Social Media Does Not Exist

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects (1995)

I had an interesting discussion recently about Social media strategies.  When discussing inputs to a social media strategy, an admitted “social media skeptic” replied that she thought there shouldn’t be a need for them; rather that social media strategies were really just customer relationship strategies.  Frankly, well put.   MarketingSherpa recently published a study of companies that are integrating social media tactics with offline and online marketing tactics.  I’d like to see the evolution over time and agree with the premise – “The benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone.”

Effective businesses manage all customer touchpoints – every customer interaction is a chance to impact the experience, whether it’s an ad, a product purchase, a customer service call, talking in the store with an associate, or replying to a post in a social network.  When companies start to realize these synergies, they will be able to achieve a lot more than focusing on pure social media tactics alone.  The customer lifecycle is a journey, and each interaction point can have multiple tactics that make it more compelling (and ultimately provide benefit) to the customer.

The technologies that are available influence traditional marketing tactics already.  In some cases, they magnify each other.  Take these examples:

  • 50% click through rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search (comScore & GroupM study).
  • Email marketing approaches need to factor in calls to action in social platforms, like soliciting ratings and reviews for products and services, or asking customers to become fans on Facebook.
  • Attribution of revenue from interactive marketing tactics like paid search, display advertising and landing pages now need to factor social tactics (shared links, social content on site) to understand the impact to analytics and optimization.
  • Location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are about understanding who is coming to your store offline, and enabling targeted promotions to reward visitors.  (Imagine that, technology that helps bring visitors in the door, and keep them coming back.)

While social media specific strategies can help companies digest and learn the technologies and approaches that build success, they aren’t the end game.  I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how social technologies are changing and influencing other areas of marketing.  Despite lots of hype and lots of platforms grabbing headlines, I’m convinced that companies who truly embrace social media, by understanding and engaging, are the ones who treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are others that think the same way.  Think we’ll see the day when “social media” isn’t a separate line item in a marketing plan?

Photo credit: niemster via Flickr

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Forrester Marketing Forum: Tie Customer Engagement to Company Performance

EngagementWhen I was with one of the Big Four consulting firms (rhymes with Indenture – just kidding, I loved my time there), I spent a small amount of time on a task force focusing on making the firm a "Great Place to Work" in our market unit in North America.  This committee was filled with passionate people in the organization who understood clearly that people were our #1 asset.  The committee’s charter was to go beyond happy hours and newsletters to come up with game-changing initiatives to improve engagement.  In 2005 the group began to get a lot of attention from senior executives in the firm due to some studies tying employee engagement to outperforming stock prices.  The studies measure how individuals responded in surveys to the "Three Ss": Say, Stay and Strive (developed by Hewitt Associates), measuring how effective an employee would talk about the firm, have a desire to stay with the firm for the next couple years, and optimally thrive in their careers while with the firm.  After an annual employee satisfaction survey was done, we received an "Engagement Index" score and were compared to 1500 other companies who had asked their employees the same questions.

The result: While one could debate the "chicken and the egg," there was a direct correlation between the increase in employee engagement and the increase in stock price across 1500 companies surveyed.  High performing companies had high levels of employee engagement.  This was eye opening and got senior leadership to pay immediate attention and "get in the game" on programs that improved engagement. 

After all the talk at Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2008 about customer engagement, I got to thinking.  There were great presentations from Forrester, retailers and software vendors about how we need to measure or quantify customer engagement.  High performing companies like Dell, Nike and FedEx presented on strategies that have helped them increase customer engagement.

What I’d like to see:  A study that ties a measurement of customer engagement to stock price over time. 

Take some of the key brands represented.  Jordan Brands, part of Nike, Inc., has seemingly a brand that can do no wrong.  They are undertaking innovative ways to engage customers in the same ethos of Michael Jordan himself – launching a breakfast club to motivate young athletes and track or suggest training programs, launching an exclusive "Flight Club" with premium offers, etc.  What has happened to Nike’s stock price in the last few years, and what are analysts saying now, despite a weak economy looming?

Nike_4There are many factors around operating a company that impact the stock price, no doubt, and this is only one example pulled from a list of companies doing great things with customer engagement.  I know this can’t be the only factor, but I am still wondering if any similar correlation can be drawn.

One of the breakout sessions I attended at the Forrester Marketing Forum was The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model presented by Shar VanBoskirk, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research.  In her presentation she explained how few companies have interactive marketing efforts that are optimized, and there is a disparity between the high level of belief in interactive marketing and a low level of actual investment or support to execute.  If this correlation plays out to support a positive association, I suspect it would lend credence to the army of interactive marketers who sense or are trying to prove value but have trouble convincing executives to invest in their campaigns.  I also suspect it would open corporate executives to new ways to engage the customer, making a better case for why interactive marketing, social media and engaging customers are imperatives and not optional.

Have you seen any research out there like this?  What do you think would help legitimize interactive marketing and social media campaigns that impact customer engagement?