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.
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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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