I bet I can guess what you love about email. It’s inexpensive, scalable and does not require external resources or advanced training. It’s also immediate: you can decide you want to send an email at 9am, have it on its way by 9:30am and see a nice uptick in business even before your mid-morning coffee run. And it works – you have the ROI to prove it, right there in your analytics.
The qualities we love in email aren’t limited to that channel, however. One of the reasons social media is currying so much favor in marketing departments is because, like email, it also is inexpensive, scalable, and does not require external resources and advanced training. Social too is immediate, with an initial lift often coming within moments. But second and third bumps in exposure are also common in social marketing, as comments on Facebook posts push a brand further up News Feeds, and retweets on Twitter gain circulation. From this perspective, there is only one difference, but it’s a critical one. Social does not enjoy nearly the analytics and metrics of email, making ROI difficult to calculate. Without calculable ROI, businesses that normally make calculated investments are forced to take a leap of faith with social. Because of the teeming millions reachable there, many consumer brands are ready and willing to take that leap, but b-to-b marketers, whose budgets lean more toward direct marketing than branding, are not as eager to dive into social.
In an April 2011 research report from BtoB Magazine entitled, “Emerging Trends in B-to-B Social Media Marketing: Insights From the Field,” this lack success metrics shows up as the second leading obstacle to social media adoption in b-to-b, trailing only “Lack of resources.” Also on the list are “Lack of knowledge about social media,” “Management resistance,” and even “company policies prohibit social media.” See chart below:
That sure sounds like a lot of obstacles, but in truth it’s really just one. Once the analytics are in place to measure the contribution that social media makes to marketing campaigns, many of these other obstacles will disappear. The first to fall is the “Lack of knowledge,” as the analytics will be able to show marketers what works and what doesn’t. Then the “Poorly defined success metrics and KPIs” become a non-issue as marketers develop more experience with social and can identify suitable objectives and measure success against them. Show senior management that these KPIs are in place, and with them the analytics to measure success and “Management resistance,” “prohibitive policies” and “lack of resources” will all fall by the wayside as well.
These analytics tools of which I speak are coming. Soon marketers will be able to see how social integrates with email and other messaging channels, what communications tasks it is uniquely qualified for, and what percentage of a campaign’s results are attributable to social channels. The available insight is powerful. All the b-to-b brands taking a wait-and-see approach to social will very soon be able to see plenty, and should no longer find any reason to wait.
If you have been reining in your social strategy, now is the time to let it run. Start building your fan and follower base, and begin integrating social into your communications. It takes time to cultivate audiences in all new channels, and to learn each one’s nuances. Resource allocation is also going to be important for social, just as it is for email. Now is the time to identify who will spearhead social initiatives, and others who will be involved, and to make sure that these folks have the bandwidth to take on this new responsibility. All the analytics in the world don’t create success in an initiative nobody is driving.