TRG blog: 3 Ways to Put Social Media in its Place

3 Ways to Put Social Media in its Place

Graphic: Mike Licht via Flickr
This week, TRG's own Will Lester and Amelia Northrup are contributing to the Arts Marketing Blog Salon on Americans for the Arts' ARTSblog. This article by Amelia was originally posted as part of the salon, which previews the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference in November.
Having written about social media and its application in arts marketing for the last few years, I’ve become aware of a disconnect. I’ve written about specific social media tools and tactics, but I realize that I haven’t addressed how it fits in with overall marketing strategy, and within the media mix.

Think about the campaigns that have delivered the most revenue. For many organizations, subscription or membership campaigns are the lifeblood of their revenue each year (a good example of this came from TRG Arts client Arena Stage recently).

Direct-response renewal campaigns usually produce the highest sales volume as well as the highest marketing return-on-investment (ROI). On the other hand, social media has eluded our efforts to assign value to it since its inception. Social media is hard to track ROI on and even harder to monetize. On top of that, it’s nearly impossible to track social media users because doing so falls outside of the proprietary systems designed to protect their privacy.

You will not, repeat, NOT hear my colleagues and me advocating for abandoning your social media efforts. However, we do ask you to consider the question: Looking at your marketing strategy holistically, how does social media complement your most effective marketing campaigns?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” prescribed answer, just as there is no magic formula for the perfect media mix and strategy. Your social media presence is part of your own unique brand, and so it will be different from anyone else’s in terms of what works. However, there are simple guidelines that you can use to direct your efforts:

To what degree can your interactions can be direct? Direct response tactics deserve most of the time and money an organization spends on its media mix. Why? Because when it comes to sales campaigns, direct marketing—usually mail, email, telemarketing—continue to deliver superior response results.
As much as you can, use social media as a direct marketing tool. Instead of “broadcasting” your message on social media, focus on social media’s real power: connecting you with people you might not otherwise have conversations with. Instead of using it as a mass communication tool, use it as an acquisition, customer service, and relationship-building tool.

To what degree can your interactions be targeted? The reason direct marketing is so effective is that it targets patrons, consistently putting the right offer in front of the right prospect at the right time. The new technology options out there add some interesting nuances to the concept of targeting, as well as directness.

For example, a tweet or status update is “targeted” to a point in that your fans and followers have opted in, but it’s easy to miss. Prior to recent changes, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, each of whom creates about three pieces of content per day. Add to that the 80 community pages, groups and events that the average user is also connected to, and the chance that users will see, let alone respond to your post shrinks. Add to that the fact that often your capability for re-contacting or capturing data on users is severely limited, if not non-existent. I addressed this in a recent article about connecting social media with your database on the National Arts Marketing Project's website.

Social media platforms have started evolving to focus more on targeting. Facebook Ads is the probably the earliest and most obvious example; ad viewers are targeted by age, geography, and a dazzling array of interests. (Note: Facebook Ads are informed by social data which is why I discuss it here; there are other types of targeted online advertising that target based on other data/tracking techniques.) The newest social media darling, Google+, builds its network around the central concept that people want to communicate different ways with different groups. Facebook has tried various ways to categorize friends as well.

To what degree does it provide ROI in revenue or patronage? The question of ROI always comes back to time and resource management. There are hundreds of ways to measure social media success. But focusing back on the idea of effective campaigns, how is your social media helping you in terms of marketing goals? In terms of customer service or brand management? In terms of actual revenue? If it’s not helping you meet those goals, it’s time to take a second look at the time you’re spending there.

Finally, don’t take attention away from strategies/tactics that you know get results to focus an inordinate amount of attention on the new shiny social media thing. Conversely, don’t be so focused on those other efforts that you ignore what’s going on in social media world. Set a strategy focused on connecting directly with patrons, building relationships, and using it as a conduit to improve loyalty rather than to sell tickets fast.


Posted October 6, 2011
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