Followers, “likes”, and connections may give some indication of the size of your potential audience. But those numbers say nothing about whether your audience is really following your lead, liking what you have to say, or connecting with your message.
If followers are all you care about, hundreds of services and tricks can help you drive up those numbers with very little effort at all. You can buy hundreds of “likes” for your Facebook page for just a few cents each. Or you can use a Twitter follower service that automatically or manually follows hundreds of people every day from your account in the hope that a percentage will follow you (and then, after a few days, automatically “unfollow” those who don’t).
But you have to ask yourself: Why? What does any of that actually do for you, your business, or the reputation of marketers in social media?
To “like,” follow, or share a campaign requires approximately one second of commitment. Then what?
How much is a follower worth?
There are many possible goals you might have: Improved service, increased customer retention, and higher brand reputation are just three. But let’s pick apart one common goal — lead acquisition.
If management believes that by merely gathering followers and “likes” there should be a corresponding upward trend in leads, they’re probably going to be disappointed.
It’s not their fault. Other digital marketing techniques, such as search engine advertising and banners, have conditioned them to view clicks as leads and calculate the worth of each with a simple ROI equation. But clicking “like” on Facebook is nowhere near the same as clicking on a promo banner, despite what some marketers may say.
The DJ doesn’t sell drinks
Social media marketing is far more akin to a nightclub. Your content strategy may attract and build your audience, like a DJ attracting people through the door and onto the dance floor with the right mix of music. But the business model of a nightclub relies on a large enough proportion of the crowd also buying drinks from the bar.
It’s not the job of the DJ to sell the drinks, but merely to fill the room with prospects that the bar staff and a few cocktail promotions can convert into sales.
Lead your followers to the bar
A nightclub usually has the bar and the dance floor in the same room — a short and simple sales cycle. But most businesses don’t convert customers in the same place where their social media followers gather. Plus many, particularly in B2B, have a much longer and more complex sales cycle, navigating around a number of considerations and obstacles along the way.
It’s akin to putting the bar in a different building, two blocks down and across a busy road, and then blaming the DJ because beer sales are down.
The only way people will find their way from the dance floor to the bar is with clear signage to motivate and guide them through each step. And even then, not everyone will decide to make the journey.
Your social media should be only a part of an integrated content marketing strategy, designed to lead as many followers as possible, one step at a time, toward your goal. Then, follower numbers become far less interesting than how many people made each step; moving from Facebook, to blog, to email sign-up, to eBook download, to product page, etc.
Effort in, rewards out
To lead, you have to know where you’re going, then create a path for others to follow. It can require a lot more effort to design a strategy and create the content, particularly for those still harboring the belief that it’s possible to reap benefits from social media with a couple of automation tools and a few button pushes once in a while.
But why should your followers do anything other than the bare minimum when you’re giving them about 10 seconds of effort? If you want people to do more than push a button, you need to do more than push buttons.
The social conversion question
So how valuable are social media “follows” when it comes to lead generation? Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what some leading content marketers think:
“This question assumes you start with social media and those followers become new leads. I fundamentally disagree with that premise. What the data show is that on Facebook, for example, 84 percent of the people who follow a company page on Facebook are current or former customers of that company. This stands to reason — what you “like” in social media, you like in real life. The people with whom you are interacting in social are the people who have already given you money — so thinking of social as a lead generation vehicle is over-hyped.
“Where social can have a larger impact on lead gen is in B2B. But even there, I view it as your sales team using social ‘touches’ in between your regular lead nurturing cycles (versus ‘I follow company ABC on Twitter and I’ve seen so many compelling tweets that I’m going to fill out this lead form.’).
“I tell people this: Social following is a trailing indicator of business success and revenue, not a leading indicator. Which is why, anecdotally, you don’t see a lot of crappy companies with social media followers.” – Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
“The content you create, as well as the content you curate and share, helps you build a following of individuals who fit your customer profile. Still, sales conversion is usually preceded by many micro-conversions.
“For instance, someone who follows you on Twitter might end up reading your blog from a link you tweet. That same person might choose to subscribe to your email list if that content resonates and your blog is set up with clear conversion points. Over the next few months, that same person might continue reading or watching your content, which creates a sense of top-of-mind awareness for your brand, services or products.
“Eventually, when that individual does indeed have a need for your stuff, the person might then hit a contact form or simply email you and ask to have a conversation. That’s when a lead is generated.” – Nate Riggs, The Karcher Group
“It’s a challenge to do well. At Citrix, social media is not an isolated part of our marketing activities. We know our social media followers are not necessarily in our CRM, and vice versa. When we have a Facebook competition, we’ll promote it to the email list. When we schedule a webinar, we alert our Facebook and Twitter followers. There’s a lot of cross-pollination that takes place.” – Todd Lewis, Citrix
“Consider embedding a rich media “module” or “widget” contextually within a blog post or commentary with either a specific call-to-action (e.g., ‘Complete this brief profile and download this valuable white paper.’) or “drive to” a destination where a highly tailored and/or targeted offering is presented to the viewer. Connecting the customer to an inbound, concierge service is another approach and is quite effective at converting a response into an actual lead. The key is to provide valuable content that (a.) meets the audience’s expectations and (b.) serves to progress them through the purchase decision-making process.” – Leslie Reiser, IBM
For more great insight on using social media to help drive your content marketing efforts, subscribe to Chief Content Officer magazine.