It has reunited old friends, modernized revolutions, taken out dictatorships, and made wannabe rock stars into the real thing. But in the business-to-business world, how can companies know if social media is worth it?
“It all depends on what your goal is with social media,” said Nichole Kelly, president of the social and digital marketing agency SME Digital. For some organizations, social media is an effective method for building brand awareness, while others use it to generate leads. It’s also a way to boost customer retention and word of mouth: “They want to make sure that their customers are happy, that they keep coming back to them, and that they are telling all of their friends and business colleagues how awesome that they think the company is.”
For Jessica Spicer, social media is an effective way of connecting with customers, manufacturers, and employees in a casual setting. For the last three years, Spicer has been the social media specialist at the audiovisual integration company AVI-SPL, headquartered in Tampa, FL. The campaign began on Twitter and Facebook, and has since expanded to LinkedIn, GooglePlus, and Pinterest. She finds that Twitter is especially useful during special events and industry trade shows, from which she will “live tweet” to drive traffic to the company’s booth or product demonstrations.
On Facebook, Spicer and her colleagues have run “AV Spirit Days,” during which there is a theme for each day of the week. Manufacturer Mondays, for example, feature photos of employees wearing their favorite manufacturer’s t-shirt. The photo that receives the most “likes” wins, and that employee gets a prize pack. “It’s a nice way to spotlight our employees getting excited about things,” Spicer said. “We try to show that even though our employees are well-educated, well-trained and that we have the best team, we’re also just people having fun and doings things that we are passionate about.”
Brock McGinnis, sales manager at Westbury National Show Systems, an AV integration and live production company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has spent the last year experimenting with various social media networks to determine which ones are best for business. The verdict? McGinnis is a fan of Twitter—through which he has joined a number of communities, including AVTweeps—and says that it has enabled him to develop a network of people that can offer valuable input. “That aspect of social media has been phenomenal for us,” he said. “You can expand the number of people you know within the industry, or within special interest groups, that you’re able to ask questions of. A salesperson will come and promote a new piece of equipment to us, and so I just post on Twitter: Anybody have any experience with this?” The responses, he added, are valuable because they truly are from the integrator’s perspective.
As of press time, Westbury was in the process of upgrading its website, with the goal of also stepping up its social media campaign. McGinnis explained that up until now, he has used social media as a means of connecting with other members of the AV industry, but not with customers. However, he says, the potential for generating leads is definitely there, and the organization will begin targeting both existing and potential clients. “It is one of several ways that is used to establish your notoriety, and your reputation as somebody who is competent and experienced,” he said.
Visibility, after all, pays off. “If I am visible through participation in conferences, participation in boards and committees, and on Twitter as someone who actually writes back and has conversations about higherlevel things, and has some engagement with manufacturers through this medium, this is a source of leads and a source of referrals.” It’s also how many clients—who are getting increasingly younger—wish to communicate.
In order to discover whether or not a true social media campaign is worth your while, it’s necessary to be able to track who is engaging with you, and how. Say, for example, you are using LinkedIn for lead generation, prospecting research, and/or prospecting itself. “If my goal is to get appointments and to get people to contact us through some kind of a lead generation form, and if I don’t have tracking on the link that I’m providing in those channels, then I’m not going to be able to get that data,” Kelly explained. “I might be able to get some kind of a general sense as to, ‘Well, LinkedIn sent this many website visits, and it converted into this many leads,’ but we want to know exactly which piece of content generated the conversion.” When social media marketers have this kind of information on hand, they can optimize their efforts… and their ROI .
The good news is, not all tracking tools come at a price. Google Analytics, combined with Google URL Builder, is free of charge, and enables users to track how visitors came to them, through which medium they arrived, and which specific campaign drove them to pay a visit. Adding these tools will also provide information on which employees are actively using social media to reach out to clients as well.
For Kelly, a social media campaign that excludes tracking tools is not only ineffective; it’s a waste of resources. “I hear a lot of, ‘Oh, we don’t really have time to go out and set up how we want to measure and do all of this tracking.’ Well, the reality is, they don’t really have the time not to,” she said.
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/ editor.
Bill Me Later
The real trick, when it comes to measuring ROI, is determining how much social media costs. According to Nichole Kelly of SME Digital, the most significant costs related to social media are the software packages that many companies use to manage their platforms, such as HootSuite, Radian 6, or Argyle Social. Content—in the form of text, graphic design, and even video production—is another considerable expense, especially if you want to not only build your following, but encourage regular visitors to keep engaging with your site as well. “In order to be successful in social media, and to drive interest, you have to have a lot of content,” she said, pointing to frequent blog posts and status updates as an example. “In the B2B world, a great way to generate leads is to have things like guides, or eBooks, or Webinars. The development of all of those pieces is outsourced, many times, to a third-party agency because the (in house) teams are too small to produce enough on their own.”