MarketingSherpa's 2009 Social Media & PR Benchmark Guide (PDF) provides a wealth of useful statistics and guidance. The publisher defines social media marketing and PR as "the practice of facilitating a dialogue and sharing content between companies, influencers, prospects and customers, using various online platforms including blogs, professional and social networks, video and photo sharing, wikis, forums and related Web 2.0 technologies." (If you parse that, it matches up pretty closely to the 4 C's model of social media marketing.)
Among the findings in MarketingSherpa's research:
- 76% of marketing and PR professionals "agree" or "strongly agree" that social media marketing is changing the way their organizations communicate. There's little difference in the responses between large and small companies.
- With marketing budgets battered by the economic slump, only two budget line items were projected to grow by larger shares of respondents than to be reduced: social media (social networks and blogs) and emailing to house lists. Paid search—one of the most cost-effective and measurable lead generation tactics—was actually in line for cuts by slightly more respondents than increases. Tactics slated for cuts by large majorities of respondents included events, radio/TV, email to rented lists, and print ads.
- The two most significant barriers cited to social media adoption were "lack of knowledgeable staff" and "inability to measure ROI." The first challenge is, for now at least, being met by using outside consultants, while a new breed of social media metrics vendors like Techrigy and Radian6 are building tools to address the second.
- Still, with regard to measurement, the report notes that advertising on blogs and social networks—the easiest tactic to measure—is the least effective, while the social media marketing and PR activities viewed as most effective—such as online news release distribution, company blogs, and blogger/online journalist relations—are the most difficult to measure. The report authors conclude that "Like any tactic that is more aligned with PR than direct marketing, results are difficult to measure quantitatively. What marketers can do is measure the value of the resulting conversations and relationships qualitatively, and not focus on moment-in-time transactions like traffic, hits, etc. Marketers obsessed with only tracking social media results quantitatively are missing the point and may find themselves employing much less effective social media tactics for the sake of measurability."
- Significant majorities of respondents viewed social media as effective at building brand awareness and reputation, improving search engine rankings and increasing website traffic. Slimmer majorities found it even "somewhat effective" at generating leads or increasing sales. Why, in recessionary times when lead generation is so crucial, would companies be increasing the use of tactics primarily value for branding? Because those who invest in branding now, while competitors are defensively pulling in the reins on marketing, will be best positioned to thrive once the economy recovers.
- Not surprisingly, agencies/consultants specializing in social media marketing and PR are viewed as more effective at planning and execution than either in-house staff or general purpose agencies.
For another perspective, in Social Media and B2B Marketing - 6 Things You Can Do, Eloqua's Steven Woods outlines six areas of focus for social media marketing tactics centered around providing valuable content, being credible in all online conversations, and understanding and responding to your customers' natural buying process rather than trying to force a selling process on them. As he states it, "The prospect does not want to be 'sold' to. They do want assistance in understanding whether to buy, how to buy, and what is available to them."
The bottom line: do what makes sense for your organization, and creating your strategy starts with listening to what your customers and prospects are saying about your company, your competitors and your industry. But also base your plans on research, learning from the mistakes and successes of social media pioneers.
Contact Mike Bannan: email@example.com