At the turn of the century (the last century — not this one), autos were failing left and right until Henry Ford introduced a new assembly line method for building mass-market automobiles, and the likes of Ferdinand Porsche honed the design and development of performance vehicles. In that same way, social activations are akin to automobiles. You have mass-market cars produced on an assembly line and you have handcrafted vehicles, built for specific performance objectives such as speed and luxury. Both serve a unique purpose and have their place in the market. Consumers in the market for a Porsche shouldn’t purchase a Ford and expect the same performance, and vice versa. The same thinking holds true in the process of procuring social solutions and technologies.
Sophisticated marketers that want real, meaningful, and measurable engagement don’t want an assembly line, “any color, as long as its black” solution, rather, they seek engagement mechanics that are specifically crafted and designed to meet the value proposition of engaging with their audiences.
However, the problem with those experiences is that most of those have not been developed with the proper thinking. The performance of custom social experiences over the past several years is more an observation on the maturity state of the industry, rather than the effectiveness of the type of solution. Carrying through the automobile industry analogy, the auto, itself, isn’t the failure, simply the lack of proper method.
Most custom social experiences to date have been designed without a rigorous process that marries business objectives with consumer desires and the appropriate deployment channels with the appropriate mechanics and functionality. In an effort to help marketers design better custom social experiences, we’ve codified our learnings from the design and development of over 500+ custom social experiences since 2007 into a holistic framework that provides validation and a roadmap for the execution of social programs.
A social page management and publishing tool, on its own, is fine for beginners who are just learning to understand social on Facebook, and it is needed to drive streamlined publishing and ongoing page management across markets; however, meaningful engagement comes across the engagement spectrum and needs to be customized to have any tangible benefit. Custom social experiences, one example being those that provide utility, do, and will, always have a place in the toolbox of marketers, so long as they are designed and executed to deliver business results.
We can all agree that success in marketing is set up by a well crafted and articulated social strategy and that social programs are more effective when supported by media. Furthermore, there is no silver activation bullet. Rather, there are various ways to successfully activate consumers through social channels. But, let’s move away from the discussion of activation tactics and put the focus on business results because this is the conversation that industry leaders need to converge on in 2012.
To move forward as an industry we all need to face the music and substantiate to executive teams the value of online social engagement spend beyond the superficial metrics of likes and followers. Whether a marketer is activating in social via a custom social experience, rich video content, or a crafty message that is deployed through a platform such as Buddy, Vitrue, Spreadfast et al, there is a need for a standardized way to measure social performance. Just as there are standards in the field of performance marketing, we need holistic measures and answers to questions such as:
- What does success in Social mean to the CMO and what does her measurement dashboard look like?
- How can an executive team correlate business outcomes to a brand’s activities in social channels?
- And the holy grail: what is the ROI on the company’s overall spend in Social?
These are the challenges facing all of us in 2012. As with the automobile industry, there are numerous companies with different hypotheses and approaches, each building out separate models and platforms. It is the companies that deliver solutions to answer the above questions that will stand the test of time and win in the long run. However, this is not a zero sum game. This year will see more leading companies working together to set standards and bring best-of-breed solutions to market. As this New Year kicks into high gear, let’s challenge ourselves to, as an industry, elevate the discussion in 2012 to focus more on the metrics that matter.