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Test Driving Social Media Marketing? Go Ahead. Experiment. 'Tis the Right Road to Ride.

eMarketer’s recent report B2B Marketing Online : Business Meets Social Media shows there is neither broad adoption of social media nor one "silver bullet" social media tactic. Many companies are experimenting, and reporting different successes with different tactics. Some data nuggets comparing B2B and B2C findings:

  • 21% of B2B marketers report podcasts being effective versus 13% of B2C marketers
  • 17% B2B report blogs as effective versus 6% B2C
  • 8% B2B report Second Life as effective compared to unreported B2C number

The difference in B2B and B2C is not surprising. Social media marketing is such a broad category of tactics that one size will definitely not fit all. What is effective for one organization may very well not be effective for another, even in the same industry. It depends on how you’re trying to engage your audience and what type of interaction you’re targeting. And because engagement is all about interaction, if you’re aiming for a one-shot perfect-the-first-time design, you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s interactive, so you’ll have to try it out.

Indeed, eMarketer says ‘ the operative word for using social media is "experiment" …[because]… they were unsure how emerging vehicles such as blogs, games, social networks, virtual worlds, widgets and wikis would actually influence potential customers ‘. Absolutely! Try it, evaluate, improve.

To evaluate effectiveness, it’s necessary to have targets. However, it’s also important not to constrain projects too tightly with too many targets. In the early experimentation phase, insistence on numerical ROI can kill learning and experimentation. Instead, employ a balanced scorecard (wikipedia definition) approach. Have a vision and a goal in mind but focus more on learning or process than financial ROI. Where marketing is "social", higher level metrics may be more relevant and useful. For example, some learnings from the recent Social Media Conference by the Canadian Institute:

  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has a blog. Colin McKay, Director, Public Education and Communications, explained that one of their primary goals is outreach. They created and posted a video on the blog and on YouTube called "A friend of a friend of a friend knows you’re on vacation". This video has been viewed over 3,500 times on YouTube since it was posted in November 2007. But the numbers don’t tell the full story. Isn’t it valuable to receive feedback from a teacher that students should see this video and that she’s going to show it to the Grade 7 students at her school?
  • Microsoft Canada hosts a series of blogs* to facilitate dialogues with professional developers in Canada, making technology more open and accessible. I asked Barnaby Jeans if they have metrics specifically for the blogs. No, but developer satisfaction and what they think of Microsoft is tracked. The blogs’ impact, as well as the impact of other developer community events is tracked within that ongoing developer satisfaction measurement effort.
    *Blogs: Developers, IT Pros, IT Managers, User Experience
  • BMW Canada has launched its 3rd social media campaign, marketing the 1 Series. Previous campaigns involved xDrive and the M Series. The BMW 1 Series campaign currently underway integrates multiple social media tactics and is the first with evaluative metrics.

Some believe that lack of insistence of ROI metrics by tactic is a cop-out. Not so.

Too much of a focus on attribution of benefits can be value destroying. At a past CMA conference on accountability, there was much talk about how some folks were expected to report the ROI of a customer telephone call. That’s going too far. I favour the approach put forward by Hewlett-Packard at that conference. Measure the ROI on your marketing mix. Experiment with different mixes. Measure the difference in ROI on different mixes. Repeat.

ROI marketing measurement will continue to be a minefield, especially where new tactics are involved. Organizations should waive ROI for emerging marketing tactics. Set specific learning goals but defer financial ROI during the learning phase. Run integrated campaign experiments with and without social media marketing support. Compare the integrated outcomes. Repeat.