4 Best Practices Identified by Social Marketing Dynamos

Last Updated May 31, 2011 4:11 PM EDT

Social media marketing is mature enough that best practices are beginning to emerge from companies that do it well. Even so, "companies still aren't sure what to do with it," concludes the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services report, The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action.

"Despite the vast potential social media brings, many companies seem focused on social media activity primarily as a one-way promotional channel, and have yet to capitalize on the ability to not only listen to, but analyze, consumer conversations and turn the information into insights that impact the bottom line," according to the report.

Of the 2,100 companies surveyed, two-thirds said they were engaged in social media or about to be. But only 12% considered themselves effective users.

It's the 12% that draws our attention today. These exemplars, who have moved social media far beyond the experimental stage, are benefiting from increased awareness and more favorable perceptions among target customers, and by an increase in new business.

Here are four best practices I culled from reading the research on these folks:

  1. Dialog, not monolog. Forget "shout marketing." By engaging customers and potential customers in conversations, social media is most effective at promoting brand, monitoring trends, and researching product ideas.
  2. Get serious. Make social media a priority by integrating it in an overall marketing strategy. Only 7% of companies do this today.
  3. Get numbers. Connecting social investments with ROI can be difficult work, but the best companies understand the concrete difference social efforts make to the business.
  4. Hire and budget. Social media is a hands-on practice, so a dedicated staff is now a must. And give them money to work with -- effective SM firms dedicate 40 percent of their marketing budget for this purpose.
Have you made social media a central component of your marketing strategy. What best practices can you report?

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(Photo by Flickr user Mykl Roventine, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.