At this very moment there are more than 181 thousand people claiming to be social media ninjas, gurus, or mavens on Twitter. Each of them will happily talk to you, in 140 character increments, about the strength of social as a channel. 

In many ways they’re right.  U.S. Internet users spend three times longer on social media and blogs than email today. And social media use has seen a 356% increase since 2006. 

But in other ways, we’re just at the beginning of figuring out this social media thing and learning ways to use it to best realize its potential as a scalable and personal communications channel.

Let’s take a look at the current state of what we’ve been able to achieve with social media marketing and trends that indicate where it may be headed in the future. 

Social Media Posting

Current State: Heavy on Media, Light on Social 

Today’s social media marketing has a tendency to be high on media but low on social. All too often corporate feeds read more like a series of direct-mail subject lines than conversation prompts.

Read this. Click here. Like me! 

My own company has even been guilty of this (see our mea culpa post). While some of that content may be good, the broadcast nature of it can rob it of its potential. 81% of consumers have either "unliked" or removed a company's posts from their Facebook News Feed, according to ExactTarget.

The top reasons for removal according to the report included messages that were too marketing-focused or too frequent. The advent of schedulers and auto-posts has certainly contributed to the accidental broadcast.

While these advancements aren’t bad, what we need to move forward with social media is a strategy that achieves scale without robotic automation.

Future State: A Healthier Mix

Kipp Bodnar, Author of The B2B Social Media Book and a colleague of mine, has often suggested that the way to make social media both scalable and human is to “automate the information, not the communication.” 

In other words, use software and analytics to help you elevate the content is striking a chord with your audience, but also make the human decision to strip out the messages that don’t. Use software to schedule out a series of educational or engaging posts, but also take the time add in questions or responses for your audience.

Take a look at your social feeds or use marketing grader to sum them up for you. If the content is looking a little formulaic, run an experiment. For one week:

  • Restructure your scheduled shares to include questions not just requests.
  • Use a monitoring tool to alert you to comments and make replying in real time more realistic. Make sure you have a handful of replies amid your posts.
  • Measure the resulting activity to see if you’ve seen an increase in engagement, click-throughs and leads. Sysomos has some nice interaction benchmarks you can compare against. 

There aren’t a lot of technical solutions here, but as social media evolves and people start filtering out bad social publishing as frequently as they filter out good emails, it will make room for stronger social strategies to emerge and set examples for us all.  

Social Interactions

Current state: The one-time interaction

Think for a moment about the interactions your company has had on social media.  

What percent of them have been (to your knowledge) one-time interactions? How many times do you have a good moment with someone on social that doesn't translate into a follow-up or a deeper relationship?

Calling these shallow interactions is a little too harsh. They may be very authentic interactions, but they aren't rooted in anything and in many cases, they don't grow into anything. 

The culprit here is both simple and surprising: Lack of context.  

It's fascinating because social profiles give you a good amount of information about the person at the other end of the conversation. You can see the profiles they've created, often the business they're from and the interests they like to associate with. All of that is useful information.  

What's missing however, and this is particularly painful for sales or customer service, is context around your company's relationship with the person.

So you're often stuck dealing with comments in an isolated way. Answering the immediate question without being aware of the long-term needs. While this doesn't make for a bad singular experience, it does make for a shallow one.

Future State: Social Media plus Context

For social to mature as a true communications channel for businesses, we have to develop a way to give companies context prior to responding to someone.

Take for example fielding questions on Twitter. The best form of response would take into account:

  1. Whether the person asking is a customer, a lead or brand new to you
  2. What other relationships or interactions they've had with your company.
  3. What past needs or interests they've expressed.

A collection of marketing software companies, HubSpot included, have started to tie social media tools directly to contact databases or CRMs enabling users to store relevant information on social contacts and see their entire history of interactions with your company prior to responding to them on social media. 

This shift in technology enables users to add context to their social media interactions and respond in a more personal and relevant way.


 

Social Media ROI

Current State: Click-worship 

In a 2012 report from Adobe, 52% of marketers cited difficulties in accurately measuring ROI as their biggest source of frustration in social marketing. Without analytics to tie your social media to customer acquisition, many marketers rely on what they do have – clicks and interactions – to gauge their success. When surface level interactions are your only metric, you’ll do almost anything to drive them up.

There’s nothing more affirming than a click through. It’s why marketers created CTAs, why we A/B Test, and in social, it’s very often the end-goal. 

But the pursuit of the click-through can sometimes make social media greedy, sensationalist, and cheapened. 

Recently we’ve seen an increase in companies relying on sweepstakes and incentive programs to garner social activities. You know the sort, “RT this for a chance to win an iPad”?

I’m not saying it’s not effective…it’s just not productive. Contests may generate activity, but think about the quality of leads you would generate from a contest versus quality content.

In the end it’s outcomes we should care about, not activity. The same goes for trying to game edge rank in Facebook, as detailed in this excellent post by Ink Media’s Ken Mueller.

Future State: True ROI for all marketers 

The best way to overcome click obsession is to get to the big-picture metrics.

By integrating social media into full marketing analytics that pull data from all channels, more and more marketers are starting to be able to understand how many leads, customers, and dollars their social media efforts are generating and what type of content generates the highest quality lead.  

It’s fair to predict that we’ll see more of this as our experience deepens and more software companies start moving toward entire integrated suites of tools and shared data for their marketing channels.

As adoption of integrated social media platforms grow, concerns about measuring the return on investment of social media should begin to subside and social will take its place alongside email and search engine marketing as a cornerstone marketing channel.

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Meghan Keaney Anderson is a Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot. Follow her on Twitter.

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