Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who Is More Generous With Returns, Social Media ROI or RONI?

Understandably, as businesses begin to invest more marketing/PR dollars into social media, there is great concern over the ROI of these activities. No company, big or small, can afford to spend scarce funds inefficiently, particularly in the current economic environment. So no matter how much "buzz" there is about the promise of social media marketing or how excited you may be about it, if it hasn't already happened, sometime very soon your boss or client is going to start asking you about the ROI of social media marketing.

A fundamental problem with this of course is that all marketing ROI calculations are imprecise, at best. John Wanamaker's observation that "“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” is still (largely) true. Consider, for example, a tactic viewed by many marketers as extremely measurable: Google AdWords. I mean, it's all right there on your campaign management screen: how much you spent, how many conversions (leads) you got, and your cost per lead. Simple, right?

Balderdash. Much has been written about the weaknesses of last click attribution. Measuring only the final click, and giving all of the credit for the lead to your text ad, distorts what's truly happening. An individual may have seen your company at a trade show, read one of your press releases on an online news site, visited your website, read your blog, checked out an analyst's opinion of your offerings, viewed your Facebook page, been exposed to some of your banner advertising and checked out your Twitter feed, all before making that final click on your search ad. You have no way of even accurately identifying all of those points of exposure, much less assigning a value to each one.

Tools like HubSpot do a great job of quantifying social media leads, but still have some last-click bias. The difficulty in precisely measuring the ROI of any specific marketing or PR activity (unless perhaps you have gargantuan budgets for testing and measuring) is why most marketers rely on a portfolio approach to marketing investments (kind of like a mutual fund), where each individual activity supports the others and the performance of the overall mix can be measured much more accurately than any individual element.

By all means, try to find ways to measure the ROI of your social media activities, even if these measures are less than perfect. But in terms of justifying social media efforts, the return-on-not -investing (RONI) is arguably more compelling than any current ROI measure. Here are four examples of social media marketing RONI:

Your company fails to respond to a complaint about your product or service on a social media site. The recent United Airlines breaks guitars incident is one extreme example of this. If your company is actively monitoring social media, and responds to online complaints promptly and positively, such exchanges can actually have a beneficial impact on your brand. But if such complaints are instead allowed to fester and spread, the damage can be serious. RONI: reduced customer satisfaction, damage (possibly severe) to brand.

Your company fails to respond to a direct question posted on a social media site (e.g., "Does anyone have any experience with BrandX thingamabobs?"). If someone actually uses your brand or product name in a Tweet, blog post or elsewhere, and there's only the sound of crickets coming from your corporate HQ, it makes your firm appear out of touch and unresponsive. RONI: damage to brand, possible direct loss of revenue (individual sale).

Your company fails to respond to a general industry question which could have led to a sale. Many questions posted in social media venues aren't product-specific, but rather are the result of someone trying to figure out how to solve a problem. Responding in a helpful, non-salesy way through social media can not only get you a deal you may have otherwise missed but also enhance the image and credibility of your company within the individual prospect's circle of influence. RONI: direct loss of revenue (individual sale), possible loss of referral sales opportunities.

Your company doesn't produce any thought-leadership content. Every company possesses thought leadership content or subject matter expertise, even if it is only locked up in the heads of employees. Publishing this content in a blog, podcast, video or online slideshow and promoting it through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg and other tools enables you to show the world how smart and helpful your people are, rather than trying to convince them through paid (and often ignored) media. RONI: missed opportunity, quite possibly for multiple, ongoing sales.

Measuring social media marketing ROI is a worthy though elusive goal. The costs of not investing, however, are substantial and should be compelling.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Search Engine Marketing Benchmarks: Latest Research from Marketing Sherpa

MarketingSherpa just released its new search marketing benchmark report ($447) and companion executive summary (free PDF). Some of the key findings and observations from the report.

Despite the economic downturn, paid clicks are increasing.

"U.S. paid click volume (is) up 18% from January 2007 to March 2009...In a sign of industry health, the volume of paid clicks has been steadily increasing over the last two years. Wherever consumers are clicking, search marketers and PPC ad buyers are at work. In fact, as more publishers opt to offer a PPC buying option, the universe of PPC ads will continue to increase."

True, but this is being driven by the consumer side. With a tough economy, people are searching online for good deals. It would have been nice to see a breakout on the b2b side. While I don't have a large data set here, based on the accounts I manage searches are down roughly 25%; that is, with the same set of keywords, impression volume is off by a quarter over the past year.

Why? Because when businesses aren't optimistic about demand, they don't invest in new software and other technologies. And people won't search for what they have no budget to buy. On the plus side, a recent study from Forbes and Gartner suggests that we may have turned the corner, with C-level executives now optimistic about the outlook for 2010.

Search marketers embrace conversion reporting.

"By embracing conversion metrics other than the immediate sale of a product, PPC search marketing is able to maintain the accountability and results-driven approach that makes it so effective, yet avoid the strategic identity crisis that online banner advertising is still going through."

On the b2b side, most campaigns are aimed at generating leads rather than instant sales. What this study indicates, however, is that b2b marketers are starting to measure, and get credit for, secondary "conversions" as well. That is, not every visitor will instantly become a lead, but there is value in other actions, such as subscribing to a newsletter or even simply visiting other areas of the site after hitting the landing page (and of course which pages they visit should be carefully tracked).

Search marketers do more with less.

"Cuts in budgets paired with increased expectations provided an opportunity for search marketers to shine in the first half of 2009. As budgetary fat was trimmed from keyword lists, ROI improved dramatically for the last two months...common tactics were to move away from proven but expensive, high-volume PPC keywords on Google to a greater emphasis on SEO, social media and PPC opportunities outside the high-competition arena of Google."

ROI is increasing because, with reduced competition on the b2b side, keyword costs are declining. I've seen average keyword costs for several clients drop by as much as 30% in the past year. Similar results + lower costs = higher ROI. In this environment, smart businesses are taking advantage of reduced spending by their competitors to maximize their PPC results and increase market share.

Savvy b2b marketers are also investing more in content marketing, social media, interactive PR and SEO to feed the "top of the funnel" as well as investing in PPC advertising to capture prospective buyers further along in their buying cycle.

The lines between display ads, search and social are blurring rapidly.

"New to the list of PPC providers this year is Facebook. While not a search engine, Facebook offers contextually targeted PPC text ads similar to Google‘s content network. Use of the tactic is only slightly less than Yahoo!‘s content network. The somewhat sticky question this provokes is why, in a siloed world of search/display/offline media buying, are search marketers buying display ads? If more media buying moves to performance-based PPC bid models, does it put the search marketer in charge of the larger media buying budget? Maybe."

First, it should be noted that Google search, Google content and Yahoo search are still the top three PPC vehicles. Only 3.6% of respondents in MarketingSherpa's survey said they didn't use Google search advertising at all in the last 12 months; coincidentally, the same percentage of marketers were consistent spenders on Facebook.

Second, the blurring of these lines does indeed mean that you need a resource (whether that's an individual consultant/employee, an internal team or an agency) that understands SEO, SEM, online advertising, PR and social media, and can make all these interconnected pieces work together to optimize your business results from the web.

There's more, so check out the executive summary PDF for additional information on the continuing evolution of search marketing from MarketingSherpa.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The 4 Most Important Ways to be a Better B2B Twitterer

There's a tremendous amount of interest in Twitter among b2b marketers. I'm frequently asked by clients and prospective clients, "What should I tweet about?" Nobody wants to be a dork. Everyone wants to do it right, but b2b social media marketing in general is still so new, and rapidly evolving, that it can seem like the rules are being written and rewritten on the fly.

Two recent articles got me thinking about how to answer this question. First, in How to score the coveted retweet, Reid Carr offers some concise but helpful advice on forming relationships on Twitter and producing content worthy of being retweeted—endorsed and passed along by other twitterers to their followers. Second, #FAIL: The 50 Greatest Social Media Screw Ups And How To Avoid Being The Next One by Bernhard Warner demonstrates what can happen when companies are clueless about social media, including thought not limited to Twitter. At a high level, these two pieces are kind of yin and yang, what to do and what not to do.

But to get more specific, what constitutes a good b2b tweet? What type of content should b2b marketers be trying to promote on Twitter? I believe that effective b2b Twitter content breaks down into four main categories. All of these apply whether you are producing your own content or retweeting that of others.

1. Help me do my job better. This can range from guidance and techniques (such as the posts from Reid and Mark above) to news about innovative products or services. Innovations can be either evolutionary/incremental (help me do something I already do, better-faster-cheaper) or revolutionary/discontinuous (enable me to do something I couldn't do before). The iPhone was revolutionary; its imitators are producing incremental improvements, or at least trying to. In the data analytics / business intelligence world, most of the innovations over the past couple of decades have been incremental, with a few discountinuous innovations like illuminate.

You can tweet about any of these, though revolutionary innovations tend to attract the most attention on Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media. When tweeting about your own product or service, the key is (as with marketing in general, though even more so in social media) to focus on the benefits.

Where can you find such information to share? Three common sources are 1) your own content (after all, promoting your own content is probably a big part of the reason you're on Twitter), 2) from the Twitterers you follow (via retweets of information you find valuable), and 3) by monitoring RSS feeds, either from individual blogs or a topic aggregator like Junta42 (content marketing).

2. Tell me something interesting. You don't have to limit your tweets to purely practical content; information or news items that are odd, unexpected or trivial can add some life to your Twitter stream, provided they aren't overdone. For example, I recently saw a link from Brian McDermott about how frequently news releases from the Obama administration contain spelling errors. I thought it was interesting, so I retweeted it.

3. Make me laugh. Again, this is something that shouldn't be overdone, but we can all use a chuckle once in a while. The best humor is first, well, actually funny, and second, actually relevant to your Twitter following. For example, the Top 5 Media Industry Parody Videos: highly germane and frightfully on-target satire of marketing and advertising types (though, warning, some of the language isn't suitable for kids or prudish co-workers).

4. Have a conversation. Finally, Twitter is a tool for building relationships. It doesn't have to be about business all the time. Conversations that are business-oriented can be conducted publicly through @ replies. More personal, relationship-building conversations on off-topic subjects (e.g. the local weather, sports, celebrities, your kids, obscure rock bands from the `80s, etc.) should be taken out of the public realm through Twitter's direct messaging capability.

In short, being a good b2b Twitterer largely means simply using the social skills applicable to offline settings. Be interesting, funny, topical, conversational, and don't only talk about yourself.

Which is why this recent appeal from a technology vendor is so appalling (this is from an actual email blast, I've only removed the company name to spare them the embarrassment):

I invite you to join the community of XYZ Company followers on Twitter to keep up to date on, and discuss the following with us in real time:

  •  XYZ Company release announcements, tips, benchmarks 
  • XYZ Company customer news 
  • XYZ Company events 
  • XYZ Company job postings 
  • XYZ Company commentary on market announcements (other vendors, partners, tech trends, etc.) 

Click here to follow XYZ Company on Twitter: https://twitter.com/xyzco

Thanks


Ugh! Whether on Twitter or any other social media platform, the key word to remember is "social." The most effective way to promote your brand or product is indirectly, by being smart and helpful. "It's all about me" content, like the email above, will inevitably fall flat.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Best of 2008: Strategy and Branding, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Strategy and Branding on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The BMZ Content Portal for B2B Marketers Is Booming

There's been a lot of activity since the B2B Marketing Zone (BMZ) officially launched two weeks ago. Traffic continues to grow and the number of featured bloggers has doubled.

Awareness has been expanded through posts from prominent b2b bloggers like Ardath Albee and Cece Salomon-Lee.

Also this morning, Rebel Brown (who's got one of the best blogger names anywhere) posted an informative interview with me and Tony Karrer, the technical and creative guru behind the site and the underlying Browse My Stuff technology platform. Her post provides more details about the purpose, goals and future plans for the BMZ site.

If you're looking for one place to find all of the best b2b marketing and PR content—filtered, aggregated and neatly packaged—or you'd like to contribute content, check out the B2B Marketing Zone.

*****

Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life Question: Does More Twitter Followers Equal More Traffic?

Until recently, I've believed that, for the sake of Twitter etiquette, I should follow back pretty much everyone who follows me on Twitter (as long as they used a real name, real photo, and weren't peddling an "Internet dating site"). I thought it would be rude not to do so.

But two items recently got me re-thinking that rule. The first was this post from Constant Contact, Qualntity vs. Quality: How Many Twitter Followers Do You Really Need. Blaise Lucey writes about the pros and cons from both sides of having too many followers and a smaller number of followers but with more loyalty. The two points of views are  displayed in a conversation between two men discussing this subject, instead of just listing a boring pro and con list. Both strategies are equally valid, they just produce different results and have their own benefits and drawbacks.

The second was the increasing amount of twitspam I was seeing, nearly all of it misleading, much of it downright dishonest. I don't tweet false or spammy information, I don't want to read it, and I don't want to be associated with those who produce it.

So maybe I need to rethink my policy on following, I thought. More quality, less quantity.

And that got me thinking about the relationship between the number of Twitter followers one has and the amount of blog or site traffic Twitter drives. Does more followers mean more traffic?

To find out, I compared my average number of Twitter followers (by the way, it would be really nice if Twitter provided a way to track these types of analytics) over the past eight months with the number of Twitter-referred visits to this blog:

Clearly, the relationship between followers and traffic is anything but linear. This is also apparent from looking at the ratio of followers to visitors on a monthly basis—the number of Twitter-driven visits over the the average number of Twitter followers for that month.

On average, the Twitter ratio was about 10%, e.g., having 1,000 followers would produce 100 blog visits. (Keep in mind this is as measured by Google Analytics, so the figures here likely understate reality to some degree.) But the range was considerable, from less than 5% to more than 20%.

Conclusion: while, in general, more followers will mean more traffic, the relationship is weak and non-linear, as there are many other factors at play. Elements such as blog post topics (not surprisingly, posts about Twitter tend to draw well on Twitter), post quality, people mentioned in your posts, who you ask to retweet you, who actually does tweet or retweet your links, how many followers those people have, and time of day you tweet all have an impact on the amount of traffic Twitter will refer. Collectively, the effect of these other elements is at least as important as raw number of followers.

In short, either a "QualTweeps" or "QuanTweeps" strategy can generate reasonable amounts of Twitter traffic. But it's not rude to follow selectively, and a somewhat balanced quality-vs.-quantity strategy is likely to produce better results than a blinkered focus on simply attracting more and more followers.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 3

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Social Media Marketing on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Everything You Need to Know About Twitter You Learned from Grandma

This content has been moved to All You Need to Know About Twitter You Learned from Grandma on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Best of 2008: SEO Guidance, Part 4

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: SEO Guidance on the Webbiquity blog.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

New Hub Site Focuses on B2B Marketing Intelligence

A new B2B marketing community site, B2B Marketing Zone officially launched today. Conceptually the site is a bit like Social Media Today and other targeted content portals, though it's the first (that I'm aware of at least) focused specifically on providing information for B2B marketers.

Hosted by community organizer (I mean that in a good way) Tony Karrer using his Browse My Stuff technology, B2B Marketing Zone features content from rockstar B2B bloggers like Brian Carroll, Paul Dunay and Newt Barrett. Additional bloggers meeting the high standards for the community will be added over time.

The home page displays the latest and most popular content, with the ability to drill down into specific topic areas such as social media, email marketing, analytics and YouTube. The site is designed to make it easy for visitors to navigate to specific content, and drives traffic for member bloggers.


With this launch, B2B Marketing Zone joins a small but growing number of sites that specifically address the needs of B2B marketing and PR professionals.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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