Big-name companies including General Electric and Best Western are maturing their social marketing programs and integrating social metrics with back-end systems.
With dozens of social marketing venues for its divisions and subdivisions, General Electric still retains central oversight, largely through its use of analytics.
As new platforms rise and fall, Paul Marcum, director of global digital marketing and programming at GE, keeps a close watch, game to test-drive their effectiveness. But he's just as willing to move on if the venue doesn't attract the desired audience. For instance, the company let its Foursquare presence go when it realized the platform was not a match for GE's marketing needs.
With brand, divisional and subdivisional social media presences on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and more, GE found that developing and deploying content and managing every response to each audience was too time-consuming for in-house resources.
Offloading content development has allowed the company to develop an overarching social media strategy that plays to each platform's strength. Marcum considers Facebook as "GE at its most accessible" because it has the most content and fastest response times. YouTube is an avenue to celebrate GE's technology and manufacturing impact with engaging videos.
Taken together these channels "humanize the organization in a way it never had been before," Marcum says.
He selects advertising agencies based on their expertise with specific social media formats. For instance, one agency skilled in visual presentation and video deals with Instagram content; another that is known for its ability to generate micro-content is tapped for Facebook and Twitter.
Marcum acknowledges that this "robust mix requires more overhead" in terms of managing it all but ultimately calls it time well-spent.
Marcum continues to finesse GE's social marketing approach, mostly through improved analytics. In the early days, Marcum received a PDF each week with basic results such as likes, fans and followers. But that was inadequate, because "it wasn't tailored to engagement or real time and really didn't reflect the opportunity in social media," he says.
Nowadays, GE uses homegrown analytics and visualization software that pings all social media APIs for data, including Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter. Managers can access real-time customizable dashboards that illustrate performance on a daily basis.
Marcum says this model is far better for determining the best social media platforms for specific customer segments. His ultimate goal: to have clear visibility into cost per engagement.
Social marketing goes better with IT
Social marketing pioneers know the road to success runs through IT and, therefore, include CIOs and other IT leaders in their strategy sessions. Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon, and Deborah Holland, an executive vice president at Publishers Clearing House, share insights from their own experiences in bringing IT into the social marketing fold.
Which departments are instrumental in gathering social media analytics?
Wickham: Our digital and social media team partners with IT to do this. IT manages our Web Trends analytics software, so we work closely with them to track activity on our website. IT also helps us vet external analytics vendors.
Holland: It's mainly marketing, including statistical analysis, but IT and finance also are involved.
What challenges have marketing and IT faced in working together and how has that relationship evolved?
Wickham: We have always considered IT our strongest partner -- even well before social media became such an important part of our strategy. IT is an enabler of our communications function, whether through hardware, software or social platforms.
Holland: As with any IT project, the challenges in working together include cost/benefit justification, allocation of resources and full communication. Technology is continuing to build loosely coupled frameworks to make it easier to integrate.
At PCH we have successfully implemented an agile development framework to respond to high-value marketing needs and strategies in a more timely and iterative manner. We are also implementing more and more Web services and APIs that tie into our various user engagement platforms (Instant Win, Path Campaigns, Sweeps Entries, etc.), so it is becoming more seamless to introduce new channels to our marketing and customer-acquisition strategies.
How do you expect social marketing analytics to mature and what role will IT play?
Holland: Technology is continuing to be strategic in capturing more and more data to be fed into our data warehouse to better identify customer segments and build better user engagement experiences that traverse all our properties and programs.
Wickham: You need only look to the recent presidential election and the successful use of analytics and micro-targeting to understand that we have a tremendous runway ahead of us to grow and customize analytics.
What advice do you have for your peers venturing into this arena and the role IT can play?
Wickham: Partner early and often. It might sound trite, but for social media marketing to truly succeed, you need your IT partners to help shape and inform your strategy. They are experts on the tools, and you should be the expert on how to deploy them. Combined, this is a powerful alliance.
Holland: Going outside your comfort zone or trying something new can be rewarding and refreshing for a brand, but just make sure your technology team is able to support it, or at least agree to be part of the vetting-out process, especially if it is truly something new and bold.
-- Sandra Gittlen
Social marketing: Early days
Mark Fidelman, author of Socialized!: How the Most Powerful Businesses Harness the Power of Social, has witnessed a lot of confusion in the social marketing arena, stemming mostly from an attachment to traditional marketing strategies.
Marketing gets stuck on lead generation, he says, instead of looking at the real value of social media. "Social marketing is less about converting clicks into deals and more about creating relationships. Eventually the trust built causes people to buy and that's how you monetize social marketing," Fidelman says, although there are no hard-and-fast numbers that prove that assertion.
Before that can happen, businesses must bust up internal roadblocks such as a tendency to hoard information and maintain silos. Social marketing relies on cross-departmental collaboration to extract the most value from feedback and analytics.
For social marketing to reach maximum maturity, IT must be involved in strategy, which is not standard practice in organizations today. Marketing teams either go it alone or hire outsourcers to meet IT needs.
Primarily, IT must be on board because data gathered from social media platforms must be fed into back-end systems for analysis that can be distributed throughout the organization to inform decisions. Keeping that data out of reach defeats its purpose and diminishes its power, according to Fidelman.
By partnering with IT early on, he says, companies can achieve the holy grail of social marketing: providing customers the right message at the right time on the right platform and in the right context.
For more on the marketing/IT relationship, see "Social marketing goes better with IT."
Changing content in response to data
Publishers Clearing House (PCH) shares this vision, already giving social marketing equal visibility with television and online advertising, events and direct marketing.
PCH engages its audience through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and other popular platforms. The company has already amassed more than 1 million fans across its multiple Facebook pages.
"Technology is continuing to be strategic in capturing more and more data to be fed into our data warehouse to better identify customer segments and build better user engagement experiences that traverse all our properties and programs," says Deborah Holland, executive vice president at Publishers Clearing House.
"Our goal is to have a large-scale, highly engaged audience," says Deborah Holland, an executive vice president at PCH. Holland and her team assess the success of social marketing via Salesforce.com's Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly Buddy Media) analytics software. Users can analyze comments, tweets and other types of posts based on pre-determined filters and tags, along with popular metrics such as Facebook likes and fans and Twitter followers.
Although PCH's social media reporting tools don't interface with other enterprise systems currently, if a social platform user registers or opts into the PCH email program, then he or she is tracked as having come from the social channel.
PCH relies on the resulting data to target content and respond to customer demand. Analytics recently revealed that consumers enjoy in-depth profiles of winners as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses with employees, so PCH beefed up that type of content.
All social media budget expenses are manually integrated with the enterprise-wide budget management system, providing a comprehensive view of total company budget reporting. Social media engagement analytics are gathered using channel-specific software such as Facebook Insights, Salesforce.com and WordPress. Managers receive a weekly comprehensive report on high-level engagement and volume, while executives receive a manually prepared monthly report that includes social media volumes and engagement levels.
Holland credits corporate structure for the amplified view of social media. Head of promotions for all of PCH, Holland has been able to seamlessly blend social marketing into every aspect of operations.
"We have four people on our social media team and they are networked to other key people throughout the organization, including designers and writers who develop content for all channels," she says. PCH, she adds, has created a fluid network of employees who help out and know that social media is part of their job.
This teamwork is tested often, as PCH awards prizes every 10 minutes. Engagement rates of Facebook fans "talking about this" average 10% to 15%, but can reach as much as 80% just before large prize announcements, such as those bestowed by the popular Prize Patrol. These events have to be coordinated across all marketing channels with social media ready to react in real time.
Divide and conquer
The spontaneous need for human interaction is one of the hardest lessons social media is delivering to companies. Four years ago, when Best Western International first established a Facebook presence, it encouraged the operators for each of its 2,200 North American properties to also set up shop on Facebook.
But the company quickly learned that not all property managers have the time or public relations savvy to handle the nuances of social media such as dealing with an upset customer's post. "If the page doesn't get managed, then you potentially turn a good experience into a bad experience that can damage the brand," says Michael Morton, vice president of member services at Best Western.
Best Western listens in on social media using Medallia's customer experience software. Medallia analyzes the text of what is being said about the brand in general and the hotel experience in particular. Best Western uses this intelligence, gleaned through dashboards and customized reports, to understand its successes and shortcomings, as well as those of its competitors.
"Monitoring social media is a great way for us to understand what is positively impacting a guest and what their greatest concerns are with our hotels," Morton says. "This information, in addition to solicited feedback, helps us set the direction for the brand."
Morton's group built the initial Medallia deployment "without relying on IT," he explains. "Later we wanted to involve them as we rolled this out to more and more properties." IT also played a role in bringing data in from other systems. For example, IT helped the business team include purchasing behavioral information, such as where customer bookings were originating -- directly through the hotel, travel agent, third-party sites and so forth. This information helps answer questions like whether properties with higher scores have more bookings.
Best Western built its initial social media presence "without relying on IT," says Michael Morton, vice president of member services, but later "we wanted to involve them as we rolled this out to more and more properties."
Best Western believes so strongly in the wisdom social marketing provides that it has bumped up the weight given to this feedback versus surveys, which also are conducted by Medallia, and other types of data collection. Morton believes the influence of social media will only get stronger. "We aren't ready to take dollars away from other marketing efforts, but we are investing in this area," he says.
Although Best Western now leaves the decision of whether to be a social media host up to individual owners, nearly all hotels are engaged in social media via Medallia. The software sends alerts to designated hotel staff if a comment, tweet or other post requires immediate attention.