By Jonathan Crossfield published November 2, 2012

Turning Social Media Follows into Content Marketing Leads

Social Media Content Marketing LeadsDigital marketing, particularly social media, has led to an obsession with meaningless numbers.

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.

Author: Jonathan Crossfield

If it involves putting words in a row with the occasional punctuation, then Jonathan has most likely given it a bash; from copy writing to screenwriting, blogging to journalism. He has won awards for his articles on digital marketing and his over-opinionated blog, Atomik Soapbox. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.

Other posts by Jonathan Crossfield

  • Rob Yoegel

    Nice post, Jonathan. I think we can boil this down even more to examining inbound referral traffic. Our goal is to have more inbound traffic from social than from search (organic and paid). Then do clickstream analysis and examine new vs returning to make sure social traffic is more qualified. Of course, we then will look at goal conversions to determine if social is converting at a higher rate than other inbound sources.

    • Kimota

      I’d be wary of hoping that your social trafic will convert higher than search traffic. Of course it depends on your product/service and how you go about it – but a click from search is usually a more qualified motivated click than from social because they’re looking for the answer from a very specific keyword query. Instead of placing the two channels in competition with each other, maybe work out how they can help each other.

      After all, if conversions go up, do we really care if they were from social, search or a mixture of both (and more)?

  • Nick Stamoulis

    “Your social media should be only a part of an integrated content marketing strategy.” Thank you for pointing this out! I read an interesting article this week that says most people don’t surf Facebook with their credit card in hand. Many social media followers don’t have an intention to buy while engaging on social media which is why you need to keep social media as a mix in addition to your other efforts like SEO and Content Marketing. You may not get a sale right away from a Facebook Fan or Twitter follower, but your social platforms help get their foot in the door to hopefully buy later down the road.

    • Kimota

      Absolutely. Social media is often just one of many touchstones a potential customer may touch on their way to a conversion. If you set up your Google Analytics correctly, it can be possible to see how a specific conversion was made up of many, many different actions. A single person may have clicked through multiple times from social media, as well as clicked on a banner and eventually an AdWords link before converting into a sale. But to assign all the credit for the sale to the last click from AdWords would be highly deceptive.

      Instead of expecting every marketing channel to convert directly, in isolation from every other strategy, work out what each channel is best at at focus on creating a powerful chain of activities that nurtures a customer from first awareness to final acquisition.

  • Chris Adams

    Excellent post.. We recently started social media campaigns and content marketing. We are slowly making progress and building our audience. Facebook seems to be the hardest one in regards to getting genuinely interested fans. Our goal is to motivate our audience to read our contents. Any thoughts or pointers on that ?

    Thanks .. Chris

    • Kimota

      I always answer questions like this by coming from the other angle. If you have content you want certain people to read, start with great content and then determine where they hang out and develop a strategy to led them from A to B. And that isn’t always Facebook. Don’t start with a goal of having a Facebook page and then work backwards. Your decision to be on Facebook should be because your content strategy has identified it as the best place to promote the content to the right people.

      Plus, if you think you are motivating your audience to read your content, you’re not. People won’t choose to do anything because you tell them. Consider what topics or issues already motivate them and produce content that talks directly to that.

      I’m very rarely motivated to read a white paper on the technical comparisons between product A and product B, and the ramifications of each for my business’ legal compliance framework. Talk about dragging me out of my social environment and back into the office for heavy homework! (Believe me, I see these all the time).

      But I may be more motivated to read content on how I can use technology to get out of the office on time every day, with reference to how a few technical changes can simplify my role without increasing legal risk. My motivation is entirely selfish. 😉

      Your strategy should be about understanding your audience and then merely creating paths for them to follow which, if you’ve understood them correctly and produced great content, they will naturally do so.

      • Chris Adams

        Thank you so much for taking time and explaining the strategy. This is an eye opener.

        Thank you Chris

  • Nicolas Scheidtweiler

    funny idea with club, DJ and bar. but it’s almost true.

  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Jonathan,

    The point about social being a trailing indicator to your overall success model is an interesting one. My experience is people on social media have already been converted. They’re either hanging around for thought leadership or like the community aspect but not necessarily looking to buy. It’s not a bad place to gauge a mood but I don’t invest much time trying to generate new sales leads. It does happen, of course, and it’s always a happy occasion. I advise clients lead generation can’t be the only or even main reason to invest the time and energy required for effective social networking activity.

  • Magento specialist

    In order to communicate your expertise, reliability and unique offerings, you need an information-rich website and a strong presence in search and social channels.

  • Barry Feldman

    Strong piece. Great points. Cool analogy. Gotta say though, seems like it’s about this: “So how valuable are social media “follows” when it comes to lead generation?” I love the question and am glad you don’t give the usual BS answer. Your headline suggests a “how to.” No? I find myself hungrier for (1) advice about getting CM leads and (2) understanding what a CM lead actually is. I suspect it’s a lead generated from a piece of content you’ve published.

    • Kimota

      I would suggest it’s not quite as simple as ‘a lead generated from a piece of content you’ve published’ as that implies a straightforward one-to-one correlation – this piece of content generated this many leads, that piece generated that many. My point was that to generate leads from SM requires an integrated approach, most likely across a number of pieces of content that may each contribute to a single lead. What that nurturing process may be – and the specific steps along that customer journey that can be build using content – are going to be more specific to the unique sales cycle of each business/product.

  • Andrew Nyhan

    Parallel between the DJ and a bar is spot on. I think it definitely highlights how crucial it is for prospects to be guided and motivated along the way. Little steps help solidify a great relationship and indicate quality relationships being formed. I definitely agree and think many companies focus on the reach of their actions rather than the direct effects it is having. Look forward to future pieces.

    • Kimota

      I’m presenting a session on this topic at Content Marketing World Sydney – Lessons from the Nightclub Dancefloor – so I’m sure the Slideshare will be made available afterwards.

  • Jia

    I think it is not only an article, it is a thesis, everything described as it should be.