Cultivation vs. Conversion: Set the Right Social Media Marketing Goals

What are you trying to accomplish with your social media marketing program? If you can’t answer this question, you should abstain from tweeting, wall-posting and any other form of publishing until you can. It may sound a bit harsh, but this is a real problem: it means you haven’t set any objectives. A social media marketing program that delivers results without clear objectives up front does so coincidentally.

As you’re working your way through the range of alternatives available to you – from bolstering your brand to winning sales – it pays to take a granular view, sometimes quite literally. Dig into the details of what you want your social media marketing program to accomplish, and actually write it all down (this will keep you honest).

Along the way, you’re likely to run into a dilemma: do you want to gun for the conversion, or would you rather amass a community for use in future marketing efforts. Put another way: do you want to get paid small now or big later?

Nothing beats a sale. That’s why you’re in business, after all. In most marketing efforts, therefore, conversions are assigned priority. You want to bring business to your website that will turn into revenue (unless your business model involves big-ticket or complex products or services sold through a relationship model).

But, a sale happens once. Unless you include other elements in your offer to build loyalty and retention, you’re effectively investing in new customer acquisition over and over. So, there’s some value in marketing to attract and retain for the long run, even if it doesn’t lead to a conversion immediately.

This is the “cultivation” side of the equation.

You can cultivate your target market by getting the people in it to follow you on Twitter, like you on Facebook or add your blog to their RSS readers. You want these people to make a soft commitment to opt into a relationship with you. The immediate returns aren’t tangible. You don’t necessarily score any revenue right away. However, you now have an extremely rich marketing pool that you can engage easily and directly in the future. The odds of conversion thus increase … and they increase every time you access this market.

Cultivation can also be valuable for leads in your target market who may not be at the right point in the buying cycle – from consumer companies up through big-dollar B2B. On the consumer side, think about where we are now: the holiday season. If you’d invested back in August or September in growing your community and cultivating relationships, you’d now have an incredible pool of potential customers that is ready to interact with your brand.

The end game, of course, is conversion; cultivation is just an intermediary step you can take to lower your long-term sales costs and increase the effectiveness of your ongoing marketing efforts. And, you should integrate elements of both conversion- and cultivation-driven social media marketing programs to maximize your marketing ROI. One without the other gives you a small fraction of what both together can do.

As you kick off your social media marketing plans, take some time to think not only about your campaign objectives (e.g., revenue, new customers acquired, etc.) but also what you want to do with the people who you attract to your community. Do you want them to buy now or buy later but for a long time? Tailor your program to these objectives, and you’ll be more likely to drive tangible results.