Op Ed: how to drive value in social media

M2's Will Pate with some advice for moving beyond "likes" and "followers."
Will Pate Headshot

 By Will Pate

Irrational exuberance: that’s how former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan described the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. Those two words come to mind when I see what’s happening in digital marketing today, particularly in social media.

Anyone working in digital long enough knows that there is always something new that drives a frothy kind of excitement. This may sound counter-intuitive coming from someone who makes his living in digital – but I believe that a rational approach, based on reasoning from first principles, will deliver the best results.

Here are four prescriptions for driving value in social media.

What gets measured gets managed

We all know about the consumer experience of social networks, but these platforms have also become sophisticated advertising machines. Today marketers can run complex campaigns with targeting based on their own first-party data, along with an impressive array of data offered by social media users.

Most important though, marketers now have the tools to measure results in terms of tried-and-tested business KPIs, like brand lift and acquisitions. Yet many still don’t. The number of “likes” and “followers” a brand acquires is only worthwhile if the brand is using that reach to change consumer perceptions or move product. Doing anything else risks allowing vanity metrics to masquerade as business results.

Evaluate options on their relative merits

I’ve heard too many people who work in digital say “we need to get more TV dollars for digital.” That kind of mindset does a disservice to our industry. It’s not about taking dollars away from another medium just because that’s where the dollars might be today. Social media is becoming a video powerhouse, but that merely changes one of the variables in determining the best investment portfolio, not the calculation itself.

Our focus should remain on the end result and how we get there. Sometimes that will mean loading up on digital, while other times a strong investment in traditional media will make more sense.

In the U.S., social networks have partnered with big data providers to help marketers tie in-store and online sales data to their paid social media. Similar partnerships in Canada would help marketers get a clearer picture of what content and media are actually driving sales. When marketers in Canada can crack that code, social media will have a clearer role in the marketing mix. My prediction is that the results will speak for themselves, and it will be a strong role.

It doesn’t have to win awards, it just has to work

Many marketers are seeing great results with “lookalike modeling” of their customers, especially segments of their best customers. It’s a matter of finding the low-hanging fruit – that is to say, more people who are similar to your current customers. This doesn’t win awards, but it does win new customers.

Social spaces require emotional intelligence

Too many marketers still miss the point that social networks are inherently social spaces, not marketing spaces. To this day, many marketers don’t appreciate the subtlety required to engage people in these arenas, on their own terms.

Social media is where conversations take place. The fundamental questions many marketers need to ask are, “What conversation do I want to drive? And how do I spark or participate in that conversation?”

The one campaign every marketer seems to want to emulate is the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty.” How can any brand achieve the its success? It’s not necessarily a matter of putting more dollars into social, or digital for that matter. It’s about figuring out a conversation they want to drive and then making smart investments.

The hard part of making smart investments in digital is that it often requires challenging the assumptions that previously led to success. In such an ever-changing landscape that requires constant adaptation, maintaining disciplined attention to reasoning from first principles is an approach that will stand the test of time.

Will Pate is VP of digital strategy at M2, part of IPG Mediabrands.