In what seems like a lifetime ago (about 4 years past), I worked search marketing on the agency side. As an account manager, I spent many a meeting reassuring hyperactive marketing execs that great Google rankings (well, this also included Yahoo and Microsoft back then) were just around the proverbial corner. With search, the grunt work happened up-front and once the content was put in place and scooped up by the mighty indexing engines, the rankings and associated traffic would largely drizzle down like snow in pre-war Narnia. You just had to wait for the reward.
This didn’t always reflect the way the campaigns were sold, mainly for the following reasons:
- The demand to offer short term results
- The desire of the agency to garner a long term maintenance contract
- The lack of a crystal ball to tell us exactly when the results would come in
The same can be true of marketing-led social media campaigns.
Like a merry-go-round that you continually tug with the same force while it slowly gathers momentum, social media campaigns can often need more than a year of development and careful nurturing before they come to fruition. You build a platform, seed content and promote the hell out of it, but meanwhile have to appease the executive whilst you act, measure, and patiently wait. Whether you’re setting up a blog, forum, social network, Twitter profile, YouTube channel or whatever, if you’re not one of the legendary few to achieve instant cult status, be prepared for the toil.
Then, after months or more, if you got your planning and strategy right upfront, the crowd gathers and the chatter grows. Now you have a successful social media campaign on your hands and you have graphs pointing in the right direction to show the powers-that-be.
How long does the glow hold?
Depending on the nature of the campaign, you may find yourself having to do little more to keep those page views coming. Not that I’d recommend it, but you can put a social network out to pasture and (almost in spite of yourselves) still see information grazers stumble by. In 2002 we froze an academic/business community we had spent two years building and it still continued to out-rank our corporate site on Google for our core target keywords for at least six years after.
So where’s the issue?
With all the attendant hype around social media at the moment, this activity is often bolted on to that lead generation machine within the marketing department that’s charged with building the sales pipeline. I’ve heard rightful skepticism within field marketing departments that claims over-hyped social media is heavily lubed in snake oil. I can definitely see where this point of view comes from. Marketing circles are abuzz with talk of how you’ll achieve greater results than ever before by using social media. The statement is expressed in the present, rather than future tense. I’ve seen networks shut down because of this.
Greatest treasures lie in the murkiest depths
On those grounds, should social media be foresaken? You can probably guess my response, but I think not. Social media marketing campaigns are at their most effective when they are stripped of the constraints of short-term lead generation. Most efforts work on creating Awareness and Thought Leadership:
(Note there are social media activities that go beyond the point of sale, but these are often driven by other departments, such as support.)
As you can see above, there is little crossover between social media and lead generation across the sales cycle. So measuring success based on lead generation metrics will show few results. Just like the PR function which is measured on metrics other than the prospects it brings to the pipe, so social media campaigns need to develop their own yardsticks – whether it be the added visibility or the kind of engagement metrics online news sites are measured against. This will feed the sales pipe, but indirectly, just like PR. Now for the icing on the cake: few other marketing initiatives show such on-going returns. With social media you’re often building an asset that will show little depreciation over time.
More tortoise than hare
Try and keep social media campaigns away from the demands of lead generation. Have goals but make sure the top brass aren’t expecting to see results in the same quarter. Chances are, they’ll be paltry. But keep in it for the long haul and assuming all the pieces come together, manifold results will head your way.