A lot of marketing and PR people were English majors in college, which isn’t surprising given that marketing is a communications-intensive discipline. Unfortunately, the people who allocate marketing budgets were usually accounting majors.
You don’t need to know how to read a cash flow statement to succeed in marketing or communications, but it sure helps these days. Too often, the objectives of B2B social media programs are expressed using vague terms like “improve” or “expand.” Plug either of those terms into an Excel formula and you’ll get an error message. You have a much better chance of getting budgeted if you can set measurable and achievable goals backed by agreed-upon assumptions about the steps needed to achieve them.
Nearly everything can be measured, although sometimes you have to get creative about tactics. The mere fact that you’re measuring results will make your chief financial officer smile.
The four-part process outlined in this article is big on numbers, because that’s the language that executive management speaks. It’s also big on not letting numbers become a pair of handcuffs. Revise, iterate and seek cause-and-effect relationships that help you improve future programs. Your CFO will give you credit for making the effort.
The process depicted here is one way to go at the task. Start with the business goal, choose metrics, define tactics and then select tools at the very end. Decisions are a lot less risky if you have a good reason for making them, and this model puts all the reasoning at the front. Let’s look at it in more detail.
Start with an objective—and we don’t necessarily mean revenue. Goals can range from improving brand awareness to correcting misinformation to generating leads to reducing costs. If achieving the goal involves some kind of communications, there’s probably an online dimension to the process, but that may not be social media.
Be specific at this stage. Setting a goal like “increase sales” is too general because there are far too many ways to attack the task. A better goal is “increase sales of left-handed finambulators 50% by expanding distribution channels.” The more specific you can get at the front, the easier the rest of the process will be. Apply metrics at this stage if you possibly can. Your goals aren’t set in stone; they’re merely guidelines to use as you work through the process and make adjustments.
|Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.|
This is the ugly, contentious, blood-on-the-walls part of the process because it requires stakeholders to agree on what metrics will be used to determine success. Be disciplined; select three or four elements to measure, but no more than that. Remember, you can always change metrics later. The important thing isn’t so much to pick the right yardsticks as to make sure everyone agrees on them.
Also, remember that nothing is set in stone at this point. You can always adjust metrics later with everyone’s agreement. There are lots of great online metrics you can use. Many people still use traffic and page views, which have value, but keywords, bounce rate, time spent on site, pages per visit and repeat visitors are all better indicators of audience engagement. This is particularly true for B2B companies, many of which work in very focused industries. The niche company will never have big traffic numbers, so the goal should be to better engage the audience they do have.
Try not to rely too much on simple numbers like page views and visitors to assess performance. Friend and colleague Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, has referred to the oldest Web site metric—hits—as an acronym for “how idiots track success.” It’s easy to manipulate basic metrics to increase traffic temporarily. However, not all traffic is good traffic, and there are plenty of ways to attract “drive-by” visitors who are of no value to you. Third-party referrals and visits from people who spend time on your site and click through to a number of pages are better indicators that your message is hitting home. Don’t get stuck on using online measurements either. It’s OK to count newspaper articles, seminar attendance, speaking invitations and TV impressions as indicators of progress.
This is the fun part. Once you’ve agreed on the metrics you want to use, it’s time to map them to tactics. If you’ve done your homework on measurement, this stage should be easy. Remember to align your tactics clearly with the standards you’ll use to measure success. Here are some examples:
â–¶ Metric: Increase white paper downloads 50%.
Tactics: Add link to white paper on Web site home page; promote download in monthly e-mail newsletter.
â–¶ Metric: Double volume of mainstream media references.
Tactics: Secure speaking engagements at four industry events; follow and interact with top 25 targeted journalists on Twitter.
â–¶ Metric: Decrease negative online mentions by 20%.
Tactics: Purchase and install conversation monitoring software; assign two staffers to respond to all online comments by e-mail and Twitter.
As you can see in these examples, social channels are only one of several ways to get the message across. Once you select tactics, you can set priorities based on time, budget, staff resources and impact.
If you take care of the first three steps in this process, the final one should be obvious. The biggest questions around tools are tactical: Which weapons do you deploy first and how? In general, you want to start with the tactics that are the most familiar to you while coming up to speed on others. However, don’t let that approach become an excuse for falling back only on what’s comfortable. Every organization should be ramping up with new tools, so be sure to work at least one social platform into the mix, if only for the purpose of educating your staff.
Experiment with the mix and deployment schedules of the tools you use. Stagger the rollout of some of the program elements so you can more clearly measure performance. For example, if an e-mail blast consistently triggers a 20 percent rise in visits to a landing page, you may want to schedule an e-mail to coincide with the addition of new content to see if that number changes.
What’s critical is to always start with goals and make tool selection the final stage of a logical progression. PRN
[Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from the book Social Marketing to the Business Customer; Listen to your B2B Market, Generate Major Accounts Leads, and Build Client Relationships (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011) by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman. For more articles on measurement, visit the PR News Subscriber Resource Center at prnewsonline.com/subscriber_resources.com]
Eric Schwartzman, firstname.lastname@example.org.