The Social Gap between Practioners and Executives

Very interesting week! I had the pleasure of moderating the Social Media Measurement and Monetization discussions at Econsultancy’s Digital Peer Summit this week in NY. I talked with three different round-table groups and each provided some great perspectives on the state of social media at various companies. My key takeaway … there is a considerable amount of gap that exists between social media staff and the C-Suite executives with regards to what social media success looks like.

The Social Gap

The reason why a gap exists between social media practioners and executives of companies is that we are looking at the wrong parameters for success. Social media should be looked at as a new business model. Yes, we can say social has been around for decades and word-of-mouth has always been important, but the reality is that digital social is different. How consumers use digital social is the reason why we need a new business model – not because it is the new hyped shiny object.

We’ve seen poor business adoption of media channels throughout history. Look at the evolution from print to radio, radio to TV, TV to the web, and now the web to a social and mobile digital environment. EVERY time a new media technology has come to fruition, the masses have taken the same marketing methodology from the predecessor and brought it to the new environment. Isn’t that why we have banners, click-throughs and video pre-roll as the advertising models today?

Social demands a different model and a different set of parameters to measure and determine success. And this in a nut shell is the gap problem. For the most part, the C-Suite executives are looking for one set of parameters and real social value is determined by another set. What to do? What to do?

First off golden rule – you must always give your client (even internal executive client) what they want. BUT that should also be augmented with more telling data. Here is the example. I have created a reporting dashboard that actually looks at three groupings of metrics:

Grouping these categories allows executives to move from web business models (what they are comfortable with) to social business models. The online traditional measurements still command the digital world – just look at how many reference Comscore parameters. When it comes to social, executives are transfixed on things like how many fans do we have. But the real value of social is audience engagement. Yes, you need many fans to have sizeable audience engagement, but you can not just run a sweepstake to drive Facebook likes and declare success. So providing all these parameters satisfies all constituents and starts to move the business measurements to where they need to be.

Presentation of the metrics is also very important. For example, if you present the data and show the number of Facebook fans over a 12 month period, I would also add “Interactions per Fan” into the chart. You want to demonstrate that while you are achieving fan growth, you continue to maintain, or more importantly increase the degree to which fans are engaging.

Much of this gets to the issue of the highly debated social media ROI. Recently, I was interviewed by on this topic and my exact quote is here as I had captured what we really need to think about. …

DigiDay asked me, “How do we truly measure social media ROI?

And my response was …
I do not think it is appropriate to look at social media ROI, but rather look at social media KPIs (key performance indicators). Social media is about building relationships. There are different stages to relationships. From a brand perspective, I see five stages that I term the A-Path; attention, attraction, affinity, audience, advocates. These stages are sequential and thus measurement should be made at each stage. What you measure is different at each stage. Measurement of each of these stages are the KPIs. You perform different social activities for each stage, and thus you should measure the success, or lack of success, of each. Each successful stage contributes to potential sale, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to categorically attribute to a specific sale. By definition, ROI equals sales minus investment. Social media is not good at selling, it is good at building relationships. I don’t say, “Hi, I am Steve Goldner and I want to buy X,” rather, I build a relationship and when contextually relevant, make an offer. Social media is a longer-term pipeline builder. Now I am not saying just do it and expect results to come later. What I am saying is set a strategy and plan, then execute and measure. Measure the KPIs for the various stages of the relationship. And how can you tell that revenue will increase? Two proven reasons: people like to buy from people they feel comfortable with, and having consumer advocates is far more powerful than any marketing effort the company can do themselves.

(Note – If you want more information on measuring social media at various stages, see “Measuring the Stages of the Cyclic Social Media Marketing Funnel.”)

There is no doubt that social media requires maturing. But business models, metrics, and recognition by executives of what really matters require substantial evolution and growth as well. Real social leaders need to drive the evolution. In the words of Tim Berners-Lee (credited for his invention of the World Wide Web (not the Internet), “The web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

Make It happen,
Social Steve



Filed under change management, digital media, measuring social media, social media, social media marketing, social media organization, social media ROI, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

15 responses to “The Social Gap between Practioners and Executives

  1. Michael Feeley

    The matter of building relationships is the key. Very well expressed. It’s essential in life and that certainly includes business. Trust…the element and moment of choice when people first choose to work with you or buy from you is what you are working towards. Thank you for saying it so clearly and with passion.

  2. Thank you Steve,

    This is what we try to explain to our clients. Setting up a SM plan that gets likes and followers is just the beginning. They see these statistics, (the increase in fans and followers) go up and expect sales to increase as well. They are severely disappointed when this does not happen. Then they go on to state that Social Media Marketing doesn’t work. And unfortunately, they don’t want to spend the time or money to take it to the next level, meaning creating worthwhile content and becoming a thought leader. This all takes time and they want immediate results. Thank you, Dishanya Weerasinha, Heligonix

    • Dishanya –

      Thanks for your comments and input. Social media does not turn immediate sales results. Everyone need to emphasize this reality. Social media is great at building relationships and building relationships takes time (just like in personal lives). But when you have strong relationships both in numbers and depth – these relationships not only turn into buying customers, but even more important – loyal and advocate customers. Thus social media is excellent at building lifetime value (LTV) customers!


  3. Nice Article. I’ve seen this issue way to often when working with a client to set up a social media plan. I think client execs have come lightyears of understanding from years ago (you are totally right, they used to be super focused on how many followers, number of post/day, etc), but it still doesn’t hurt to go into an initial planning meeting and explain exactly what everyone should look for in a successful SM Campaign: engagement and interaction. SM is a very powerful family of technologies that exploded on the scene, but it’s not like traditional one-way media. The word “Social” in Social Media really does define it.

  4. Mike Coombs

    A little respectful rant… but a rant never the less!
    OK… social media is about relationship. So define what a “relationship” is for MR.MS. C level and their markets, and tell them what it is worth, some how. Match the value against what it costs you to develop this valued relationship in the social media channel. Then you are getting to “return on investment” in a way C level people can “get”.

    We must do it in terms of ROI. It was ROI for print, radio, TV, online…etc etc etc. It’s still ROI for those media channels and its ROI for social. It’s ROI for business.

    So what is a “relationship” worth to this C level guy at her/his particular company? How strong and deep is it?
    A “relationship’s” value is different for every company. There will be no pat answers or one size fits all caveats.
    Some times it won’t be worth it. The ROI won’t be there.
    I think the idea that “social media should be looked at as a new business model” is just not going to fly. It’s not a new business model. It’s a new marketing channel that might have influence on the real business model that the C level person is very, very clear on.

    Those guys got there for good reasons (usually). One of the reasons is their relationships. Another is that they are good at ROI. Mostly they don’t “get” social media because you/me/we suck at understanding their business model and our own ROI, and we are not having a valuable relationship with them.
    OK…phew… I feel better now…. sort of.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation and expressing your perspective.

      Let me steal a line from Charlene Li who was presenting at a conference. “Go ahead and shake the hand of the person to your right and your left. What is the ROI of that?”

      That is the start of a relationship. I specifically define steps in a business relationship and how to measure them on the referenced article within this post. See the Funnel article. The problem with ROI, as opposed to KPIs is that it has a specific variable, sales. There are a number of steps that lead to a sale and if we are to strictly look at ROI, we miss these key steps and KPIs.

      I agree – we should be accountable to executives. Absolutely. But delivering nonsense data is not being accountable. Social media provides many important steps on building relationships and feeding the pipeline, but is not strong for closing the sale. This is the point.

      Hope you feel even better. 🙂

      • Mike Coombs

        Thanks for the thread… I disagree, and I mean that in the nicest of ways!
        I think executive level people would routinely come up with plausible answers to Charlene Li’s hypothetical “What’s the value of a handshake?” question. That IS my larger point for social media practitioners hoping to work with “executives”.

        What’s the value of a qualified lead? Execs know. We should too. Execs will figure out what that handshake is worth and what it will cost to bring that handshake through the funnel. If the numbers look good and test out, then they will want to know what it will cost to get a million handshakes and a million steps through the funnel. (whoooooo that would be good!) Is it scalable? Exec level people care about this kind of thinking.

        Show them the money, speak in their language, show the ROI’s of your KPI’s… or someone else will. The people (Executives!) in purchasing will eventually want to know “why we pay for this?”. If the ROI story is not readily available from “us”, it will come from someone else, probably less qualified to do it and less enthusiastic about our value.

        The “Whats the value of a handshake?” question seems to me to be all about not really being “in business”, and not taking responsibility for our bottom line value. Its an invitation to stay at a tactical level. That is ok, but when you start talking to “the bosses”, it’s a strategic cop out.
        We must connect to sales in a meaningful way. And while I do not think it’s easy to do, it IS doable and necessary. The other media’s do it.

        What gets me motivated to converse like this is that I think we do ourselves, as an industry, or profession, or “discipline”… a disservice when we cop to “it’s not sales”, and “its a new business model”.
        When we use the “but we are different” argument we start to sound like the dreaded snake oil salesman. We are NOT different. New? Sure. Different from a business perspective? Nope. Not at all.

        We CAN make the case for ROI. We love and really care about sales…right? We are providing big value… right? We see where we add value in the business model, right?
        Prove it. Or at least provide a plausible formula in terms that fit the client’s ROI language.
        Thanks again.
        I had fun writing this. Hope it’s worth something to someone.

      • Mike healthy discussion – love it. And thanks for some great input.

        Yes – we should know the value of a handshake. Over time, we look at how much awareness leads to consideration that leads to sales. This is the NEW data that from social media. Maybe the same terms, but the percentages from social media will change.

        But is doesn’t stop there … after sale, we have the opportunity to make loyal customers and then advocates by continuous engagement. The advocates then re-feed the funnel generating more awareness. Yes – we should collect all the data and know percentages and value at each stage. KPIs as I refer to them.

        My point is that ROI = (sales – investment) / investment. With social, we need more variables then this and sales is not the outcome – social produces awareness and lead generation increasing the likelihood for sales. I highly recommend you look at “Measuring the Stages of the Cyclic Social Media Marketing Funnel” at .

        Truly enjoyed the conversation! Thanks!

  5. There is such incorrect perception of the value of social media stats — Steve, no one has said it better. Thanks!

  6. Taken two days to get to read your post now thats the value of the relationships I am building, always good to read your thoughts and like the turn to KPI’s.

    With regard whats the value of the handshake its simple:

    Trust and loyalty

    Two things we can’t do without as people and those are whats embedded into good relationships. All the bar charts and figures and bottom lines have these embedded too however we mask them or rewrite how we do it. Having a strategic approach will help those in suits who need to understand their audience, client, customer and competitor is flying along using all this technology as part of life not part of boardroom jargon, most businesses are joining in where its effective to use whats available to understand the needs of those who buy our products and pay for your services.

    Not sure if that classes as a rant but TRUST me I am still going to be here next week because I am LOYAL to my friends.

    • Mark –

      Yes you are loyal and I greatly appreciate it. I guess if I continue to deliver something of value, I’ll keep you in my audience … now isn’t that exactly what each brand wants to accomplish? 🙂


  7. khgoblog

    YOU are building relationships ! Great ! Fabulous work. 😉

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