As a communications and marketing agency that helps run a number of social media programs, we spend quite a lot of time looking at Middle East social media marketing campaigns from around the region. It’s still early days, but the number of brands experimenting with social media in the Middle East is growing and, as with many things in business, you can almost always learn something from someone else’s work. So, on finding a brand’s Middle East Facebook fan page with 25 comments and Likes on its last post, I’m ready to be impressed. However, being the suspicious character that I am, I start to Google and check Facebook profiles of those commenting, and soon discover that most of them seem to be directly related to the same brand (employees, distributors, ex-employees). Whether that’s a successful outcome or not ultimately depends on the Facebook page’s objectives, but perhaps it does help to illustrate that all kinds of online engagement are not equal.
It’s always been a challenge to accurately attribute response to the different marketing programmes. No matter how many reply devices, coupons and codes you include in your programs, you will always get leads that are not possible to attribute to any particular program and responses attributed to one promotion that you suspect were strongly influenced by another. Online marketing really is as good as it gets when it comes to tracking marketing campaign results and it offers a wealth of opportunities to build in mechanisms to track responses and enquiries. However, as with all measurement and metrics, online metrics are there to be abused! None more so than social media campaign metrics, which routinely include tracking the campaign’s following (fans, followers, members, subscribers etc.) and measuring the engagement with people that campaign drives by counting the number of interactions (conversations, comments, ‘Likes’, shares, retweets etc.). The reason that theses metrics are open to abuse is that there are many ways to increase both following and engagement, whilst ignoring your primary target audience completely.
Building a meaningful following is not just about the numbers
Businesses like numbers and big numbers in particular. And so it’s no surprise that what most marketing managers really want out of online campaigns is scale and reaching thousands or hundreds of thousands. There are usually good reasons for this, even if some of those reasons come from marketing strategies past. However, with the growth of the social web, online users have more and more choice in what content they consume, which platforms they use and how they spend their time online. Contacting people in high numbers is not the same as connecting with people in high numbers, and adding contacts as connections is not the same as engaging them with conversations and content. Send enough invites to enough people, particularly if you build or buy a half-decent database, and you’re going to be able to build a following. And the more people you contact the more people will sign-up. Overall, that’s a good thing, but these new followers are only really useful if they i) have an active interest in your brand and ii) if they are the consume your content and are open to interacting with your brand. A good question to ask yourself is: are you building a following that is important to your brand? 1,000 subscribers that are made up of your primary target audience and engages with your brand frequently are infinitely more valuable to your marketing effort than 10,000 subscribers that ignore you and your content.
All online engagement is not equal
If you’ve done a good job of branding and populating your blog or social media page with content, you stand a good chance of getting the benefit of the doubt from first time visitors to your page. However, it’s now very much down to how compelling your content and promotions are to what level of engagement you drive. You’ll need to be aware that different people respond in different ways to content they like. Some will comment on your page, some will share with their contacts, some will bookmark, some will import your RSS feed into their feed reader, some will send you an email, and some will recommend your brand or content to others. Therefore you’ll usually need to track more than one or two metrics. As with building an online following, online engagement is not always as simple as driving higher numbers either. For example, it’s nice to get endorsements from audiences like job seekers, employees, distributors and business partners, but if your budget has been allocated to drive customer engagement, success rather depends on how many of your interactions and endorsements are actually from your customer audiences. Getting your employees talking about your new product is one thing, getting your customers talking about it, quite another.
Being able to take a critical look at your social media results, what’s working, what’s not working and most importantly who is engaging with your campaign is key to both continuing to drive your campaign moving forwards and assessing your campaign’s ROI. Social media offers some great tools to run low cost programmes and so your expectations for a low-volume, low commitment social media programme can afford to be quite modest. However, if you’re running a more extensive, more integrated programme that demands more time, advertising spend and vendor costs, the pressure is on to deliver bigger numbers. So, it is worth taking a step back and making sure your effort is focused on driving the right numbers. It’s great to have an enthusiastic employees behind your social media programme, but if most of the response to your campaign is internal you’re probably not helping them sell much product.