How to prove social media’s worth in the marketing mix

We ask marketing leaders from five Australian brands to share their social media strategy, as well as the best ways to gauge the effectiveness of social media marketing

With most marketing programs today, being able to position and then prove the success of our efforts is vital for not only informing other business decisions and engagement strategies but also showcasing marketing’s impact.

Social media is no different: Understanding how platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are affecting what we do as brands is increasingly important as these become the communication channels of choice for consumers.

So what kinds of proofs should we be looking for as we plan our wider social media marketing investments? And how can we be sure we’re putting enough time and energy into the way we position our brands and participate in these channels?

To find out, we looked at what role social is taking in the marketing mix of five Australian brands, their views on the significance of social for customer engagement, and the lessons that can be learnt from how each is looking to ascertain social media’s worth.

CPA Australia: Seek a broader impact than sales

Social media is a critical part of CPA Australia’s overall communications mix and viewed as far more than marketing strategy, according to executive general manager of communication, content and publishing, Lisa Carroll. To reflect this, the marketing team now manages social platforms centrally on behalf of the entire business.

“Social media allows us to build relationships with our audience in a way advertising doesn’t, and we use high-quality, relevant content to achieve high engagement levels,” she says. “The purchase decision to become a member of CPA Australia is not a quick or simple one, so content-based engagement enables us to maintain a relationship and provide ongoing value to our target audiences.

“Social media also enables us to support other business objectives – for example, enabling our members to access the power of the CPA Australia network by connecting with and joining discussions with other members, raising our brand profile, and supporting our customer service function.”

To gauge the value of its social efforts, CPA looks at a range of metrics that aren’t just about potential impact on sales, Carroll says.

“Worth is proven through the growth of highly engaged audiences who choose to continue to connect with us over time,” she says. “In a digital age, the interactions with a brand are likely to be varied, so it is hard to prove that any one interaction or campaign message or piece of content was the critical piece.

“We also ascribe value to the anecdotal feedback we get – for example, when someone has interacted with us online and later reaches out to tell us they are pursuing the CPA Program. Our CEO is also directly involved in our social media activities, so sees first-hand the contribution social platforms can make for sharing messages and building relationships.”

A key way of measuring social for CPA is the quality and performance of content. As well as tracking total followers for each platform, the team also looks closely at the engagement levels achieved including likes, shares or retweets, comments and clicks.

“The data is important, but we also look at the quality of conversation online,” Carroll explains. “The ability to target messages to audiences is also important for us, and means we can assess much more precisely the value of the spend we put into social platforms as part of specific marketing campaigns.”

Related: MGM Resorts on making social media accountable

Qantas Loyalty: Don’t look at social in isolation

Qantas Loyalty CMO, Stephanie Tully, warns brands to be careful when it comes to social proofs. “Business people can jump on and look at things like social media in isolation, but the key is to see social as part of the integrated marketing view,” she said during the WebForward conference at CeBIT in May.

“We are doing 50 marketing campaigns per month and everything we do as a marketing team layers up to the business strategy. I laugh when I have senior managers at Qantas asking for more activity in Facebook because it’s not just about being there. To me, you have to go back to why you are here, what are your objectives, the audience and how you are trying to engage with them.”

Tully sees social as one channel that’s useful in the right context but only one part of how her brand and the group engage with audiences.

“Social isn’t where we’re getting the best results from a marketing effectiveness perspective, but it’s an important part of the mix and that may change and become more prevalent in the future,” she adds.

Amaysim: Focus on relating to customers in a multi-channel way

For the CMO and co-founder of mobile operator amaysim, Christian Magel, social media’s influence depends on how it is positioned in a business. At amaysim, social is seen a core component in how the brand relates to its customers.

“The earned and owned media spaces in general are becoming hugely important; they’re not replacing other channels, but they’re giving us new ways of interacting with customers, putting our message out there and also following consumer behaviours,” Magel comments. “If you stick with one channel and don’t go into other social streams, you risk not reaching 10, 20 or 30 per cent of your customers.”

A key objective for amaysim’s marketing team is how to better utilise content to take a more strategic approach. Social is both a channel, as well as a way of generating and assessing the value of that content, Magel continues. “What’s important for us in social media is both listening but also using it in a proactive way and communicating,” he says.

Magel admits proving social media’s value in the marketing mix isn’t easily comparable to other digital channels, and says in terms of acquisition at least, social’s not there yet.

“It’s not just the last click conversion or assisted click conversions that we see in social - although they are happening - it’s more the advocacy and retention that social media helps foster,” he says.

“It then comes back to if social is measurable within an ecosystem of communication. It’s not one point of contact that convinces people to do something, it’s multiple interactions. Following them on the customer journey, tracking that and understanding what the ecosystem is, is where social media will be revealed to have a special place.”

One way amaysim uses social is to gauge the effectiveness of its customer self-service portal, Myamaysim. If the marketing team can’t decide whether one page should look like option A or B, it pops both up as images on Facebook and asks consumers to decide. These activities have triggered great responses and also more engagement than competitions, a result the team attributes to the fact that people feel they are directly helping shape the company.

According to Magel, proving social’s worth should also directly relate to the specific goals set by different parts of the business. He adds that business and communication objectives need different levers when it comes to social.

“It would the same thing with CRM – how you’re going after acquisition and how that compares to the other pieces of activity differs,” he says.

Looking into how social will develop, Magel predicts social will be “the new print”.

“Facebook will redefine the print play – this is what it’s doing already; it’s driven by big pictures and video. That’s the new way,” he claims. “The other thing to remember is that social is already built on customer interaction; it represents the raw form of it. You wouldn’t just buy advertising on Facebook if you didn’t do anything else on the channel.”

Lorna Jane: Tie measurement back to specific business goals

Social media also plays a significant role in how Lorna Jane connects with its audience, and has been a key contributor to its success locally as well as internally, the retail group’s head of digital, Sam Zivot, claims.

“The need to measure and provide an ROI snapshot of social media’s impact is more critical than ever,” he says. “The industry has recognised this and a whole slew of social media software has emerged to help you measure this.”

Related: Delivering the digital experience at Lorna Jane

On the list of wider business objectives Lorna Jane is using social media for are driving database acquisition, brand awareness, engagement and interaction, building stronger customer relationships, driving in-store and online traffic and sales, and reaching new markets and industry influencers. Each requires its own set of measurement and success criteria, Zivot said.

But much like any other marketing initiative, you need a combination of short- and long-term thinking to prove social media’s worth, he said.

“A long-term view is needed as it’s rare that you are going to become an overnight success,” Zivot advised. “Set your objectives early and keep tabs on how you are tracking against them.”

Myer: Maintain an ongoing dialogue and be accessible

A spokesperson for Myer tells CMO social media is now an integral element throughout all of the group’s major marketing campaigns. It’s also a way of providing customer support and allowing consumers to shape their own experiences with the Myer brand.

“Our social media platforms allow us to connect and interact with customers and fans and maintain an ongoing dialogue for both marketing communication messages and customer service issue resolution,” the spokesperson says.

“We know our customers will shape their own experience when it comes to how and when they want to hear from us and they have increasingly high expectations that Myer will be relevant to both their interests and lifestyle. Social media provides us the opportunity to promote the many facets of the Myer brand to a diverse and engaged audience as well as have a voice that is present and easily accessible.”

Myer’s key channels include Facebook, where it has 260,000 followers, and Instagram, where it has 50,000 followers. It uses both channels to share content as well as in-store offers and services with these audiences, plus exclusive access to events, brand ambassadors and celebrity appearances.

“Our ability to demonstrate the power of social media is very important as we continue to grow these channels and increase their impact on delivering our business and marketing objectives,” the spokesperson continues.

“We have a genuine focus on the success of our social media marketing activities and we continually monitor the levels of engagement with our content and the interaction of our social community. We use a range of tools to measure this and capture learnings for ongoing content planning and development and future marketing campaigns.”

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