A New Age for Social Media Marketing

In 2010, Social Media will rapidly escalate from novelty or perceived necessity to an integrated and strategic business communications, service, and information community and ecosystem. Our experiences and education will foster growth and propel us through each stage of the Social Media Marketing evolution.

As MarketingSherpa observes, “2010 is the year where social media marketers gain the experience required to advance from novice to competent practitioner capable of achieving social marketing objectives and proving ROI.”

It’s a powerful prediction and it’s one that I also believe. This is your year to excel, teach, and create your own destiny.

To document the evolution in maturation of new media marketing, MarketingSherpa published its 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report. The undercurrent of the report is rooted in the shift from hype to methodology, observing that many marketers jumped on board Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media platforms without a plan for defining, achieving, or measuring success. The general reaction of the more than 2,300 marketers who participated in the report was that current social media tactics were counter-intuitive to proven marketing principles.

This is why I believe that business success stories shared to date were wonderful to read, but they didn’t necessarily serve as a framework for my work. Too many assumptions have been made and business considerations compromised while they learned how to embrace and employ new media in a very public spotlight.

In the report, MarketingSherpa condenses the ten stages of social media marketing to three phases of maturation:

R.O.A.D.

Research – Monitor target audiences about brands and competition

Objectives – Define objectives with target audiences and social metrics

Actions – Create a social marketing strategy with a definitive plan of action

Devices – Deploy social platforms based on audience, objectives and strategy

Phase I: Trial – no process is used and social platforms are implemented first.
Phase II: Transition – an informal process is used and performed randomly.
Phase III: Strategic – a formal process is used and performed routinely.

I believe to the contrary however. The maturation process of social media enlightenment and mastery is far more sophisticated and incremental. In my experiences, I’ve documented on average ten stages, and in some cases several more – not including the realization of resource costs per engagement and instance. For example, many organizations can assess the cost per tweet, blog post, response, and their impact on achieving objectives. Perhaps that level of social prowess will reside in the 2011 Benchmark Report.

MarketingSherpa asks in which phase of marketing maturity is your organization. With maturity, strategy and effectiveness ensue. Assessing the average of all elements, 40% of organizations reside in the Transition Phase, 66% are experimenting within the Trial Phase, and 23% are advancing, learning and adapting towards the Strategic Phase.

When reviewing the total responses, MarketingSherpa learned that those organizations in the Trial Phase were mostly focused on Devices (Social Media Platforms). Research becomes the catalyst for evolving to the Transition Phase. And as we’ve always learned, actions speak louder than words, and it is Action that catapults brands into the Strategic Phase.

A pattern which started to take shape in early 2009 continues into 2010 – Social Media defies economic concerns.

Leading the way, retail and ecommerce will increase budgets by upwards of 79%. Publishing/Media appear to finally grasp that the statusphere holds the key towards future engagement and earned relevance, following in second with an increased social spend of 63%. Computer hardware/software, business and consumer services, and manufacturing/packaged goods follow closely with 55%, 54%, and 53% respectively. Travel/leisure and education are also investing in social media marketing with budget allocation rising to 52% and 43%.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does grow on tweets…

One of the interesting aspects of social media is that budget isn’t necessarily created entirely to support it. Money is redistributed from other projects. The report, which I don’t have full access to, shares the responses from marketers…I would love to read it. In my experience, money has moved mostly away from traditional advertising, interactive, and also traditional PR to help spark new social programs and teams. As referenced earlier, human resources (cost of labor) accounts for most of the expenditures as social media marketers are leveraging free tools and services to engage. According to the data, MarketingSherpa estimates that 60% of social marketing is allocated towards the human factor and 20% will go towards outside agencies and consultancies to help with social endeavors.

Metrics will become instrumental in assessing budget allocation for 2011 – whether it’s a fiscal or calendar year. It is a quest for meaningful metrics that inspire more accurate and beneficial programs that introduce business acumen into new media.

Respondents were asked to align business and social objectives with corresponding metrics.

At the top of the list, increased Web Traffic led the way across each phase. However, if you follow a stricter regiment for social media orientation and practice, Web traffic is among the easier elements to measure and honestly, increase. It is this revelation that leads to the creation of a strategic path and experience – usually resulting in the remodeling of the online corporate presence.

In second, lead generation was followed by increased sales revenue in third. Expect to see those metrics increase with the sophistication level of practitioners. In fact, you could also bet that product/brand reputation and stature, reduced costs in customer acquisition and retention, and improved customer support will rank at the top as well…instead, the early phases of indoctrination place these towards the bottom of this in terms of importance.

MarketingSherpa visualized the resource investment social media tactics that reflected effort required versus effectiveness. Of course most erred on programs that lowered the barrier to entry and ongoing activity including email, social media news releases, Microblogging (most likely Twitter), social networking, and content sharing (read: uploading, not promoting). However, in social media, your returns are representative of your investment and cultivation and bankable in the form of connections and earned authority. As such, on the opposite end of the Social Marketing Tactics, SEO and Social Media Optimization (SMO), Blogging, and Blogger Relations indeed required the greatest amount of effort, but also delivered the greatest returns.

Influence is tiered and conversations are distributed. Decisions are guided by the information and insight available to those seeking it where they choose to search and ask. One of the least discussed aspects of social media in any study is the point of enlightenment when an organization realizes that it must socialize at multiple levels, from marketing to service to HR to product/service and everything in between. We are ambassadors not only for the brand we represent but also the value proposition and the benefits we offer and how they apply to the set of circumstances and hurdles that surround each community of nicheworks.

MarketingSherpa revealed that independent voices are among the most trusted voices across blogs, boards/forums, microblogs, and wikis. However, to earn a trusted voice within any community, intelligent, thoughtful, and genuine insight and expertise is the minimum investment required. Earning trust and establishing authority are among the goals in any social program.

In Social Media, we earn the prominence and relationships we deserve.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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