Is It Time to Revisit Your Social Media Strategy?
Almost without question, a social media strategy is a vital part of the marketing mix for most companies doing business today. But the question that remains surrounds the effectiveness of your strategy and how often and under what circumstances you should reevaluate your approach.
As social media becomes increasingly essential to business success, the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth continues to monitor its use. Specifically, the center conducts an annual study of social media usage among Inc. magazine’s top 500 companies—the fastest-growing privately owned companies in the United States.
The research was collected in two stages. The first stage evaluated the use of eight social media tools: blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+. The second stage involved interviewing a random sample of executives from the Inc. 500 to gain their perspective on social media effectiveness and its ability to translate into sales and revenue growth.
Key Research Summary: “We may be entering a time of great reflection, reevaluation and realignment of how new communication tools enhance not only brand awareness but sales.”
Given this broad research conclusion, how should companies react? To dive into this, we tapped the views of an industry expert, Chris Rinaldi, a digital strategist at ZAG Interactive.
Most Active Social Media Channels
According to the research, 82 percent of the Inc. 500 companies employ at least one form of social media. LinkedIn remains the most popular for the fifth consecutive year, with 94 percent adoption, followed by Facebook (88 percent) and Twitter (79 percent). The most notable change from 2015 is the rapid increase in adoption of Instagram. Instagram jumped from 32 percent adoption in 2015 to 46 percent in 2016, making it the fastest-growing social media platform.Source: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, February 2017.
These findings back the assertion that as social media continues to evolve, companies must actively evaluate which platforms are the best fit for their business and industry.
The findings of the study show that since 2007, the Inc. 500 have consistently outpaced the Fortune 500 (the largest companies based on revenue) in their use of public-facing corporate blogs. As shown in the chart below, while usage of blogs between both groups has fluctuated over the years of the study, in 2016, 42 percent of the Inc. 500 and 36 percent of the Fortune 500 had active blogs.Source: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, February 2017.
In his expert opinion, Rinaldi believes that particularly for a new company, blogs represent a key way to cut through the clutter of a competitive marketplace and offer a unique point of view. He said, “I would venture to guess that Inc. 500 companies might use their company blogs more than Fortune 500 companies because it is easier for a startup to plan, implement, write and manage a blog than it is for their larger counterparts. In many cases, startups can be more agile in generating content, so these companies should take advantage of being able to relate more to readers in a distinctive way—solving potential customer problems with how-to articles, tips, industry trends and best practices to build a loyal following and increase the bottom line.”
Burgeoning Popularity of Instagram
The study revealed a dramatic increase in the adoption of Instagram among the companies researched. We asked Rinaldi what advice he would offer to companies in terms of the most effective ways to use Instagram.
He said, “First and foremost, companies should use Instagram in a way that aligns with their overall brand positioning, business goals and marketing objectives. Like all social media channels, Instagram should be utilized as another channel to reach potential consumers in a way that is authentic and engaging. Because Instagram is centered on images, companies should ensure that the photography is on point. If the image is not literally branded with the company logo, then it better be on brand—evoking the ethos of the brand in a visually arresting way. Since a picture says a thousand words, let the image do the heavy lifting, while the caption should include brand messaging, keywords and popular hashtags, as well as a call to action. Practicing these tips, companies must also remember not to come across as too canned or promotional on Instagram. Focus the posts on displaying aspirational aspects of your company, encouraging likes and comments. Lastly, commit to posting at least two times a week on Instagram during peak engagement times for your company.”
HOW TO EVALUATE SUCCESS
Moving the Dial on Sales
As part of the study, executives were asked which social media channels they felt were most effective in translating their marketing efforts into sales. Forty percent responded that they generate the most traction via Facebook. Another noteworthy trend revealed in the research was the continual drop in online advertising as well as a decrease in traditional print and broadcast media over the past three years, along with the concurrent increase in the use of social media networking platforms.Source: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, February 2017.
Focus on ROI
The biggest concerns about using social media among the companies in the study were the ROI and the resources and time required to execute a compelling online presence. Of CEOs, 52–59 percent expressed reservations about whether the return warrants the effort.
Rinaldi responded, “Social media ROI can be difficult to measure, but there are both quantitative and qualitative means to do so. All major social media channels offer some degree of analytics that, when combined with overall site statistics, can indicate social media marketing effectiveness. Beyond these numbers, the benefits of social media include overall brand awareness and impressions, as well as the invaluable consumer feedback and customer service that occurs from the two-way conversation.”
Measures That Matter
It’s a generally accepted point of view that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
We asked Rinaldi how analytics can be used to improve social media targeting and effectiveness.
He said, “The way the algorithms work on social media platforms today, companies have to pay to play. Companies need to budget for paid amplification on social media to ensure that their target markets will see their social media content. For optimal results, companies can create social media marketing campaigns focusing cover images, ads and posts on particular messages while driving to a trackable landing page for conversion. Using both social media analytics and ad tracking metrics in conjunction with site statistics, companies can measure, monitor and adjust tactics for maximum effectiveness.”
Along the same lines, the study concluded, “With the ability to target using platforms that attract either mass markets, or niche markets, social media efforts can become more efficient and possibly more effective in generating sales.”
WHAT ACTIONS TO TAKE
Because social media tools and platforms seem to endlessly evolve, adapting to change can be a challenge. That’s why the UMass Dartmouth study of social media trends across industries has been so closely followed for the past 10 years.
The findings of the 2016 study clearly indicate that companies are striving to adapt to a dynamic social media landscape, but this cannot be done without specific strategic planning for social media and active ongoing content management and monitoring.
The study makes the case that as platforms become more and more alike in their capabilities (communities, videos, blogging, etc.), some consolidation might be in order.
Rinaldi commented, “While it does appear that many of today’s most popular social media platforms are becoming a bit homogenized, companies should still look to leverage the major channels in the manner that each specializes—Facebook (community outreach), Twitter (timely updates), LinkedIn (business networking), and Google+ (searchability). Before adding Instagram, Snapchat or another social channel to the mix, companies should see how they fare with the core four.” He added, “It is always better to do a good job on even just one social media channel than doing a poor one on a lot of them.”
Actively Manage and Monitor
When it comes to managing content, Rinaldi suggested, “Companies should make every effort to post unique content on each of their active channels, giving consumers a reason to follow each one. Companies should adhere to a content calendar, plotting out posts at least a month in advance to make it easier for their social media teams to focus on timely posts as they pop up.”
In terms of monitoring, the good news is that most executives interviewed (62 percent) reported that they do actively track their social media presence using a monitoring tool. They are reportedly following up on online conversations about their brands, products and industries. The study has shown that the Inc. 500 companies “understand how important it is to be aware of the opinions and perceptions their customers share online.” They recognize that “their brand identity and potentially their sales are dependent on having a positive online presence.” Finally, they recognize that “a lack of monitoring could have consequences for companies given the potential for viral communications now possible through social media.”
The UMass Dartmouth annual study is clearly a valuable tool to assess the most utilized channels of communication between companies and their customers and can be used as an aid to help evaluate when and whether to change course in the future.
Chris Rinaldi, Digital Strategist, ZAG Interactive