Strategy: Social Media and Metrics

Posted on July 16, 2010

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I read Twitter, Twitter, Little Stars at BusinessWeek that was quite interesting, as I made some analysis on this social media thingy when I enrolled in e-Business class.

In short, what the h*ll is social media?

Social media is media in form of digital words, sounds, pictures and videos spread through social interaction via the Internet. Social media transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues, supporting the democratization of knowledge and information, and transform people from content consumers to producers. As social media continue to grow, the ability to reach more people through social media has also increased. In the U.S., over 25% of internet page views occurred at one of the top social networking sites in December 2009, up from 13.8% a year before. This recent growth has tremendously increased the opportunity for businesses to reach a broader range of consumers. In addition to that, social media are relatively inexpensive and accessible to enable everyone to publish or access information. These allow social media to be the new “tool” for effective business marketing and sales, be it to reach existing customers, to acquire new ones, and to build or maintain credibility and reputation.

The use of social media for marketing and sales purposes is called social media marketing (SMM). SMM is a recent component of organizations’ integrated marketing communications plans, coordinating the elements of the promotional mix – advertising, personal selling, public relations, publicity, direct marketing, and sales promotion – to produce a customer focused message. SMM programs usually center on efforts to create content that attracts attention, generate online conversations, and encourages readers to share it with their social networks. The message spreads from user to user and presumably resonates because it is coming from a trusted source, as oppose to the company itself. SMM benefits businesses by providing an additional channel for customer support, a means to gain customer and competitive insight, and a method of managing their reputation online. Key factors that ensure its success are its relevance to the customer, the value it provides them with and the strength of the foundation on which it is built. A strong foundation serves as a stand or platform in which the organization can centralize its information and direct customers on its recent developments via other social media channels, such as article and press release publications.

Tough definition huh?

If you want me to define what social media is in only one sentence: it is a kind of Internet marketing that heavily involves interaction in the Internet, utilizing Web 2.0 technology. In other words, you are not the only one who generates content, you want people who interact with you to participate and, even better, to propagate the message to their network. By doing so, company can advertise in a much cheaper way. Unfortunately, the social media strategy is a double edge sword, simply because you can’t control other people mind; people have their own opinion.

So what?

In the BusinessWeek article, it is written in the second paragraph: “First, they scramble to hire social media officers. Second, they figure out what it is, exactly, that social media officers do.” I would argue this as a suicide mission. It’s like “o… you think this can work? ok soldier! here is your gun, go and attack the enemy!”

When I looked into the social media strategy, my main focus was mainly the airlines industry. In the beginning, I truly believed that only low cost carriers would work on the social media strategy, simply because they wanted to have a cheap advertising platform. And I guessed that they had no concrete social media strategy, considering that it is a very new thing. Interestingly enough, I found the opposite, these low cost carriers were actually working hard on their social media strategy; in fact, they were well prepared. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Virgin Airlines were the top three airlines that I found.

In my conclusion, for social media marketing approaches to be effective, airlines must recognize that the social media platforms are additional resources to complement and expand their entire marketing arsenals rather than replacements for existing marketing initiative. They need to define their social media goals in order to be successful; these goals may vary among social media platforms. For example, Facebook may be used for customer service and broadcasting updates while Twitter may be used for promotions. Additionally, these goals should also be aligned with the carriers’ business strategy, rather than merely being a trend or a gimmick. Only when this is done can carriers realize the revenue potential from social media. The success factor may depend upon the goals: a certain number of new customers as a result of a promotion may be one goal; another may be responding to all customer complaints within a specified window of time in a customer service situation. Among the goals for which social media are commonly used: customer service, broadcasting news or announcement, promotions, behind the scene look at the organization, and advertising.

Performance Metrics

Looking into my analysis, I don’t think the double-edge-sword thing is the main issue of the social media. I personally believe that the main problem with social media strategy is the performance metrics. How do you know whether your social media strategy works better than other companies, or better than last year? There are a couple of social media strategy metrics that become hot topics out there: reach, sentiment and share of voice are some of them. Unfortunately, different people have different definition for each of these metrics. But there are some definitions that I find the best describing each of these metrics.

Reach is the total number of people that you can reach when you post your message in social media, let say Twitter. Does it sound simple? Looking at your number of followers in Twitter? What about the re-tweet? This is why one out there defines “true” reach, which also considers how active your follower is (will he re-tweet or only read your post or the account is actually dead?) and your links (how many weak links?). So, how to calculate the “true” reach? No body knows, the only thing that you can do is to estimate the “true” reach, some sort like “semi-true” reach.

Sentiment is another interesting one. In short, it is the ratio of positive and negative feedback of your post. So, it literally means, no matter how many people that you can reach, if you sell a crap product, you’ll never make it. How to calculate the sentiment accurately? Again, no body knows; however, there are some tools out there that can “estimate” how positive the message that you post out there.

Lastly, share of voice identifies the contribution of the social traffic from various media sources. You can always post as many messages in Twitter or Facebook or any other social media, but the question is how effective they are in particular to your business. Using the share of voice you can compare one social media tool against the others. By doing so, you can focus your effort into certain social media tools. Again, the question is how do you know whether one social media tool is better than the others, it is again difficult to answer.

Conclusion

You need a lot of effort to work in social media. Sometimes it is even needed for the company to change its culture to adopt social media; this is not easy, read about company culture from the McKinsey 7s framework. I still believe that it is difficult to evaluate the performance of social media strategy; trial and error is probably still the best in this area. Nevertheless, social media is a real deal.

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Posted in: Business