Navigating the Four-Phase Social Media Process
Everyone has been playing social media ROI hide-and-seek for some time now. How does social media drive sales? Does the extent to which a firm engages or fails to engage in social marketing impact the bottom line at all? Or, as some have suggested, is the return on social efforts akin to the Loch Ness monster — we’re pretty sure it exists, but nobody seems to be able to track it down.
What if we’re looking at it from the wrong perspective?
What if social media is more of a process, a series of steps taken at every point in the sales process, which, in totality, makes it more likely to convert leads to clients but, in practice, is difficult or impossible to measure? Or, what if social media has to be done for a certain amount of time and at a certain level of devotion before those benefits manifest?
For instance, a recent study by Dr. Sounman Hong of Harvard University suggests that newspapers’ adoption of Twitter is positively associated with their number of online readers (readers = revenue, right?), and that the strength of the association increases the larger the social network is.
Common sense seems to suggest that social subscribers are added over time, and that a bigger subscriber list, in most cases, indicates a more mature social presence. In other words, we grow into our ROI by continuing to paint the fence and mature our social media efforts.
Another recent study, this one by James “Mick” Andzulis, Nikolaos G. Panagopoulos and Adam Rapp, goes so far as to break this social media evolution down into practical subdivisions. Now we begin to see a pattern emerge. Their take is that our social media efforts evolve though a series of four phases:
Phase 1: The beginning
You establish a social media presence. Communication is one-way: brand to consumer. Your social media platforms aren’t tied to a sales strategy in any way. You start painting the fence.
Phase 2: You engage in active efforts to drive customers and clients to the firm’s social media pages
A two-way flow of information begins to develop, but efforts are still not tied to a sales strategy. You keep painting the fence.
Phase 3: Social media begins to be viewed as an additional or even primary sales channel
Angels sing and the C-suite rejoices as your sales strategy begins to be transformed by this amazing dialogue you now have with your customers.
Phase 4: Social media is employed to facilitate learning processes, and value begins to be created by both your firm and your customers
User-generated content lauding your company erupts from the platform like a volcanic rush. Real-time pricing and service become possible. Your social media efforts are now fully integrated with your sales efforts.
Basically, social media is a process
So what have Andzulis, Panagopoulos, and Rapp said here? Social media is surprisingly … social. You wouldn’t meet a real-life person today and immediately trust his every word, heed his advice, and say lovely things about him to everyone who will listen, would you? Of course not. Such interactions are based upon time and personal investment.
It seems increasingly more likely that building ROI through social media activities is less like direct marketing, which focuses on instant conversions, and more like branding, which also takes time.