For the majority of businesses, Social Media Marketing is one of the standard marketing channels and instruments. But just how effective is Social Media Marketing really? The answer to this not-unimportant question depends on who you ask.
While a great number of businesses are continuing to develop their Social Media activities, important cautionary voices in the "desert" of social media metrics question the success of social media marketing and call for a reduction of this channel. So, it is worthwhile to take a look at the success of Social Media Marketing. In order to do so, I would like to give some impetus in this article.
Since the early 2000s, at the latest, Social Media platforms have been a stable part of internet activities. In the meantime, Facebook has gained 2 billion registered users, of whom some 1.2 billion are active daily.
Social Media Marketing is based on interaction. And these interactions are linked with a content-related post that is meant to attract attention. Social Media Marketing is especially effective when it doesn't just attract the attention of those to whom it was directly addressed, but rather when it is amplified through the network by interactions.
Many companies base their entire strategy on organic Social Media Marketing. Like a search-machine channel “Organic Search” a post is supposed to garner attention through its attractiveness, without having to invest in paid advertising. In this way, these posts don't just deliver User-Generated Content, but also provide a significant amount of data from user interaction. These then provide the basis for the algorithm that determines the news feed and the ads on the platform.
But paid tools are also used in addition to organic social media tools. Facebook has developed a number of innovative ad formats over the past years and is quickly following Google's lead in the online ad market. Here are just a few of the formats available:
This format activates Facebook ads in business apps. Users who have used the app in the past or who are currently using it are targeted. The goal of the App Engagement Ad is to motivate the user to complete an action, such as booking a trip, making a purchase, or playing a game.
The Click to Website Ad is the classic paid Social Media ad format. The goal of this ad is to motivate closely-targeted audiences to click on a landing page. This can be a product or detail page if you are trying to reach a specific sales goal, or it can be the business' homepage, if the goal is strengthening the online brand.
The Facebook Event Response Add is the Social Media tool used to advertise events. Target groups can also be created for events, and the attendees can then confirm their attendance on Facebook, share the event, and set a reminder with the calendar function.
In complex and long customer journeys, targeting leads is at least as important as aiming for conversions. With Lead Ads, Facebook is reacting to the predominantly mobile use of many target groups. Lead Ads make it easier to register for a newsletter, to make contact, or to participate in events.
When a Lead Ad is clicked, a form opens in which the user's contact info (as given to Facebook) is already entered. The user just has to click "send." Additionally, businesses can expand the form with single or multiple-choice questions to better determine the user's preferences.
Another Facebook classic - the ad to increase fan base. The Page Like Ad should be used just as strategically as all the other ads. Only users who are genuinely interested in the products, brand, and/or business will positively rate, share, or comment on the business' posts later. And these interactions are Social Media "gold."
Video Content also plays a decisive role on Facebook; more than 100 million hours of video are watched every day. Businesses have a wide selection of video ad formats to choose from. They can post their own ad videos, also in Instagram stories, or activate classic advertising breaks on Facebook in third-party content. Video content can also be shown as Carousel, Canvas, or in connection with actual products. And, finally, there are the options of Live Videos and 360° videos. We can expect to see Facebook's willingness to experiment provide additional video formats for their ad clients in the future.
But despite all the enthusiasm for chic Video Ads - at the end of the day, only conversions matter. Use Website Conversion Ads to increase conversions more directly than just with Fan-page or Video Ads. They focus on target groups that will likely bring higher conversions for a given page. Conversion Ads - and this isn't a big surprise - motivate users to take an action, i.e. register or place an order.
The variety of tools and formats brings this question into focus: What is the goal of Social Media Marketing?
You can only judge success in terms of goal achievement if you have goals in the first place. Goals are also helpful in determining the right mix from the large and constantly increasing number of ad formats. With this in mind, it is interesting to see which online marketing goals businesses usually use social media marketing for.
According to a survey from statistica.de showing the reasons why businesses worldwide use social media marketing in 2017, the main goals that are targeted with social media marketing are:
The reasons for social media marketing in the companies surveyed have to do with branding and customer loyalty. It is difficult to measure results in both of these areas, however. But it would contradict the strengths and potential of online marketing to forgo detailed and specific measurements of success in organic social media activities.
With Facebook, as the most important of these channels, it is especially worthwhile to take a look at the basic functionality of the Facebook algorithm, as this is essential for success and the measurement of success, especially with organic SMM.
The core of the Facebook platform is the news feed, which every user sees. Users get a compilation of posts from sites they have previously joined as fans. The feed also shows messages from Facebook friends and ads. The goal of the news feed is to motivate the user to interact. Interactions show how attractive a post is. The more posts in their feed a user "likes," the more positive their experience on Facebook will be, leading to more time spent on the platform. Meaning that the reach of paid advertising, Facebook's only source of income, will also increase.
This is where the Facebook algorithm comes into play. Put simply, the Facebook news feed is compiled by an algorithm so as to create the highest possible likelihood of interaction by the User . You can try this yourself. If you start to like posts from a page that you've never liked before, your feed will change. You will see that the proportion of posts from this page in your feed will increase. So, the goal of organic Facebook marketing must be to publish posts that bring the most interactions.
Although comprehensive interaction statistics are available for paid social media marketing, the available statistics for organic interactions are much less developed. As a business, you could just count the interactions with your own, non-advertised posts. However, you'd be missing an important benchmark. The relationship between interactions and page fans is a better measurement. The number of page fans tells you how many possible feeds your post could potentially appear in. So, if you compare interactions with number of fans, you will have a number to measure social media marketing success.
Avinash Kaushik, an analytics evangelist who emphasizes the importance of performance assessment, has further differentiated "interactions with fans" to map the various aspects. He uses likes, shares and comments on Facebook to achieve this. Comments are especially valuable, and demonstrate more than just high user involvement. They also tell us something about the user's attitude to the business itself, or at least that particular post. The frequency of comments is measured as
The next "quality category" is "shares." Users share attractive or high-quality posts that are of interest for their own friends or other target groups. You can measure the success of post shares as
And, finally, the applause rate measures the interaction with the least involvement. It simply measures how many fans like a post.
If we now look at a random selection of recognized large businesses using Kaushik's methods, we can quickly see that the results of organic Facebook marketing are rather poor. I once measured these results for one of the largest banks in Germany, with about 65,000 fans. These results are not limited to the particular bank, but are rather representative of many businesses with similar results. So, without naming the bank, we can show the following KPIs for a number of successive posts:
Figure 1: Social Media KPIs for an un-named bank
It quickly becomes clear that these results below one-tenth of a percent cannot be celebrated as success. But what are the causes for such bad results in organic social media marketing for so many companies?
There are two main causes: First, the competition on Facebook and other platforms is so high that it is really difficult to carve out a niche for yourself solely through organic marketing. And you shouldn't forget that interactions with a bank, a shipping company, or an energy provider are not going to rank high in terms of favorite social media activities for most users.
But additionally, many businesses don't even try to compete with organic social media marketing. They don't try to compete with high-quality, attractive posts, but rather pathetically through sheer bulk of posts. This approach doesn't improve your brand's reputation, however, but rather annoys users, who distance themselves from such companies' social media presence.
The first solution, also recommended by Avinash Kaushik, is simple and practical. If your organic Facebook marketing isn't working, the paid advertising offered on the platform is an efficient and effective alternative. Facebook offers, as we have already seen, a wide variety of ad formats and also provides management and analysis tools that you can use to measure results, along with those from Google.
There's another solution, but it's a little more challenging: to establish and implement a social media strategy that opens the business to the interests and curiosity of the customer. A strategy like this can mean that the customer will take a greater interest in the company, its news, and its products than ever before. The company has to be ready, however, to question its established paths of client communication. This is the only way to achieve success in organic social media marketing.
Practice makes perfect!
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Published on 07/28/2017 by Dominik Große Holtforth.
Prof. Dr. Dominik Große Holtforth teaches business studies and media management at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. He is also head of the e-Commerce department which deals with strategy-related questions, the controlling of key performance indicators as well as competition strategies in online marketing and e-Commerce. Prof. Große Holtforth is co-founder of the e-Commerce agency Warenkorb.com and founder of the online plant shop “Meine Orangerie.” This is how he combines scientific expertise and practical experience.