This post was co-authored with Becky Ross and Shannon Gorman, both MBA students at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.
Social media is an increasingly important tactic in companies’ marketing strategy and yet results from The CMO Survey continue to indicate that many companies manage social media as a separate activity. Asked how effectively social media is linked to their company’s marketing strategy on a 1-7 scale where 1 is “not integrated” and 7 is “very integrated,” the average level of integration was only 3.9. Although we see companies planning to increase social media spending as a percent of marketing budget from 9.4% to 13.2% over the next year and 21.4% over the next five years, the level of integration has not changed in the past four years (see Figure).
Figure. How effectively is social media linked to your firm’s marketing strategy? (1=Not integrated, 7=Very integrated)
We interviewed marketers across industry sectors for insight into what actions they are taking to improve social media integration. Here is what we learned.
- Choose strategy over tools. Social media is still in its infancy, so change is constant and new tools are being introduced at lightning speed. Using the latest and greatest technology may benefit the company, especially when its target audience includes younger and more media-savvy customers. However, it is always important to judge the value and impact of a social media tool against the company’s marketing strategy rather than its innovativeness. Will the tool help the company design or develop a more effective marketing strategy? If not, leave the shiny object on the shelf for another day.
- Drive social media actions against marketing goals. If social media actions are undertaken without a clear customer objective, integration is likely to be elusive. This means that marketers should always identify a specific customer objective when employing social media tactics. One common approach we observed was marketers using social medial to help move the customer into and through the purchase funnel.
- Be forward looking. Like traditional media campaigns, social media is often used to generate brand, product, or company awareness. If awareness is the goal, marketers must have a clear understanding of what happens next in the company’s marketing strategy to convert awareness into purchase intent. Likewise, if building brand advocacy is the goal, marketers should be clear about how to use these evangelists to amplify the company’s message and increase customer loyalty.
- Align social media channel to marketing strategy. While practically every brand is on Facebook and Twitter, there are many other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat. Brands typically do not have the resources to be on every social media platform, so how do marketers prioritize? They should choose the social media platforms that fit the company’s target audience and brand positioning. For instance, Facebook and Twitter tend to reach a broad demographic, while Instagram and Snapchat have a younger user base.
- Create social media toolkits. Brand toolkits have become standard procedure for many companies and are effectively used to guide local markets on how to portray global brands by providing templates and guidelines for tailoring content. In a similar way, some companies are starting to create social media toolkits which include templates for Facebook and Twitter posts. These kits can ensure strategic alignment and create a more cohesive brand image across geographies and platforms while reducing the time and resources required to develop social media content.
- Put social media experts on brand and customer teams. When social media operates from a separate group or from a separate location, there is a greater probability of poor integration. Instead, social media experts should be closely linked to the brand and customer teams so they are involved as soon as communication objectives have been established. This involvement pays off because social media experts are tuned in to the latest platforms and know what approaches generate interest from current and potential customers, fans, and enthusiasts. As a result, these experts can guide brand teams to the most effective results.
- Balance in-house and agency expertise. With so much to learn and social media moving at such a fast pace, many companies outsource social media activities to multiple agencies. This structure threatens the integration of social media because agencies rarely understand the totality of a company’s marketing strategy. This concern leads some companies to move more social media activities in house or utilize deep partnership models with their agencies.
- Convert to purchase. Social media is one of the very few places where companies can engage with their customers in an ongoing, personal, and real-time manner. As such, it can serve as a key touch point that brings the company’s marketing strategy to its raison d’être— If, for example, a follower posts she is going shopping for a particular item, companies can respond with a tweet containing helpful information or personalized discounts, and/or promotions.
- Be willing to say no. Given the buzz surrounding social media, every brand or customer-facing function likely wants its own Facebook page and Twitter account. Marketing leaders need to hold the line and decide which social media platforms are ideal for a given brand from a strategic and customer point of view. Controlling social media access through a social media group ensures that someone is accountable and knowledgeable about the best ways to use it as part of a company’s or brand’s marketing strategy.
- Champion integration. For integration to be valued and sought, leaders need to share success stories throughout the organization. Success stories can become part of the company’s ethos and organically influence the integration of social media in marketing activities.
- Sort out attribution. If social media is part of a company’s marketing strategy, questions will be raised about its contribution to sales revenue and how it works alone and in conjunction with other tactics. These are worthy questions and steps must be taken to understand and measure the effects of social media in order to integrate it with the company’s marketing strategy in the most efficient and effective manner. Marketers shouldn’t let these attribution questions keep them from pursuing social media, but instead consider them an opportunity to demonstrate its value.
- Learn from failures. Because it is much easier to experiment with social media than traditional media, companies can test and learn quickly. Also, social media execution costs tend to be much smaller than traditional media, so the losses from failures are less severe. By experimenting with social media, companies can more accurately determine which social media posts and campaigns have the greatest impact on their marketing strategies—helping to further integration efforts.
When social media is integrated with the company’s marketing strategy, the company’s management of its customer and brand assets is seamless. Strategic elements such as segmentation, targeting, positioning, and all go-to-market activities reflect a clear and consistent understanding of the value the company offers to its customers and how the company seeks to capture value from attracting and retaining these customers over time. The result of social media integrated into marketing strategy is improved efficiency and effectiveness in all aspects of the marketing plan.