It still astounds me when I see an article questioning the value of social marketing. (Notice I said social marketing and not social media. Social marketing is a strategy, plan and activity that use multiple channels to connect, communicate, and engage with a target audience. Social media is a technology platform.) Many have questioned, and some have addressed, social marketing ROI. I myself have written a number of articles on the ROI question here and here. But the value of social marketing is not something to measure in terms of ROI. It should be measured in terms of audience development.
Lets start by defining audience development as it relates to marketing and such that it can be aligned to company KPIs (key performance indicators.) Audience development means that you begin by getting people’s attention and get them attracted to your brand. Once you have them aware of your brand, you want them to have deeper interest in what you offer. You want them to look for and desire more information as it relates to the product or service you offer. You not only want them to purchase your product, but to be a repeat buyer and develop loyalty for your offering. And ultimately you want people to love your brand and do objective marketing on behalf of your brand (make recommendations about your brand to others).
Now if you understand audience development in these terms, I would hope that it is easy to see how social marketing can work for you. What if brands really had friends? Think about how you develop friends. You have some common interest. You communicate and share. It is not just about you. Friends look for you to be there when you need them. Thus, you are there for your friends when they need you. So if we apply this mentality to common business objectives, isn’t it valuable for brands to have friends? Friendship is a relationship. A partnership of some kind. And partnerships are only valuable and last if both parties get something out of the relationship.
So brands need to give more than they did in the past. Brands need to do more than just have a great product. They need to be there for their audience in more ways than simply selling. They need to develop their audience.
It was exactly six years ago that I shared my perspective on audience development. Back then, I addressed it in social media terms, but I soon came to the realization that social media was a platform and that I would use various platforms to strengthen my marketing efforts. I talked about capturing “the ultimate audience,” but it really was not about “capturing” an audience, but rather developing and evolving an audience. I came up with what I have termed “The A-Path.”
As a brand, I first want to get the attention of a target group. Then I want them to be attracted to my brand. Over time I look for them to build affinity for my brand. At some point, they like my brand and user experience enough to opt-in and become a member of my audience either by email sign-up, joining my community, or following the brand. A subset of the audience members are power users and I look to develop very close relationships with these individuals in an attempt to create advocates.
Attention to Attraction to Affinity to Audience to Advocacy. That is audience development. And social marketing should consist of a strategy, plan, execution, and measurement aimed at these five stages of audience development.
So forget social marketing ROI in terms of sales. Your objective of social marketing should be audience development. Audience development in terms of the A-Path. You can build a strategy, plan, execute, and measure each stage of the A-Path. Go ahead. Develop your audience and see measured results. If you do so, I guarantee you all your executives’ KPIs will be realized.
Make It Happen,