Using Insights to Improve Marketing Strategies
How do you make business decisions? If you’re like most small business owners—or, for that matter, like most people in general—you make decisions based on factual or anecdotal evidence. We often assume we know the facts, though, when we don’t. When it comes to digital marketing decisions, many small business owners are often at a loss as to how to gather valid information and how to use that information to make the best marketing choices. So much data is available that it can be overwhelming and many times there are no obvious standards for assessing the value of data collected. Let’s look at one segment of digital data—social media—to see how and why small business owners should increase their (digital) social intelligence.
Speaker and owner of Convince & Convert, Jay Baer, lays the blame for not appropriately gathering and using digital data squarely at the feet of businesspeople in his blog “Not Tracking Social Media ROI is Your Fault.” Baer cites survey statistics revealing that 84% of professionals believe social media’s most positive impact on their organization is a deeper customer and community insight, yet only about half of those surveyed believed that social media data has improved their organization’s decision-making. Wow! While the majority of people believe measuring data from social media gives a business better consumer insights, only about half those people are using that information to take action. Social intelligence as a marketing concept means using all those customer and brand community insights to take action. Those insights are useless if they don’t impact a company’s decision-making process.
Social Media for Marketing
Social media is entertaining, but it’s also a powerful marketing tool. Businesses routinely use social media to connect with their customers and potential customers. Companies should follow their followers to monitor brand awareness and analyze how people talk about the business. Some companies use social media to announce new products or services and monitor specific events or campaigns. Another way to use social media as a marketing tool is to listen to what people are saying about your competitors and follow what your competitors are doing to see what works for them.
The most common forms of social interaction that companies track are the number of likes, shares, mentions, retweets, new followers, and comments. Often, small businesses without dedicated social marketing staff do their best to track these types of interactions through simple social “listening,” which is essentially personally monitoring of social media for engagement with your brand. Social listening reveals one layer of engagement, but it can still be difficult to interpret what all those numbers really mean and how you use that information. For instance, if you got 15 likes and 2 shares on a Facebook post, how do you rate that success? What are the benchmarks you use?
Other commonly measured social media elements for marketing purposes are the use of hashtags, number of impressions (how many times a social media post is displayed), how many social media users took action to click on a specific link, and how effective keywords are in social media ads. This layer of data collection is a bit more sophisticated and requires more than simple social listening. Again, though, without using this information to take action and adjust marketing strategies, the effort is wasted.
What to Measure
When using social media as a marketing tool, it’s important to have clearly defined goals just like with any other marketing plan. That way, you know what you want to track and you’re not trying to capture every single bit of data available or focused on metrics that don’t affect your ultimate goals. Think back to middle school science: you’ll want to set up a hypothesis for meeting your social media goals. For instance, you might hypothesize that posting 10 times on Facebook about a special deal your business is running this month will generate 20 calls to your company. If that’s your hypothesis, you’ll want to determine the right message to use for your target audience, and you’ll want to determine a way to track the business generated from that social media channel (maybe you ask the caller to mention your post). You’ll also note that even if users like or share the post, but don’t contact your business, you haven’t met your goal even though you achieved user engagement. Once you have your post or advertisement in place, you must have a way to track the results whether that’s the receptionist who answers the phone at your office or digital tracking of the number of visits to your website from the social post. Then you wait.
Sprout Social gives great advice about tracking social media data: “One of the most important things you can do is to continue tracking your social media data. If you stop after a few months, you won’t gather much insights into your marketing or social media strategy. . . . It’s nearly impossible to figure out data overnight. Instead, it takes months of tracking to ensure your future business decisions are valuable.” After you’ve run your post or advertisement for a period of time, you might find your hypothesis isn’t accurate and you’re not generating the traffic you anticipated. What do you do? Measure any engagement you got to see what that information tells you. Consider changing the wording or image on the post to see if you get better results. Maybe the social media platform you chose isn’t the best fit for your goals. By making adjustments and keeping track of what works and what doesn’t, you are building your own set of benchmarks against which you can measure future digital marketing efforts. Developing those benchmarks through continued tracking of social media data is key to the decision-making process.
Before choosing a social media platform, you may want to do some basic research into demographic information across different social channels. Knowing the basic demographics can help when selecting appropriate social media tools that match the specific demographic makeup of your audience. See Sprout Social’s overview of who is using which social media channels for more detailed information such as what percentage of the audience is male or female, users’ educational level, users’ income levels, and other basic facts.
Using the Data
Once you’ve started gathering data, you can begin to make better-informed marketing decisions. The number of likes, retweets, shares, and other similar social interactions can be deceiving. While it’s great to have a lot of likes, it’s better to get new business as a result of that social post. Examples of how other companies have successfully used social media data and tracked results can give you ideas of how to do something similar for your company.
Convince & Convert’s Jay Baer advises that “If you want to neatly measure social media ROI, give your customers and fans a clear assignment with tracked clicks and post-click landing pages and forms,” and then he gives an example of a company that did just that. A fast food chain posted an exclusive offer on Facebook. All customers had to do was see the secret word on Facebook and tell the cashier the secret word to get a free item. That cashier, in turn, used the restaurant’s point of sale computer system to key in the free item which allowed the chain to track purchases from the Facebook post. As Baer points out, the end result of a sale is far better than trying to sift through the feel-good mass of likes and shares. The sale is a tangible and measurable result.
Brandwatch also gives examples of how businesses have used social data to change marketing strategies. Brandwatch tells the story of an ice cream company trying to leverage social media for marketing purposes. The company wanted to track social media posts about eating ice cream in relation to weather patterns. After all, everyone knows that people want ice cream on hot, sunny days, right? Not exactly. Data is far more important than intuition in making decisions, and, in this case, the company discovered that the majority of people who talked about eating ice cream on social media did so on rainy days when they were home watching movies. Knowing that fact changed the company’s entire social media marketing strategy to encourage people to buy their brand of ice cream.
Having accurate data can lead to better marketing decisions and, in the end, to business growth. The endgame of all social media marketing is not only to make people feel good about engaging with your brand, but also to get them in the door—which means getting them to your website in a digital world. Google Analytics can track what social channels your web visitors used to get to your site and what they do when they’re on your site.
Mobile Marketing Watch’s infographic on social media market research provides specific tips about gathering social media data as well as a list of helpful tools for that purpose. Social software tools track information such as where social media users come from, how they behave online, overall social media activity, and specific social media campaign activity. These tools also provide ROI reports. Some of the better-known social software tools are Kissmetrics, TAPoRWare, Crowdbooster, and Followerwonk, but there are many tools on the market.
Don’t forget that gathering data of any kind should have a purpose. Collecting and tracking social media data gives you the power to make informed marketing decisions. Follow these steps towards an endgame of business growth and improved marketing ROI: define your goals, set up a method to track progress and monitor success, build your benchmarks, make adjustments and improvements based on data, and monitor the plan over time.