An agency, a brand manager, and a software vendor walk into a bar…

Sorry, there’s no punch line yet – any suggestions? On October 23rd, I had the opportunity to speak at Future M on how small startups can work with big brands.  Before my session – thanks to those of you who came – I had the opportunity to attend a session on a topic front-of-mind for nearly any digital marketer: the future of social. The panel answered questions like where is the space going? How can we break through the noise to reach our customers? How do we measure those efforts?

The four panelists handled all of these questions, providing us with the distinctly different views of marketing agencies (Digitas and Mullen), a consumer product brand (Gillette), and a software solution vendor (Dailybreak). So, how do their views stack up, and where is the future of social headed?

Present social media trends

Moderator Sarah Fay opened with some key facts, with the highlights including:

  • Social media budgets will increase almost 2.5x within 5 years
  • Under 6% of consumers who ‘Like’ a Facebook page return to that page
  • Number of followers, traffic to websites, and social mentions across platforms mark the top three metrics social media marketers follow

Most importantly, and perhaps most surprising, was that all four panelists would drop traditional media before digital media. This universal agreement among agencies, brands, and software providers, along with the increasing allocation of marketing budgets to digital and social media, represents what Gillette brand manager, Anthony Van Dijk, dubbed a “paradigm shift”. No longer can brands expect to effectively reach consumers with disruptive ads; companies must now create a dialogue and a relationship with consumers, meeting them on their own ground.

Image 1: Successful companies need to build customer relationships with social media

The value and ROI of social media

While the panelists agreed on the importance of digital marketing and social media, they held differing views on the actual use for social networks. John Federman, CEO of social media campaign platform Dailybreak, believes that social can be used for direct sales so long as brands do so in a way that provides valuable content to their customers. The other panelists saw social more as an engagement, market research, and community relations platform, with only limited potential for direct sales. Jason Kodish, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Analysis for Digitas North America, described social as a catalyst for paid media rather than an avenue for direct sales. Following this line of thinking, only John claimed he could directly measure ROI from social. 

What I believe the panelists missed is the importance of offer presentation and location, as well as the complete mix of transactions possible from social. Yes, direct sales are possible, and yes, the potential currently appears limited. Sarah Fay mentioned that only 6% of people return to company pages they’ve ‘Liked’, which seems abysmally low. However, we need to remember that social media users live in the newsfeed – EdgeRank Checker found that the average brand post reached 19.5% of fans in the newsfeed. To sell to these customers, companies need to place their offers in the newsfeed, and allow for complete transactions in this feed. By allowing for transactions within the newsfeed, customers can complete impulse buys much more easily. Maybe Facebook isn’t the best place to buy a $20,000 car, but customers seeing a flash-deal in the newsfeed for 50% off a bundle pack of Gillette razors would be far more likely to convert if they clicked and completed the transaction then and there.

Moreover, social media can be used to complete value-creating transactions other than direct sales. Providing free downloads or coupons for email addresses are effective ways to create value which can be directly tied to ROI when those leads convert to sales or by calculating the average yearly value of each new lead generated from Facebook.  Social media is comprised of much more than ROI (read my post on the DITE framework for achieving Return on Fan), but the ROI of social can definitely be quantified, and we will continue to see more clarity as better measurement tools appear.

How to succeed in social

Regardless of their views on social media use, the panelists agreed that the key to achieving success lies in defining your goals and measuring success with predetermined key performance indicators. Sean Corcoran, Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Media and Social Influence for Mullen, provided a story of social media as the successful “drum beat” of a campaign. Importantly, this campaign achieved its predetermined goal of engaging users and raising awareness about JetBlue Getaways, measuring this success using KPIs.

JetBlue Live Getaways digital game show

In order to raise awareness and engagement for JetBlue’s “Getaways” bundle offering, last summer Mullen hosted a live game show where participants Skyped in and viewers could watch from smartphones or desktops online, bringing a live-program experience to the digital space. JetBlue actively promoted the event on Facebook and Twitter.

Mark Hammerberg’s comedic summary of JetBlue’s successful live “Getaways” game show

The campaign enjoyed enormous success based on the KPIs, with over 42 million impressions, 13,000 signups, an average viewing time of 10 minutes, the highest search volume yet seen for the term “JetBlue Getaways”, and an increase in JetBlue Getaways awareness of 117%. By implementing a creative social media campaign and measuring pre-determined metrics, Mullen and JetBlue successfully achieved their goal of raising brand awareness for JetBlue Getaways.

Where will social go?

The panelists made clear that they would drop traditional before digital media, and social budgets will continue to grow. Social isn’t going anywhere, so your brand needs to figure out how to best leverage the social space, or risk missing out on McKinsey’s estimated $1 trillion opportunity. Whether or not you’re currently measuring ROI (you should), social media provides value through engaging with customers, learning their preferences and desires, managing customer relations, and more. If you’re interested in engaging in a new framework for value creation in social media, read my latest post on Discovery-Interaction-Transaction-Endorsement (DITE) and download the newest Moontoast white paper, 6 Best Practices to Get the Most From Your Facebook Presence.

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Did you attend any Future M sessions? If you attended my session on small startups working with big brands, what did you think? Share in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter.