Lee Odden

Making a Case for Social Media

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

Minneapolis Social MediaAt the Online Marketing Summit in Minneapolis this week, I presented on Social Media Strategy and briefly highlighted Blogging and Twitter as tactics. This is the first of several posts that will visit the key concepts offered in that presentation.

Why social media?  It comes down to gaining a competitive advantage. I like the quote from Oliver Young at Forrester Research:  “Marketers who embrace social media will outdistance competition, build community following, and boost loyalty” 

What better time to build better relationships with your customers than during a recession? Budgets are slim and purchasing decisions are often made based on relationships and connections right along with price. Word of mouth is powerful in good economic times and it’s even more impactful when economic pressures drive companies to be more creative and resourceful in purchasing products and services.

TopRank’s informal polls as well as the research of other organizations offer insights that report a growing optimism and interest at the budgetary level for social media investment. This is in contrast to the “instant social media marketing gurus” setting up shop and trying to drum up business by evangelising all things social. 

TopRank’s poll on top Digital Marketing tactics for 2009  earlier this year with over 530 respondents resulted in six out of the top ten digital marketing tactics involving social media: blogging, microblogging, social networking, social media monitoring, blogger relations and social media advertising.

Recently, Forrester & MarketingProfs published the results (eMarketer coverage) of a joint study of B-to-B Marketing in 2009 that ranked changes in marketing budget allocation. Of the top ten tactics, four were social media focused: online video, podcasts or rich media; discussion forums, social networks or communities; other web 2.0 media.

In Marketingsherpa’s 2008 Study of Social Media Marketing & PR, social media ranked #1 as a marketing budget line item for increased funding next to email marketing.

There’s reason for such optimism surrounding the social web. Companies that properly plan and implement social participation, can reap a variety of benefits:

  • Build thought leadership
  • Improve customer relationships
  • Improve recruiting
  • Reduce customer service costs
  • Improve search engine rankings
  • Increase media coverage
  • Influence sales

Despite such optimism and benefits, social media is new territory for most companies. One issue is that a discconect continues to exist between how companies are structured to formally  communicate with customers via marketing, sales and customer service touchpoints and customers that increasingly want to have a conversation with the brands they buy from. Microsoft Advertising put out a great video a while ago called “The Break Up” that does a good job illustrating this point.

The notion of engaging with customers socially is a new paradigm and will take a shift in thinking for most organizations to adopt.

In fact, there are a number of barriers to social media adoption. Marketing Sherpa’s Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Survey reveals that the most significant challenges for implementing social media within organizations include: lack of knowledge, inability to measure ROI, lack of budget/funding, management resistance, technical complexity and the perception of social media not being relevant to the market.

barriers social media marketingsherpa

Clearly there’s an opportunity to boost awareness and knowledge of social media best practices as well as models for strategic planning and adoption. A big part of the problem is that most companies start social media initiatives, ad hoc without any strategy. Building a business case for social media means doing homework on the target audience, setting goals, creating a strategy and making a plan that outlines what tactics and technologies make the most sense. Measuring the effect of such a plan is where confidence will increase regarding value and help answer the ROI question. The key thing to understand is that Social Media is less about ROI and more about influence

While companies are trying to figure out their broader social media strategies, it’s fine to test certain social channels, but there should still be a plan with goals, objectives and defined ways of measuring success. 

There’s been progress in opening lines of communication between brands and customers through brand sponsored forums (like Best Buy below), review sites and social channels such as Twitter, Social Networks and crowdsourcing sites like Dell Ideastorm and My Starbucks Idea.

best buy forum

These efforts in combination with increased buzz about the social web have motivated many companies to launch vairous social media initiatives. In fact, the list over at Peter Kim’s wiki currently lists nearly 950 examples of companies using social media with blogging, social networks, microblogging, online video and widgets attracting the most attention. Retail and consumer goods make up the overwhelming majority of social media participation by vertical, but  Government and several B2B verticals are also represented. Analysis of the social media examples was deftly handled by Eyal Sela.

social media examples

There are many interesting examples of social media mediocraty, outright failures and successes. Even with numerous examples available, implementation has been all over the board. Starting the corporate journey on the social web as a tactical excercise can be a waste of resources or worse, damaging to the brand.

A program of listening/monitoring combined with testing and participation can provide a company with a  good basis from which to create a Social Media Roadmap that profiles the intended audience and  their behaviors/preferences, sets clear goals, documents the strategy and recommended tactics and clearly identifies how success will be measured.

Researching competitor social media usage as well as success stories and case studies that reflect possibilities for your own company can go a very long way in convincing corporate management that social web engagment makes sense for your company.

The bottom line in making a case for social media is going to involve some homeword towards understanding the channel & tools, setting clear goals, understanding how your customers behave and what their preferences are for media discovery, consumption and sharing. With goals, strategy and tactics in hand, the metrics piece that measures value can be associated with comparable advertising models in order to associate $ amounts. Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li do a good job of explaining this in their book, Groundswell, when describing the ROI of blogging.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. My get shivers when I read statements like “Social Media is less about ROI and more about influence”. It transports me back to late 90’s nonsensical gems like “return on engagement” or “return on innnovation”.

    Isn’t the purpose of influence to generate awareness, trial and continuity? And if social media strategies can’t pay out in accomplishing these goals, why do it in the first place?

    I believe a thoughtful social media strategy can pay out, but results are not necessarily immediate or easy to measure. This explains management resistance and lack of funding stats.

    Btw, you did an excellent job of outlining the many pitfalls to avoid – illconceived to no strategy, poor execution, etc. Poor implementations will lead to greater resistance from brand managers to continue experimenting with social platforms.

  2. Nice Post!Good information and clear also.
    You have a nice blog and you maintain it.
    As far as Social Media concern Is it better to market online with social media or the search engines?
    because so many social media sites out there do you think they will replace the search engine for marketing online or for folks to find what they are looking for?

  3. I read your post with interest. This is certainly an avenue worth considering. Everyone is being very careful how and where they are putting their money and social networking could make a big impact. Great article!

  4. Lee,
    Lots of good advice here. I enjoyed the article right up until the last sentence: “…the metrics piece that measures value can be associated with comparable advertising models in order to associate $ amounts. Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li do a good job of explaining this in their book, Groundswell, when describing the ROI of blogging.”

    Use of advertising equivalents to attempt to assign value to PR or social media is highly flawed and intellectually lazy. I actually liked the blog ROI model of Bernoff and Li until I discovered their use of ad equivalents when attempting to assign value to their metrics. There are many, many arguments against ad equivalents (here are 12: http://tiny.cc/f6omM) but common sense should tell us the value of PR or SM really has nothing to do with what an advertisement would have cost, particularly in cases (like many blogs) where advertising does not even appear.

    We can and must do better in the future. Value is created by what social media and PR do for the brand/company, not what an ad would have cost.

    -Don B @donbart

  5. Hi Lee, I could’nt agree more with you.

    It is a great post and after reading, I can sum up social media sucess with 4 words: Goals,Strategy,Tactics and Metrics.

    You also provided very valuable links in this post.


  6. Excellent article and data. We have found that to be very true on knowledgable staff so we created a DVD called 10 minutes to twitter for CEO’s and their staffs to get up to speed fast and save them 7+ hours each in learning.


  7. Avatar Kevan Savage says

    Interesting article and good stuff.

    What scares is me is the “Lack of Knoweledgeable” staff! If your staff is not able to define and develop a social strategy, imagine how many customers we have to train first 🙂

    A recent article comparing conversion rates on social networks:


  8. Do you think B2B companies still benefit from Social Networking?

  9. Hi Lee, an interesting read. I see social media as still quite early in its adoption curve, however it seems to be emerging out of its infancy.

    I think the current recession could be a huge catalyst to drive faster adoption of web analytics and social media.

    It seems that in times of increasing competition and fewer resources, it will be those companies that can find new channels to connect with their customers (who increasingly happen to be using social media).

    It’s not always the direct impact of that specific channel, because often customers and visitors are influenced by ALL channels of interaction with a business. So a positive experience / brand recognition on Twitter would indeed benefit all channels of the business or website.

    I’ve blogged about web analytics and the recession at http://tinyurl.com/p2tonl.

    Its interesting to note that web analytics vendors are moving to adopt social media measurements into their strategies. Combining web analytics and a social media strategy such as Twitter effectively could be a potent antidote to the depression.

    Looking forward to reading your future posts about this subject.


  10. One of the greatest barriers that I find with my clients and social networking is that they flat don’t understand what it can do for them.

    When I explain that it is as much about participating on other people’s blogs, and social networks, it starts to make sense – it is not about links, but relationships. If you meet a contact on a blog, and that turns into a sale, you have just networked socially.

  11. Interesting Post!!

    During this recession, online marketing has certainly become the most important form of marketing media.

    Referring to the Indian market as I am from India, recession is giving birth to start-ups and startups are giving birth to the scope of newer dimensions in Online marketing; they are going to help online marketing control the world of marketing soon.

  12. Great post. A recession is an excellent time to improve relations with your customers. Not only does it help you short term for the reasons you listed, but the long term returns can be very significant.

  13. You know, I think that social networking as a lead generation tool is really a matter of what markets you are in.

    My clients don’t even know what a facebook is, let alone a twitter.

    Their are coming around – and there is much wisdom in getting ahead of the curve, but they respond much better to blogs and what they can do for them because netowrking is something that they understand.

  14. Avatar Scott Turke says

    What companies or organizations do a great job of social networking? On a different blog, I read where Dell attributes $1 MM in annual revenue to Twitter. Are there any really good examples? After all, unless I misunderstand, the bottom line IS the bottom line. Or, can’t it be measured properly?


  1. […] Essentially, if you can create something for buzz, realize that content is actively advertising your brand even if it’s not a direct route to create a lead.  Remember, social media is less about ROI and more about influence. […]