How Do You Know if Social Media Marketing is Working?

Last Updated May 31, 2011 12:06 AM EDT

Is social media marketing really effective for business? BNET blogger Jeff Haden's recently argued in a post that social media marketing is a waste of time. "Most small business owners I speak to feel their social media marketing efforts don't produce tangible results," he wrote, citing a survey by ForeSee Results. His post is very well-written and he makes some excellent points.

However, based on the experience of my clients, students, and the data I have read and accumulated, I disagree. You can find data for and against any position. Social media is no exception.

In this case, I'd argue that some of the "against" data is related to ineffective content, inexperience using social media tools, or inadequate measurement. Given that the Fortune 500 is still wrestling with how to use social media -- A Harvard Business Review study found less than one out of four using social media analytic tools -- why would anyone expect small business owners whose time is diluted between many different duties to be able to accurately attribute sales to social media promotion sources?


Not so easy to measure cause and effect
Under the most favorable conditions, it isn't easy to measure the return of investment on promotion strategies and sales. But a good post by pr guru/blogger Brian Solis about measuring the ROI of social media points to a study that shows "84 percent of professionals representing a variety of industries reported that they do not measure ROI" of their social media programs.

There is so much data to support the positive effect of social media, I do not know where to start. Let's start with these successful social media campaigns, noted by Mashable.
  1. The Gap teaming up with Groupon. By the end of the day, 441,000 "groupons" were sold bringing in more than $11 million.
  2. Toy Story 3. To date, the film has grossed over $1 billion dollars worldwide, making it the most successful animated film of all time. Social media was used extensively, along with print and television, to promote the film.
  3. AOL. AOL used social media to recruit and hire an "ambassador" for one of its sites. It attracted a lot of great candidates and selected the winner - generating a lot of excitement about the brand in the process.
  4. Starbucks. The goal of the campaign was to focus on improving the sales of selected non-coffee products, and it worked really well.
  5. Mountain Dew. They developed a new flavor through fan voting creating a lot of buzz about the Mountain Dew brand.
Is this translatable to small business? Absolutely. As Mashable points out, "We know we left out some brilliant social media campaigns, especially for niche and small-scale markets."

Socialnomics
Then there is this well-done video by Socialnomics author Erik Qualman. It provides many examples of social media ROI including a testimonial shot of Gary Vaynerchuk who grew his family business from $4 million to $50 million using social media.

Jeff Haden raises some good points, and perhaps his blog post will get business owners to think about their marketing strategies. However, I cannot agree with the assertion that social media marketing does not produce tangible results. If properly executed, it does. For those that have been unsuccessful using social media, perhaps they should look to their content and measurement tools because so many others have achieved success using social media in their marketing.

Have you achieved success with social media? How?

Related:
Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and over 30 articles, created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, Jon Gosier
  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb

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