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Think Social Media Is a Waste of Time? Don't Give Up So Soon

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Out goes the blog post or tweet. Immediately, the fingers start drumming on the table. The eyes shift anxiously to the clock or watch. A whole day goes by. Then, two whole days. Response is lukewarm. Obviously, the effort was a failure, right?

The digital age has brought all kinds of efficiency to marketing. Campaigns and initiatives that were months in the making in the offline world can now be planned, launched, and ended within a matter of weeks—leading to a phenomenon I call The Impatient Marketer. Especially in social media, if there isn't an immediate and significant response then it's deemed a waste of time.

Before you rush to judgment, however, give your effort an honest assessment against the following three basic criteria of effective social media.

1. How useful was your content?

In case you haven't noticed, there is a content storm swirling all around us. Unless your blog or tweet or LinkedIn discussion is really useful, it gets lost amid the flood of blogs, emails, videos, articles, tweets, and commentary, and it won't get read—much less shared.


So what exactly is useful content? Any content from which viewers extract some sort of value. It can tell me something I don't know that is relevant to what I do. For example, in a recent ThomasNet Industrial Purchasing Barometer, more than 63% of survey respondents indicated that they use social media at least once a week, and nearly half use these tools multiple times per week. All the B2B marketers reading this can cut and paste that stat into their next Marcomm presentations as legitimate evidence that social media works.

Of course, there are other kinds of content usefulness. Tweeting to clients that you've got some free tickets to a VIP event is always a winner. First come, first served. If you've got a good job opening at your company (or heard about one somewhere else), reach out to your social communities and let them know.

Then there are the occasional announcements that clients will find interesting. Where they can find you at a tradeshow or a new service or product you're launching. Keep it short and sweet and benefit-driven.

Whatever you write, it needs to answer the question, Why should you care?

2. Does your content invite engagement?

Effective content compels the viewer to join in. It can be a discussion on a controversial industry subject. Don't be afraid to use an old marketing trick and lob a really challenging question. For example, ThomasNet recently asked, Is manufacturing suffering from an image problem? The number of "Yes" vs. "No" responses is essentially irrelevant. What's important is that the discussion was launched and ThomasNet got the credit for it; and, in doing so, that discussion enhanced ThomasNet's reputation as industrial marketers. People love to rise to the bait, especially when it directly calls their own companies into question.

Of course, you can create engaging content without controversy, too. Everyone wants to be the one who comes up with a solution to a problem. "We have a vendor that has supplied us with XYZ for years but their product has started to go downhill. We don't want to be disloyal. But we also want to do what's best for the company. What should we do?" Who doesn't have advice for that one? Peer learning is a really sticky content strategy that helps build and retain an engaged social media community.

Then there is the classic call for war stories. "How far have you gone to win over a new customer or retain a current one?" "What's your worst day in the business, ever?" You can add a contest to it: Win tickets or a gift certificate to a really good restaurant.

3. Are you giving up before you've really started?

Engaging content isn't all it takes to build a strong social media community; it also takes time. Be patient. The old marketing adage applies to social media as well: Just when you start getting sick of running that ad, your customers are beginning to notice it.

Ask yourself how often you can realistically post, tweet, join in a LinkedIn discussion. Make time for it, just as you would any other marketing task, and follow through. A steady drumbeat will eventually get attention; and, once the momentum starts, it will build pretty quickly.

If you don't have the time to do it yourself, there are experienced marketing firms that know exactly how to work the social media platforms for you. They'll supply the topics and the content, monitor and contribute to discussions, and even track engagement results for you. Equally important, they know how to tell your brand story consistently and effectively, so that it builds awareness and credibility over time.

4. Are your metrics realistic?

Another reason that marketers give up on social media is that they expect a tweet or blog to instantly make the cash register ring. It simply doesn't work that way. What you can measure is engagement. Retweets, shares, LinkedIn discussions, and YouTube forwards... these represent actions taken, and actions taken indicate a level of interest and awareness that goes beyond the simple impression.

Today there are platforms such as HootSuite and HubSpot that help you automate, track, and quantify content engagements so you can actually see your efforts working to build community and affinity to you and your company. HubSpot, for example, now offers closed loop reporting via CRM integration, which means you can finally get a better handle on ROI by tracking initial impressions all the way through to sales.

* * *

Useful and engaging content, patience and diligence, and realistic metrics... follow those four rules of thumb, and your social media efforts will start to pay off. It's just a matter of time.


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Philip (Phil) Paranicas is director of new product development at ThomasNet.com. He is responsible for creating new products and services that support ThomasNet's mission of helping bring buyers together with sellers. Reach him via pparanicas@thomasnet.com.

Twitter: @Flip2Market

LinkedIn: Phil Paranicas

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  • by Tracy M. Sat Oct 19, 2013 via iphone

    Thanks for this article! Great reinforcement for our efforts as well as some refreshing information! We believe in our social media campaigns and we vow to "be more patient!"

  • by Randy Milanovic Sat Oct 19, 2013 via iphone

    Engagement is key. To put things in a business perspective, consider it networking.

  • by Paul R Sat Oct 19, 2013 via mobile

    Fantastic article. I really enjoyed the read. Thank you.

  • by Neil Licht Sat Oct 19, 2013 via web

    OK, Lets talk "how to get paying customers via social media"
    Lets start with this - Where are my customer opportunities and how do I go get them?

    Before you begin your journey to gain a "go to" position, lots of prospects and lots of loyal repeat business customers, you need to do some homework first:

    Look at these key issues in strategic positioning, messaging, understanding your target audiences and actual selling approaches that need to be addressed to get YOU sales:

    • Where is my target audience? Who are they? Where do they “hang out” on line?
    • What do they care about?
    • How do they source?
    • Where do they go for industry updates and information and how do you get featured "there"?
    • How do I think from the point of view of my target audiences so I can relate and connect?
    • What do I specifically "say" that can instantly capture the targeted audiences, prospects so they want to talk
    • How do I differentiate myself from the pack so i get called?
    • How does my target audience evaluate issues and solutions?
    • How can I define my key audiences and position to be of service to each audience so they want what I offer?
    • How do I become a featured speaker at events and establish my position as a go to expert?

    That reveals where target audiences are, where their "influencers" are and where you should be active via articles, social media, blogs, email, newsletters to create a "go to" national presence and reputation.

    Next, using what you found, apply 2 key sales axioms as the road map for tapping into what you learned, using/leveraging each identified path and for messaging accordingly in each avenue you found that can create calls, buyers, get attention and position you as the go to source:

    * Axiom #1: People do things for their reasons, not yours.
    * Axiom #2: Imagine the prospect has a sign on his forehead that says “so what?”

    These two principles guide the selling process, whether in letters, emails, your web page, blog or in person. If you remember these two axioms, your sales reach outs and what you say in them will come out as grabbers and connectors with issues and concerns that prospects interested buyers have, not as product pitches and then link/position what you "offer" as a way to solve those issues.

    Understanding this thinking in target markets and constructing your reach outs based on the 2 sales axioms can get you the desired national presence and reach that you want plus the all important interested "real" prospect that you want.

    Regards, Neil Licht, CallHereWeAre callhereweare@verizon.net
    Neil Licht, CEO-Chief Adviser, HereWeAre

  • by Too good to be true Sat Oct 19, 2013 via web

    I'm sorry Philip, let me try and add some balance to the comments above... you've provided a good example of the very problem SM apostles face every day at corporate level:

    "For example, in a recent ThomasNet Industrial Purchasing Barometer, more than 63% of survey respondents indicated that they use social media at least once a week, and nearly half use these tools multiple times per week. All the B2B marketers reading this can cut and paste that stat into their next Marcomm presentations as legitimate evidence that social media works."

    Let me translate what that probably says to many C-level managers: "In our self-named barometer two thirds of an unknown sample size say they use SM once a week, but we don't know who, which or for what reason, or the outcome (if any) of that use. That means our measure's pretty much meaningless and useless... but nevertheless I'm still going to claim it's legitimate evidence that SM works!"

    Little wonder I fear that marketing lacks credibility in an increasing number of senior management teams.




  • by Will Anderson Sun Oct 20, 2013 via web

    @ To good to be true
    I agree this is the same problem that marketers faced when going to C-Level and saying but we grew awareness with our TV campaing. The point is - so what. Want business needs to understand is how does this lead to sales. The key issue is how do you evaluate ROI - unless you're in Education where, SM amy be more about creating affinity towards your institution - it has to be about sales. Not simply the number of clicks or forwards.

  • by Phil Paranicas Mon Oct 21, 2013 via web

    @ Trac M., Randy and Paul R - thank you for your kind words! Engagement is certainly the key, and it requires patience to be successful in social.

    @ "Too good to be true" - thanks for sharing your thoughts. First off, here is some background info on the survey: ThomasNet routinely surveys industrial product manufacturers, custom manufacturers, distributors and service companies about top-trending marketing and sales topics. For this particular survey, "Using Social Media to Market and Sell Industrial Products and Services", more than 2,800 companies responded. Respondents included presidents/CEOs/owners (28.1%), VP sales and/or marketing (13%), director of sales and/or marketing (11.4%), and manager of sales and/or marketing (26.4%).

    Thankfully, we are past the "trust me, it works" point of social media. Anyone who is doing social correctly and is paying attention to their own stats and conversions knows it works. We see social driving business every day. For instance, we see LinkedIn driving new visitor traffic to websites with the longest stickiness and shortest bounce rates, often winding up on contact pages or taking stronger conversion actions. KPI's on well-written blog pages are often outperforming product/service pages, bringing in high percentages of new visitors that take valuable conversion actions (ie - requesting info on products/services and requesting quotes). These are just a few examples of how social is positively impacting marketing and sales.

    Further, as I mentioned toward the end of this article, tools such as HubSpot now allow us to close the loop - tracking likes to sales and profits.

    C-level execs are welcome to ignore the power of social (or content marketing, mobile and digital for that matter). Those that embrace social, and monitor and adjust their strategies according to their metrics, will clearly be the winners in the long run.

    @Will Anderson - as referenced earlier, thanks to closed loop, we are finally able to get our hands around ROI. This reduces the challenges that continue to puzzle marketers such as measuring the effectiveness of PR, trade shows, and other traditional forms. Most forms of digital are easier to measure than traditional when tracking tools are properly implemented. Final thought - in order to succeed, it still takes a balanced mix of traditional and digital - measuring and adjusting wherever possible.

  • by Christian Bonawandt Mon Oct 21, 2013 via web

    When it comes to B2B companies in particular, many fail to realize how analogous social media activity is to in-person social sales tactics. Specifically, I’m talking about taking clients out to lunch, a round of golf, or showing up at a social function or event. In these scenarios, the goal is similar to the goal of social media: to demonstrate the value of your knowledge -- and ultimately a business relationship -- by behaving as friend, ally and partner.

    When social media is approached that way, it is much easier to develop content that is useful and invites engagement. It also makes it clear why patience in so important.

  • by Me1 Mon Oct 21, 2013 via iphone

    Phil you first me in thanking everyone the main people with vocabulary support@ traci, @ Paul etc... This is so valuable!!! It's like out of treasure box I must take this chance and thank the author who has done a marvelous job on editing and depicting the very vital points of information. A million thanks and that's in advance and I will put this to the test and keep it going for success.

  • by Philip Paranicas Tue Oct 22, 2013 via web

    @ Me1 - thank you for your comments. I am glad the article has inspired you!

  • by Kerry Martin Thu Oct 24, 2013 via web

    I really appreciated this thoughtful blog post. I would also like to chime in with my own 2 cents on interweaving cause marketing into your larger marketing strategy - whether on- or off-line - but particularly in content creation, fostering social media engagement and client retention and loyalty.

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Is your voice resonating above the increasing volume of our virtually vocal society? To be heard, you must truly understand those who really matter to your success and what matters most to them. And, to entice those that matter to connect and buy from you, you have to really care in order for them to really care about you. (We've coined this way of increasing revenue as caring relevance).

    I believe a fundamental growth stage in building a sustainable business is to allow it to organically grow with heart-centered apical dominance. In plant physiology, apical dominance is the phenomenon whereby the main central stem of the plant is dominant over and grows more strongly than other side stems. The apically dominant stem is also the one that grows vibrantly towards the sunlight.

    In my personal philosophy, apical dominance is the phenomenon whereby the heart-centered part of yourself is dominant over – or plays a dominant role – in crafting your uniquely meaningful voice thereby empowering you to cultivate life long relationships with those that matter most.

    I know that you can grow a healthy and vibrant business when you cultivate with a cause. You can do better by doing good.

    Kerry Martin
    Cause Marketing Strategist
    Apical Marketing

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