For anyone who grew up in a world without the internet, social media and smart mobile devices, the range of technology and opportunities now available can often seem overwhelming. As a business owner or marketing professional, you’re faced with a nearly endless supply of apps, channels, platforms and other ways to reach your audience that didn’t exist even a decade ago.
There’s pressure to keep up with your competitors, to offer your customers new options, to make sure you’re getting likes/faves/retweets/upvotes that prove what you’re doing is actually working. Still, abstention from social media entirely isn’t an option either: 83% of Americans have at least one social media account and 91% of retail brands use two or more channels. If you don’t promote your Memorial Day sale on Facebook, does it still make a sound?
At its best, social media can be a valuable tool to attract new customers, deepen relationships with existing customers and grow your business in new ways. But just like anything else, you need a strategy based on clear goals in order to be successful. And yet, surprisingly few businesses have a clear objective in mind when engaging on social platforms, leading to an ROI that’s mostly TBD.
OVERCOMING THE COGNITIVE BIAS
Part of the reason so many businesses take a somewhat casual or non-strategic approach to using social media is due to a cognitive bias known as the “exposure effect.” This is a nice way of saying that because most people have had some experience using social media, they think they know how to use it for marketing purposes. But just like staying at a Holiday Inn doesn’t qualify you to do, well, much of anything, having personal experience with a social channel doesn’t necessarily translate to business success.
Setting a clear goal will help you focus your time and energy where it will do the most good. Although people are spending more time online (and on social platforms in particular) than ever before, they are increasingly segmented by social channels. Do a little research, and make sure that you are choosing social media platforms that make sense for your audience and goals. (There are many sources you can consult, for example, this study.) If your aim is to grow awareness of your brand, a platform with a broad user base, such as Facebook, may make the most sense. But if your goal is employee recruitment, LinkedIn may be a better choice. Either way, if you’re choosing the platform without first setting a goal, you’re putting the cart before the proverbial horse (and likely wasting your money).
Another benefit of taking a goals-first approach to social media is that it allows you to plan more effectively; you can make better use of scarce resources, and set clear metrics for success. S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound) can provide sound direction for content, ads and messaging, creating a more consistent experience for your customers. For example, if your primary objective is to drive in-person sales, then a brand awareness ad that targets areas with no retail locations is a poor use of time and budget. Even if a given strategy doesn’t produce the desired result, attaching numbers and goals at the outset at least provides a way to evaluate outcomes and improve future strategies.
BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
Social media platforms store so much information about users, it’s a little unsettling. Whether it’s your age, interests, affiliations or even political views, the Facebooks of the world now have BFF-level intel on all of us. Savvy marketers can use this treasure trove of personal data to target customers with increasing precision. Even small budgets can deliver big results when the strategy and tactics are aligned with specific business goals and objectives. No longer are businesses reliant on traditional advertising to market or traditional media to communicate. The opportunities offered by social media are truly game-changing, but they require a sound, strategic approach to be fully realized. You can waste a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing and why.
Should you be boosting your Facebook posts? How much and to whom? What about Instagram? What are you supposed to do on LinkedIn anyway? By focusing your efforts around one or two clear goals, you can reduce the dizzying number of options and choices to a select few. And by setting relevant metrics, you can evaluate your approach objectively and change direction if needed. Whether you’re trying to generate B2B leads or sell more of your handmade dreamcatchers, social media has an answer. Make sure you’re asking the right questions.