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Social Isn’t Driving Dollars…So What’s Next?

Fear is a powerful motivator. Right now, fear is keeping many digital marketers from making the most out of social media.

If you own a social program, you might cringe at this term.

ROIFor one, you’ve heard empty promises about “solving social ROI” for years. Now the term means nothing.  

But maybe the other reason you cringed is that you’re terrified to find out that social isn’t driving a return. What if you had a magic wand and could see every single dollar that social has impacted, online or off, and it turned out that there was a big goose egg next to the program?

I get it. That’s scary. As marketers, we separate our actions into two categories:

  1. Brand Activities: Promoting and amplifying our brand name and products to the market.
  2. Demand Activities: Capitalizing on those brand activities by converting the people we’re exposed to into customers.

Social is big. It’s billions of people having billions of conversations across the globe and interacting with millions of pieces of content on dozens of networks–and they’re doing most of this in the palms of their hands. No other marketing channel operates this way:

  • Email marketers send an email. People read that email. They click the link in the email. They make a purchase.
  • Media buyers place an ad. Someone sees the ad. They click through that ad. They make a purchase.
Google Ads
  • Web marketers put a CTA on their website. They optimize content for SEO. Someone searches a term. They get to their website. They make a purchase.

Even when it gets more complicated, it’s still a closed loop:

  • Email marketer sends an email. Someone reads the email. They click the link. They don’t make a purchase. They visit another site. Media buyer’s retargeting ad populates. Person sees ad. They click it. They buy a product.

Social hasn’t traditionally worked this way:

  • Social marketer shares a piece of content. Someone might click on that content. We have no idea what happens next. Social marketer starts measuring engagement instead.

Quick poll: Is “engagement” something your CMO cares about? No? Okay then, let’s move on.

I’m responsible for Simply Measured’s brand awareness and reputation. This includes things like PR, content and creative services, and social. I’ll be the last person to say that engagement is useless, because I think it can be a very important signal of broader things, but engagement, at its core, is only useful for measuring owned social. What about earned? What about dark (social sharing that happens via private channels like direct )?

To prove the value of social, we need more than that. In 2016, “I don’t know if we drive business value” is not an acceptable response.

As marketers, we can no longer afford to let this answer fly. We need to hold social accountable. If it’s NOT driving dollars for the business, wouldn’t you like to know so that you can invest resources elsewhere – or even better, figure out what you need to do to make it a profitable channel?

Fear is keeping you from improving. Even more dangerously, it’s leading you to optimize based on incomplete and flawed information.

Connecting social to revenue is not an impossible task. Remember that, at one point, we thought the same way about web, email, and digital ads. In 2016, social attribution is a reality. In September, Simply Measured released a solution built specifically for digital marketers looking to attribute digital conversions back to social.

Clip1I’d encourage you to look into options like Simply Measured, and shop around to see what else is out there that will help you solve this problem. 

The key to optimization is understanding, and we’ll never be able to optimize social if we don’t understand the complete picture. Social may be unique, but it’s not immune to the same expectations that CMOs have for other digital channels. It’s time to close the loop. If social’s not driving real value, it’s time to figure out how we can make sure it starts.

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Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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