Social Media and business goals need to necessarily blend to maximise Return on Investment for businesses

The world of marketing is in a state of flux. The days that a company advertised a product in print or electronic media with a “spray and pray” strategy, and talked at the consumer, are indeed gone for good. As marketers realise, the conversation is no longer centered on the product, but what that product means to people. As software billionaire, Scott Cook says, “A brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it is what customers tell each other it is.”

The 92 million strong millennial generation provides the largest customer base to marketers today. Yet dealing with them is a major challenge, mostly because the tried and tested concepts of marketing have no effect on the millennials. They are a generation of digital natives who grew up with the Internet and instant information, and a total immersion in social media. As author David Amerland, says, social media gives “immediacy, direction and value as an individual.” When someone posts an item on a social media website, the person is immediately defined by the post, for it is a statement on how he or she wants to be seen. The statement attracts specific audiences who are interested in what the person said and the perceptions generated from the statement.

The numbers speak for themselves. Over 1.4 billion people interact on Facebook every day, and 2 billion connect on it monthly. YouTube has 1.5 billion monthly active users while Twitter has 328 million monthly users. Meanwhile, teenagers appear to spend about nine hours a day on social media, which is about 30% of their time spent online.

Results-oriented marketers, who have observed this trend, realize that it makes sense to promote their products on social media, because that is where the merits of products and services are discussed, analyzed, recommended or criticized. “We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it,” commented Erik Qualman, known as the Digital Dale Carnegie, who also authored Socialnomics.

It is no wonder then that people say social media is the next best thing after sliced bread. Entrepreneur Terry St. Marie says, “Sliced bread brought us the ultimate in convenience, and a more rested society.” He observes, “Just like sliced bread, Social Media has made something much easier, and gave us an incredible side benefit: Many more people to converse with.” Businesses, including life insurance, are interacting regularly with potential consumers on social media. However, as assistant professor of marketing at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Keith Quesenberry, cautioned, “Unless you connect your social media actions to broader business goals from the beginning, Return on Investment (ROI) can be elusive, and social media becomes an end unto itself.”

About 77% of marketers are making use of at least one social media web site to market their product, but only 48% of them say they are achieving an ROI with this strategy. American marketing author Philip Kotler believes, “You should never go to battle before you’ve won the war on paper.” In other words, a business should always go back to basics to ensure the marketing strategies are sound and in place. But in reality, marketers are so eager to get into the social media game, they push onto the frontlines without a clear business strategy in place. And as it happened, with 97% of Fortune 500 corporations on LinkedIn, with 84% on Facebook, and 86% on Twitter, marketing professionals in businesses were compelled to work backward and somehow connect their social media strategy to their essential business strategy, in order to provide their supervisors proof of a significant ROI through connecting on social media.

Marketers, sometimes get carried away by their activity on just one social media platform. Many limit their presence to one of the popular platforms. For instance, 66% of the Fortune 500 companies use YouTube, while 45% are on Instagram and 36% have corporate blogs, while 33% are on Pinterest. However, for companies to meaningfully increase their ROI, their marketing strategies should include engaging a combination of social media platforms. Otherwise, important business opportunities could pass them by.

Recent research finds 93% of Pinterest users engage on the Pinterest platform to buy products and services, while 87% of them bought a product after seeing something they liked on line.  Snapchat is a great platform to reach Millennials, while Instagram has a track record of increasing the sales of different brands. Companies that focus on blogging are known to increase their ROI 13 times more than businesses that don’t.

Different companies have differ net business objectives – some may focus on increasing sales, others on generating leads, some others may wish to improve customer satisfaction or raise awareness, solicit donations, or gain volunteers. Marketers, thus, realize that despite the heady feel of possible success on social media, their objectives should be business oriented. For instance, their objective should be something like –“Increase awareness of the brand by 20% for people aged 18–24 within six months,” and not an objective such as “Within six months, we should grow our number of fans and increase engagement on Facebook by posting a minimum of five times a week.” Real business goals will focus on business conversions, brand awareness, and customer experience.

Nevertheless, content creation will achieve marketing goals only up to a point. Significant social media ROI is earned through interacting with customers. Studies by Sprout Social has found that 4 in 5 consumers think social media has increased accountability for businesses, while 55% of consumers call out brands on social media, in order to get a response. If businesses decide not to respond to and interact with customers that could prove to be an enormous missed opportunity. Helpful and thoughtful responses to even negative comments, can improve brand image, reach new customers, and lead to repeat customers. As Philip Kotler said, “Marketing is a race without a finishing line.”