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“What If Social Media Isn’t Good Enough?” and Other Fears Holding Us Back

I’m not a great proofreader. And as the manager of a creative team, I realize that this can cause a lot of issues, so I hired a copy editor. Problem solved.

This makes me sound very smart and efficient. “I saw a flaw, and I fixed it. I’m really good at that!”

But that’s not the whole story. The truth is, I made a lot of mistakes, struggled to keep up, and had to force myself to face the fact that I couldn’t be a copy editor and handle the other functions of my job.

One of the toughest lessons we learn as we mature is how to reflect honestly about our shortcomings. It’s a constant process, and not necessarily one that gets easier over time. Looking for our own flaws is scary because it’s unknown.

What if I can’t fix it?
What if I can’t do this thing I thought I could?
What if I’m not good enough? 

This is a big problem in social marketing right now. If you’ve read this far, I’d challenge you to do some serious reflection, because that will be the difference between our industry thriving or becoming completely irrelevant.
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Below, I’ll walk through the specifics of this problem, what it means, and how social media can become the driving force of your marketing department if you face this problem head-on (even when it’s scary).

What if Social Can’t Do It?

No analytics solution has been able to help marketers measure and attribute business value to social media in a real and scalable way. As this becomes a reality, there is one major thing still standing in the way: Fear.

It’s an unspoken fear, but an understandable one. What if social media doesn’t drive measurable business value? What if I’ve been telling my boss that it does, but when we’re finally able to prove it, we find out I was wrong?

It felt much safer when engagement was the only thing that we could measure. We were able to confidently say, “The most successful post was this photo of puppies because it garnered the most Likes, so obviously it drove the highest number of sales.” No one could question that.

During his keynote at =LIFT (Social, 2015), Nate Elliott pointed out that even Facebook has come out to say, “Engagement is not a reliable predictor of business value.” Elliott cited an example from Cox Media, which had optimized ad spend based on engagement data, which led them to decrease the number of image ads they ran. Later, Cox found that images actually converted at a much higher rate than other content types, and optimizing based on engagement data had been a costly assumption.

Shedding Social Marketing Fear

It’s our responsibility to our companies, share holders, and coworkers to be transparent and diligent in our analysis, and adapt our models where necessary. There are only three options:

1. Change Nothing:  We pretend things are fine, and continue to operate in the dark, potentially making costly mistakes that are uncovered later (by someone else).

2. Discover We ARE Driving Real Business Value: This is the best case. We find that what we’re doing is accomplishing what we hoped it was.

3. Discover We Aren’t Driving Business Value: What we were doing wasn’t working, so we point this out to stakeholders, propose a change in tactics (and maybe even goals), look like the expert, and push for social to make a bigger impact.

As a manager of a marketing team, I can tell you that the only option I would see as “failure” is number one. The other two show initiative, ambition, and leadership.

If you’re not accomplishing what you wanted to, wouldn’t you like to know that you’re wasting your time so you can address the issue and adjust your tactics? This analysis and optimization is the core of digital marketing, and until we can approach social with the same rigor and honesty that our digital counterparts do, social will never break into the board room.

Social Media Can Do More

So, what can you do to address this problem?

1. Analyze and AttributeIdentify social’s impact. Where are you winning, where are you missing, and what do you need to address? Once you can identify the impact that organic owned, earned, and dark social have on your web traffic, conversions, sales, and other business metrics, you’ll know where social should be working.

2. Focus on Strengths: Identify the areas where social is adding value. Map this success to the buyer’s journey to identify the area of focus. If social is best at the top of the funnel for creating awareness, focus there; but if you find that social is helping assist conversions and purchases, your strategy should be different.

3. Become the Connective Tissue for the Marketing Team: Social media can act as a signal for every part of your organization. Just as Cox Media used organic engagement data to optimize ads on Facebook, social data can become the signal used to inform decision-making throughout your organization. Provide strategic insight from the mountain of data you sit on to your web team, email team, media buyer, demand generation team, content team, PR team, product team, and design team.

You know what your audience responds to and what they’re interested in. You know what your competitors are talking about. You know what content is working well. You know which copy gets the most clicks, and which image types work best. You are the best source of information that your team never uses, and you can add value in so many different ways.

Be the Catalyst for Change

My background is in journalism. When social media, online publications, and citizen journalism started to hit the newspaper industry, newspapers went one of two ways: Half of them adapted their revenue model and journalistic approach to a changing world, and half of them buried their heads in the sand. Which type of business do you want to be?

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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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