business-to-business organizations were ready to increase marketing spending, especially in a market downturn.
His question was direct and the answers were incredibly telling, "Assuming that the economy is in recession in the next six months, how would you change your investment in social media overall?"
Credit: Jeremiah Owyang, Forrester via flickr
Only 5% responded that they would decrease spending, which tells me that a minority of companies polled was practicing social media using questionable methods that didn't make an impact. 42% would stay the same, which isn't necessarily revealing how companies are practicing social media, if at all, compared to traditional efforts. Perhaps most staggering, however, is that a massive 53% intended to increase their investment during a recession.
I wonder if companies are embracing social media because they believe that communities can benefit from their direct participation and associated experience, or rather because social media is viewed as a lower cost alternative to traditional marketing and advertising.
Jeremiah and Forrester aren't alone in their assessment that Social Media marketing is on the rise during a recession. In a report published by Aberdeen Group, marketers have developed the tools and methodologies to drive marketing ROI by listening to and learning from customers and prospects.
Aberdeen learned that 63% of surveyed companies intended on increasing social media budgets in 2009.
The recent report also dissected the programs that companies worldwide were currently practicing. 39% claim to establishing a method for engaging consumers in online conversations. 26% instilled an organizational focus on social media, meaning that internal champions demonstrated the need and benefits for integrating socialized programs into the existing mix. 24% substantiate benchmarks and goals to effectively measure their programs. 18% can tie the results directly to sales.
I recently presented at a MarketingSherpa forum where we discussed and presented strategies and tactics to build and shape a brand using social and traditional methodologies and programs. My co-presenter Sergio Balegno of MarketingSherpa shared research from a Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Survey fielded in December 2008. I've been given permission to share some very interesting numbers with you...
Businesses across the board have claimed that they're embracing and practicing some form of social media in outbound marketing. Again, whether or not they're practicing effective, noteworthy, measurable or even exemplary social initiatives are unclear. But as you can see, a round average of 80% reported that social media programs were indeed in effect.
Brand managers and the executives signing the paychecks continue to evaluate the effect of Social Media on everything from brand reputation, awareness, SEO, website traffic, leads, internal communications, and online sales. According to MarketingSherpa, social media had a positive impact ranging from 50% to over 90%.
The study also revealed where consumers reported obtaining information regarding brands. 70% attributed social communities and networks as their primary source, which notched higher than the company site. Online news and review sties ranks third and fourth. Although after review, I would most likely move wikis to the far left column, which would also send that number potentially higher.
Many pundits have claimed that the derived benefits from implementing social media initiatives were clear in B2C cases, but wondered whether or not social media could help the B2B sector. As those who've worked in enterprise marketing or sales will resoundingly emphasize, B2B is driven by relationships, which is triggering the integration of social systems into CRM. All successful social media case studies share their roots in the intent and delivery of information as they contribute to forging, cultivating and adding value to relationships.
The study noted that sometimes the most effective social media tactics were also the least measurable and contrarily, the activity behind least effective programs was sometimes the easiest to measure. In many of the programs I work with today, we have focused on the ability to both implement effective programs measure them specifically for each division they impact, from sales, to service, to marketing.
Responding to negative commentary associated with the corporate or product brand is not an exact science, nor is its specific tactics duplicative from company to company. What's common however, is that listening and observing is the key to learning. In many cases, there's merit to the complaints and many times they require acknowledgment, response, and a commitment to fix things internally to improve a product or service that doesn't simply address the views of a few vocal people, but also those unspoken groups they represent. With the right counsel, I expect to see the numbers in the first two categories on the left significantly decrease over the next year while the numbers on the right increase.
While numbers indicate that Social Media Marketing may, for now, be recession proof, it is not idiot proof. Engaging in transparent conversations in social networks to build brand-centric communities is meaningless without intelligence, sincerity and a real world business acumen that can tie participation to important business metrics.
Listening, observing, and learning is the key to creating any informed social or traditional program that links insight to relevant and consequential outbound engagement.
Overall, this is exactly the level of detail that many brand, marketing, service, and public relations professionals need to review in order to assess opportunities, risks, and benefits associated with the implementation of strategic and effective day-to-day engagement programs that are unique and tailored to each brand.
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