Is Social Media Really Living Up to Expectations?
Over the holidays, I had some time to really dive into the LinkedIn B2B LeadGen Roundtable discussions. One started by Ann Thornley-Brown, President & CEO, Executive Oasis International, Toronto, caught my attention. She started the discussion in August, yet members continue to provide feedback.
Ann wanted to know how happy the group was with the lead generation results of their social media campaigns. “Are your efforts on LinkedIn and Twitter paying off?” she queried. “How many leads have you generated? How many specific pieces of business have you picked up? I know a lot of bright people who are really active on these sites and very few are seeing results. How about you?”
Her question, and too many of her 30-plus responses, illustrated the disconnection between the expectations of marketers who are out on the frontlines every day and marketing gurus proclaiming the wonders of social media. After all, if you Google ”Top 10 B2B Trends in 2011” you’ll see social media listed on every one of them.
Then why, if Ann’s discussion is any indication, are so many marketers dissatisfied with the results they’re getting from it?
I took this question to Sergio Balegno, Director of Research for MECLABS, the parent company of InTouch. He authors MarketingSherpa’s Social Media & PR Benchmark Guides, is considered a foremost authority on social media strategy, is quoted by the media extensively and presents at institutions like Harvard.
He’s also been in marketing for more than three decades, well before the internet was even on the scene. This gives him some not-so-typical long-term perspective in a world that demands instant gratification.
If anyone could provide insight to why this is going on, it’s Sergio. Here’s his take:
“I had a B2B communications firm from the mid-80s to 2000. When we got into the ‘90s we started hearing about the World Wide Web. I brought the concept to our customers: some adopted it very quickly the other half shrugged it off as a passing fad.
“Of course, today, the web is considered traditional media and social media is now that new ‘fad.’ The same thing is happening all over again, except at a much faster pace.
“You see, you have to look at the history of social media, it’s really short. Our first benchmark guide was published in 2009, which analyzed the use of social media in 2008. It was at the ‘all-hype’ stage then: there were no clear objectives or best practices beyond the soft objectives of building customer awareness. There weren’t the hard-and-fast lead generation and sales conversations that will be featured in our 2011 report, which I’m working on right now.
“What does surprise me is that of the 2,300 marketers we surveyed at the end of 2010, six percent – 138 – already felt they were producing measurable ROI. In just a couple of years, social media has rocketed to a place that took the internet a good decade to arrive at.
“A big part of the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report will look at the monetization of social media. A solid quarter of marketers are at the mature, strategic stage of social media marketing. They have clear objectives and practices. Now they’re trying to go back to the budgeting committee to prove that it’s producing revenue.
“That’s where they’re stuck. They can’t get a grasp on how many leads social media is generating.
“A big section of the study is going to be about software and tools that can track someone from when they become a member of a social network to when they download a whitepaper and become a part of a standard CRM system.
“Essentially, we’re at critical mass: marketers need to prove social media’s value, and there is a need for CRM tools that can track that. Mzinga is one company leading the way with its OmniSocial platform, the study will review more.”
Considering Sergio’s response, marketers are expecting way too much too soon. Paradoxically, this in itself demonstrates the remarkable speed at which social media is being integrated into marketing initiatives.
We can’t yet calculate with the most exacting precision how many leads are generated from social media, but considering how quickly technology is evolving, the ability to do so will be here in no time. I expect if Ann poses her question again at the end of 2012, her responses will be far different.
What do you think?
Finally, Sergio gave me some penetrating insight at the end of our conversation: “After 30 years in marketing, I thought I had seen all of the changes that could possibly take place, and then social media changed everything again. Our brand is no longer what we say it is, it’s what our customers say it is.”
If you want to hear more from Sergio, be sure to sign up for MarketingSherpa’s brand new Inbound Marketing Newsletter, which will announce when the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark guide is released.