Just as the name implies, social media offers collaborative platforms that allow consumers to share opinions and experiences with friends, family, and followers. Such open environments, however, also present companies across industries with countless opportunities to gather valuable insights and interact with current and potential customers. Through social media, brands can directly impact the consumer's perceptions and purchase habits, yet many companies fail to truly comprehend their ability to boost the bottom line via this emerging medium. While most feel the blind need to build their social presence, companies often neglect to establish the strategic foundation that will generate the greatest ROI before embarking upon their social journey.
"Signing up for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn is the typical first step, but it's far from the right one," says Tapajyoti Das, CEO of LeadSift. "The first step should be figuring out exactly what it is you're trying to achieve. From there, you can start identifying which channels are actually going to help you in achieving those goals. That's where it really needs to start-your goals. Once the goals are identified, it's time to identify what channels and tactics will lead to success."
In many instances, brands will dive into social media without testing the waters first. However, once they recognize the magnitude of that ocean known as Big Data, companies must work to resurface and reevaluate what they hope to learn from this influx of information. While social media doesn't have to be sink or swim, the flood of customer insight and sentiment can cause brands to lose their footing and alter the course of the company's journey toward success. As Victor Gaxiola, social media subject matter expert at Actiance, emphasizes, the discovery process is essential for brands looking to develop their identity and customer service opportunities.
Unfortunately, because this medium continues to explore uncharted territory, most companies that have begun to establish their social presence still don't have a standard by which to measure success. In most instances, measurement relies on a case-by-case basis as it pertains to the goals of the company at hand. But before brands can begin to measure social success, they must take one step back to look at their primary objectives and reasons for needing a social strategy before they can take the necessary steps forward. Gaxiola highlights that brands must understand what they hope to get from their efforts to determine which networks will best help them accomplish their goals. Social requires planning in order to make the investment of time, money, resources, and effort worthwhile. "People need to understand that they can't start today and have thousands of followers tomorrow," says Gaxiola. "Just like growing a garden, companies must nurture their networks and be patient."
Once the company has developed its strategic goals, it can then begin to cultivate customer relationships. Because of the raw emotion that typically comes through via social media, brands have the chance to create much deeper bonds with their consumers than the average customer service transaction could ever generate. Focusing on strengthening customer relationships will promote loyalty and encourage followers to share their experiences and become social advocates for the brand itself. Companies also now have the opportunity to tap into both positive and negative sentiment, allowing them to assess the success of certain strategies and address the concerns created by others. Building sturdy relationships and fixing customer issues holds the potential to generate both meaningful and measurable social results.
"You can't ask someone out on a date and then go in for the kiss within the first 10 minutes of meeting him or her," Das says. "Instead, you have to get to know them, talk about their life, ask questions, understand their interests, and truly build a sense of rapport. Once that's happened, it's easier to close."
Greg Tirico, senior manager of social media at Sage North America, highlights that successful social engagement means developing a dialogue with followers. Companies that look to learn more about the customer's journey will inevitably encourage an emotional attachment, as the consumer becomes invested in the brand's successes and failures, as well. Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Curalate agrees, noting that, in the past, companies carefully tried to make sure dissenting voices were not heard. However, in recent years, social has leveled the playing field, encouraging brands to actively listen to the consumer. Conversations and customer care help to humanize any given brand, thereby promoting advocacy and, ultimately significant return on investment. However, because such methods of engagement and service are relatively new to the space, best practices are few and far between. For measurement purposes, Tirico adds, companies must work to identify the right tools and platforms that will facilitate growth and evolve alongside the brand's overarching strategy.
The Little Giraffe Foundation Finds Financial Success with Facebook
For The Little Giraffe Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to neonatal research and premature babies, Facebook became and ideal way to generate buzz about the cause and increase donations. "Facebook is the new email newsletter," says Mike Santoro, co-founder of The Little Giraffe Foundation. "It allows you to keep interested parties invested in your cause. You can promote your events, your recent wins, and make pushes for strategic donations. The social nature of Facebook also allows your followers to easily share those key items in a way that email can't. That level of engagement can drive event attendance and increase donations."
When the foundation's Facebook following growth began to plateau, those in charge knew it was time to engage people outside their network to increase engagement and create awareness, as one in eight babies are born prematurely. By partnering with a willing donor, the foundation was able to begin its new push for Facebook fans by committing $1 for every new Facebook 'like' gained during that period. In just one week, The Little Giraffe Foundation grew its Facebook following from 446 to 1,160, expanding its reach by 11,000 percent. The foundation also began to follow other preemie-related pages in order to spread the word and encourage shares. To further promote the cause, The Little Giraffe Foundation invested $30 in Facebook Ads, which generated roughly another 150 likes.
"The excitement we were able to create by saying 'like this page and $1 will be donated to our cause' created and outpouring of support," Santoro notes. "People were happy to share the news and like the page. People could get invested very easily because it was easy to click 'like.' Once they did that, they had a personal stake in our success." By bringing emotion into the mix, the foundation was able to not only attract new followers, but create conversations that spread the word and made the minimal spend pale in comparison to the amount donated.