By Atri Chatterjee, CMO, Act-On Software
At Act-On, we do a monthly survey of marketers at large; in the last year, we’ve heard from over 14,000 people. They’ve told us that over time, more and more resources are going to social media…but that social’s contribution to the sales pipeline appears paltry.
July 2012 Survey Results, Act-On Software
The problem might actually be that social media’s contribution is difficult to track. In a recent research report, Gleanster’s Ian Michiels mentioned that 93 percent of B2B marketers rank “measuring the return on social media campaigns” as the number one challenge in social media marketing.
In some sense, this is inevitable. Social media functions as the online version of word-of-mouth and overheard-in-the-hall conversations, which are notoriously difficult to quantify. Studies have been done (primarily in B2C) that indicate findings, but the real world is a messy place to do research in, and social media is relentlessly real-world.
Social media also functions like advertising. The meeting planner looking for a venue may hear of a fabulous place with a limited offer via Twitter or Facebook. Her next step will probably be to peruse the venue’s website. When she becomes a prospect, it’s likely that the website (or a direct mail piece) will get the credit.
Most B2B buyers are influenced by multiple channels. This is why it’s important to make your messaging consistent – it helps buyers recognize your brand and reinforces your offer. But it can also blur the origin of a lead. Perhaps social should be budgeted (at least partly) as brand awareness.
Despite the difficulty of measuring it, nobody is retreating on social. Gleanster’s study shows that “top performers” are twice as likely as “everyone else” to use social in inbound and outbound marketing. It may be that top performers get better results because they do everything (including social media) well. Regardless, social media is still emerging and evolving, and we have much to learn about how to use it.
All that said, there is a way to measure social media programs and get usable information about how it affects ROI:
- Establish a baseline for transactional data prior to investing and executing on social media strategies.
- Now create a timeline, and overlay it with measures of multiple factors, not just media:
- Social activities (blogging, tweeting, etc.)
- Web data (# of hits, pages, time spent, etc.)
- # of transactions
- Customer service engagements
- Revenue (this might be the hardest thing to measure directly, but use a proxy like leads generated to try to back into this).
- Analyze the results, and look for patterns. As an example, if you have a revenue jump in one area, is that a group that was touched by social media? Has some of your customer support shifted to Twitter?
You can quantify social media in terms of likes, followers, subscribers and so on, but in the end, because social media influences so many factors in your business success, holding it primarily accountable for lead generation may be the wrong metric. The metric that matters is social’s influence on the entire range of elements (brand awareness, customer service, retention, etc.) that affect revenue.
Another way to look at all this is to see how you are doing relative to your competition, as getting your share of voice online is extremely important. Act-On recently launched a product called Act-On Insight that measures your online posture across a variety of channels (website, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, keywords, and LinkedIn) with those of your competitors, so you can see your relative positioning. It’s a good reflection of what your prospects see as well.
We also recommend Gleanster’s report, Quantifying the Value of Social Media Engagement in B2B Marketing, as it includes guidance for creating a Social Media Mean Performance Score (MPS) that can help you track social media’s effects on the factors that have high value in your organization.
About the Author: Atri Chatterjee, CMO of Act-On Software, is responsible for all things marketing at the company. His previous experience includes senior roles at Symantec, VeriSign, McAfee and Secure Computing. He was also a member of the founding team at Responsys, and an early employee at Netscape.