It’s Time for Social to Grow Up

By Guest Comment


There was a time not so long ago when the entire concept of social was so shiny and new that many marketers just jumped at the opportunity to get in on it in some way. Even if they had no idea what kind of return on investment would be associated with it – or much less by which metrics and benchmarks they could effectively and accurately deem a social success vs. failure.

But as tends to be the case, what once is shiny and new eventually loses its “of the moment” luster and, essentially, has to grow up or come into its own. That’s precisely what I’m seeing happening across all things social today. We’ve reached a saturation point whereby brands can no longer just say “We do social,” and be done with it. Now, those responsible for the social media strategy within their business are finding themselves on the proverbial hot seat, being asked specific questions, from everyone from the C-suite down, about what success looks like.

At Lithium, our clients have expressed to us over the years a very clear need to better and more consistently quantify what success looks like in terms of engagement, customer satisfaction, community experience, cost savings, and so on.

They also need to know how they’re doing relative to their industry peers to ensure they’re always maintaining a competitive advantage.

For too long, the industry has had a lack of clarity around social, making it harder and harder for marketers to justify making investments in their communities. In fact, many brands continue to struggle with directly tying social media ROI to business results, making it that much more of an uphill battle to build a business case around social media marketing programs.

That being said, I still firmly believe most business leaders understand that there is value in social. Though, ever so slowly, they are starting to lose faith because they haven’t received quantifiable measures of success that make it easier for them to get on board. For example, less than a third of marketing executives are actually satisfied in the value that branded social accounts bring to the business. And even more startling, in many cases, less than 50 percent of social media practitioners – those who manage a brand’s day-to-day social efforts – see this value as well. This should be a wake-up call.

The question for everyone involved in anything to do with social, especially as budgets get tight and marketing programs become increasingly scrutinized, is about clearly understanding what (potential) impact a community can have on both the top and bottom line of a business. Business leaders want and need hard data, real metrics, and rich insights that show when a strategy is working – and they want this information to resonate across all parts of the business (hint, hint: not just marketing!).

A recent study by Forrester further proves that this question around measurement has been the top challenge for social marketers for over a decade – with 53 percent of respondents surveyed agreeing that measuring the performance of social profiles is what keeps them up at night.

What this tells me is one thing: social needs to grow up. The days of “fluff” metrics are over. We need to measure marketing benefits, like brand awareness and engagement, just as much as we need to quantify key performance indicators such as customer satisfaction, lifetime value, and share of voice as well as sales metrics (tied to social) like conversion rate, leads generated, and cost per acquisition. The social ecosystem is basically one big, growing puzzle. Now, it’s up to all of us to finally bring all the pieces together and make some sense of it.

When that happens, I think we’ll see a fundamental shift in how businesses perceive and support social efforts moving forward. But first, we’ve got to make sure social plays by the same rules as other parts of the business. Once we level the playing field, social will finally have its rightful (and essential) seat at the table.

As Lithium’s CMO and general manager of Lithium Social Web, Katy Keim is responsible for all strategic marketing activities for the company including branding, positioning, communications, go-to-market strategy and customer acquisition programs. Follow her on Twitter: @KatyKeim.