via The Perception of Social Media Marketing: It’s a Free Lunch | Social Media Today.

Recently, Belgium-based Leads United (part of Lewis PR), released the results of a social media marketing survey among communication and marketing “professionals”. Although the respondents were Belgians, the report shows some shocking numbers that lead to conclusions that are valid in many countries!

The fourth edition of the survey indicated that the use of social media and networking tools is relatively well established, but that is about all, really. When looking at social media marketing, there still is a huge lack of a social media strategy, let alone some sort of plan. Furthermore, 73% of the questioned companies don’t have a social media policy.

However, if you don’t have a clear strategy, a policy isn’t really necessary, is it? Looking back over the years there was barely any evolution to speak of since Leads United started the survey. The company even established that the number of businesses with a social media policy in Belgium has ceased to grow!

The use of social media marketing in Belgium

The social media marketing hype is bad for business…

What is the problem? Maybe we should realize that a vast majority of companies in Belgium (and probably in many other countries) may not yet consider social media seriously, or that they simply don’t get it.

Among other things there appears to be a problem with the communication, information and education efforts regarding social media. The hype and noise regarding the matter, with a battalion of opinion makers and “experts”, that sometimes is more of a plague, might not really help in that regard.

However, is that all? Is it all because of communication and education issues? Certainly not! It’s the task of businesses and marketers to learn, try and inform themselves if they are serious about their business and customers. It’s also their task to see social media in a broader marketing, business and customer perspective. Business is improving, innovating and taking responsibility. It’s not listening to everything you hear (and worse: believing it) or blocking out the reality of consumer behavior in a multi-channel world.

…but not looking at social media is simply bad business

No, you won’t necessarily go bankrupt for not using social media marketing and not every single business on this planet needs a Twitter account or even a blog. There is a context for everything, and it’s not about the tactics and channels in the first place.

However, if you don’t at least listen to your clients, and if you aren’t present where your customers and prospects are in some or the other way (and that’s increasingly on social media and networks as well), you will definitely not succeed in providing better customer and business value in every stage of the customer life cycle and buying journey.

Social media marketing is also a very broad concept. If you can improve any kind of business process, customer interaction or whatever by using social media smartly, why not do that? Not doing it, or at least seriously looking at it, is not trying to improve, innovate and evolve. It’s, simply said, bad business.

The social media business basics are missing

As far as I know a company’s obligation is among other things:

  • Improve customer experience by listening to your clients.

  • Generate turnover by working efficiently and informed in a multi-channel reality.

  • Increase profits by offering proper, relevant and personalized customer service and communication, resulting in conversion and customer engagement.

  • Satisfy the corporate and social ecosystem: employees, shareholders, customers, providers, fans you name it. Everyone is a customer.

However, what do I read? The basics of social media marketing are simply absent in most Belgian businesses (and is it really only in Belgium?).

  • Only 27% of the questioned companied have a social media policy (while probably every employee uses at least a social network, so why not USE that in a positive way?).

  • Only 16% of the interviewed “communication professionals” use social media for crisis communication (while social media often play a pivotal role in a “crisis” in this real-time economy).

  • Only 46% of the interviewed parties actually use social media monitoring, despite the enormous opportunities that it offers and the fact that the least a business must do is listen and monitor the ecosystem within which it operates.

In short: half of the companies have absolutely no clue what is being spread on social media.

Social media ROI: measuring the wrong metrics and KPI’s

Analyzing the ROI is just as bad. However, naturally one cannot measure what he is doing wrong or not at all. 30% of the respondents claim to know the ROI, but in practice you see that they look specifically at metrics that really say little or nothing about efficiency such as the number of fans or followers (14%), the good old click (4%) and the number of comments to their community pages (also 4%).

Where is the brand impact? Where are cross-channel interaction metrics? Conversion? Money saved on customer service? Loyalty? Sales? Alternatively, whatever kind of metric that might be useful, depending on business goals? Nowhere. And the reason is simple: there are rarely business goals.

You can’t pay your employees with the number of fans and comments, all you can do is blow smoke in the eyes of your senior management members.

Until they determine that social media marketing is probably ‘cool’ but doesn’t provide any profit and then decide that “social media” doesn’t work. Nonsense of course (it is not about the media), but a logical reaction. No manager in its right mind will invest one single Euro or Dollar in something if there are – at least – no goals.

Is “social” the only free lunch in the world?

Quite amazing and even shocking is this finding in the survey, and I quote from the press release now:

“The most common reason cited for not doing so (measure or try to measure ROI) was that companies do not know how they should approach this, or do not see the benefit of investing time and money in measuring the results a free tool generates.”.

So: social media is free and a tool. Is this really how businesses look at social media? This simple answer probably shows the core of the issue: many organizationsdon’t get it yet. And it’s certainly not only businesses. It’s many of the ‘experts’ as well. It is NOT about Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or whatever else: it’s about business, customers, branding, PR, listening, community, human resources or whatever you want to do.

But most of all, it’s about customer-centricity.

Interesting is also this little fact on social media monitoring: Belgian companies that use it, spend increasingly less time following what is said on blogs (a drop from 14% to….1%!) and focus primarily on social networks (40%) and micro blogs, yes, you can say Twitter (34%). So we don’t monitor very much, some of us do have plans but blogs are no longer important to monitor?

Social media monitoring in Belgium

Ask the right questions before starting with social media

Some tips for anyone wanting to participate professionally in social media marketing: think – as a team – about which business functions can be improved by social media, talk to someone who has some experience instead of gathering ‘expert tips’, study, talk to a social business that does well, analyze why it does well, listen to your customer or even buy a good book now and then. These options aren’t free, nor are they ‘tools’ as many people consider social media to be.

But you might learn something relevant. However, making your hands dirty, getting out there, asking advice and talking to people is – along with DOING something – still the best way to get it. Try out things, test and improve. Forget the “best Twitter tips”, “social media speak” and all these so-called ‘expert’ opinions that so often contradict each other, except if you can really distinguish what is relevant and what is not for you, your business and your customers.

Note that the study also contains some numbers about the various social media channels, objectives and working methods used by Belgian companies. More graphs can be found on Flickr  or via the press release . Finally, take into account that the report is based on a survey of 70 marketing and communication professionals.

A social media marketing survey among Belgian communication & marketing professionals shows why social media marketing often fails. It’s too often about tools, channels and tactics

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