With dozens of social marketing venues for its divisions and subdivisions, General Electric still retains central oversight, largely through its use of analytics.
As new platforms rise and fall, Paul Marcum, director of global digital marketing and programming at GE, keeps a close watch, game to test-drive their effectiveness. But he's just as willing to move on if the venue doesn't attract the desired audience. For instance, the company let its Foursquare presence go when it realized the platform was not a match for GE's marketing needs.
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With brand, divisional and subdivisional social media presences on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and more, GE found that developing and deploying content and managing every response to each audience was too time-consuming for in-house resources.
Offloading content development has allowed the company to develop an overarching social media strategy that plays to each platform's strength. Marcum considers Facebook as "GE at its most accessible" because it has the most content and fastest response times. YouTube is an avenue to celebrate GE's technology and manufacturing impact with engaging videos.
Taken together these channels "humanize the organization in a way it never had been before," Marcum says.
He selects advertising agencies based on their expertise with specific social media formats. For instance, one agency skilled in visual presentation and video deals with Instagram content; another that is known for its ability to generate micro-content is tapped for Facebook and Twitter.
Marcum acknowledges that this "robust mix requires more overhead" in terms of managing it all but ultimately calls it time well-spent.
Marcum continues to finesse GE's social marketing approach, mostly through improved analytics. In the early days, Marcum received a PDF each week with basic results such as likes, fans and followers. But that was inadequate, because "it wasn't tailored to engagement or real time and really didn't reflect the opportunity in social media," he says.
Nowadays, GE uses homegrown analytics and visualization software that pings all social media APIs for data, including Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter. Managers can access real-time customizable dashboards that illustrate performance on a daily basis.
Marcum says this model is far better for determining the best social media platforms for specific customer segments. His ultimate goal: to have clear visibility into cost per engagement.
Social marketing: Early days
Mark Fidelman, author of Socialized!: How the Most Powerful Businesses Harness the Power of Social, has witnessed a lot of confusion in the social marketing arena, stemming mostly from an attachment to traditional marketing strategies.
Marketing gets stuck on lead generation, he says, instead of looking at the real value of social media. "Social marketing is less about converting clicks into deals and more about creating relationships. Eventually the trust built causes people to buy and that's how you monetize social marketing," Fidelman says, although there are no hard-and-fast numbers that prove that assertion.
Before that can happen, businesses must bust up internal roadblocks such as a tendency to hoard information and maintain silos. Social marketing relies on cross-departmental collaboration to extract the most value from feedback and analytics.
For social marketing to reach maximum maturity, IT must be involved in strategy, which is not standard practice in organizations today. Marketing teams either go it alone or hire outsourcers to meet IT needs.
Primarily, IT must be on board because data gathered from social media platforms must be fed into back-end systems for analysis that can be distributed throughout the organization to inform decisions. Keeping that data out of reach defeats its purpose and diminishes its power, according to Fidelman.
By partnering with IT early on, he says, companies can achieve the holy grail of social marketing: providing customers the right message at the right time on the right platform and in the right context.
For more on the marketing/IT relationship, see "Social marketing goes better with IT."
Changing content in response to data
Publishers Clearing House (PCH) shares this vision, already giving social marketing equal visibility with television and online advertising, events and direct marketing.
PCH engages its audience through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and other popular platforms. The company has already amassed more than 1 million fans across its multiple Facebook pages.
"Our goal is to have a large-scale, highly engaged audience," says Deborah Holland, an executive vice president at PCH. Holland and her team assess the success of social marketing via Salesforce.com's Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly Buddy Media) analytics software. Users can analyze comments, tweets and other types of posts based on pre-determined filters and tags, along with popular metrics such as Facebook likes and fans and Twitter followers.
Although PCH's social media reporting tools don't interface with other enterprise systems currently, if a social platform user registers or opts into the PCH email program, then he or she is tracked as having come from the social channel.
PCH relies on the resulting data to target content and respond to customer demand. Analytics recently revealed that consumers enjoy in-depth profiles of winners as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses with employees, so PCH beefed up that type of content.
All social media budget expenses are manually integrated with the enterprise-wide budget management system, providing a comprehensive view of total company budget reporting. Social media engagement analytics are gathered using channel-specific software such as Facebook Insights, Salesforce.com and WordPress. Managers receive a weekly comprehensive report on high-level engagement and volume, while executives receive a manually prepared monthly report that includes social media volumes and engagement levels.
Holland credits corporate structure for the amplified view of social media. Head of promotions for all of PCH, Holland has been able to seamlessly blend social marketing into every aspect of operations.
"We have four people on our social media team and they are networked to other key people throughout the organization, including designers and writers who develop content for all channels," she says. PCH, she adds, has created a fluid network of employees who help out and know that social media is part of their job.
This teamwork is tested often, as PCH awards prizes every 10 minutes. Engagement rates of Facebook fans "talking about this" average 10 percent to 15 percent, but can reach as much as 80 percent just before large prize announcements, such as those bestowed by the popular Prize Patrol. These events have to be coordinated across all marketing channels with social media ready to react in real time.
Divide and conquer
The spontaneous need for human interaction is one of the hardest lessons social media is delivering to companies. Four years ago, when Best Western International first established a Facebook presence, it encouraged the operators for each of its 2,200 North American properties to also set up shop on Facebook.
But the company quickly learned that not all property managers have the time or public relations savvy to handle the nuances of social media such as dealing with an upset customer's post. "If the page doesn't get managed, then you potentially turn a good experience into a bad experience that can damage the brand," says Michael Morton, vice president of member services at Best Western.
Best Western listens in on social media using Medallia's customer experience software. Medallia analyzes the text of what is being said about the brand in general and the hotel experience in particular. Best Western uses this intelligence, gleaned through dashboards and customized reports, to understand its successes and shortcomings, as well as those of its competitors.
"Monitoring social media is a great way for us to understand what is positively impacting a guest and what their greatest concerns are with our hotels," Morton says. "This information, in addition to solicited feedback, helps us set the direction for the brand."
Morton's group built the initial Medallia deployment "without relying on IT," he explains. "Later we wanted to involve them as we rolled this out to more and more properties." IT also played a role in bringing data in from other systems. For example, IT helped the business team include purchasing behavioral information, such as where customer bookings were originating -- directly through the hotel, travel agent, third-party sites and so forth. This information helps answer questions like whether properties with higher scores have more bookings.
Best Western believes so strongly in the wisdom social marketing provides that it has bumped up the weight given to this feedback versus surveys, which also are conducted by Medallia, and other types of data collection. Morton believes the influence of social media will only get stronger. "We aren't ready to take dollars away from other marketing efforts, but we are investing in this area," he says.
Although Best Western now leaves the decision of whether to be a social media host up to individual owners, nearly all hotels are engaged in social media via Medallia. The software sends alerts to designated hotel staff if a comment, tweet or other post requires immediate attention.
If customers gripe on Facebook about a lack of towels poolside at a property, the on-site manager is alerted so he quickly can restock them. Hotel operators also can access statistics and insight regarding their performance against local competitors. "Initially, hotel operators didn't understand the magnitude or value of an immediate review and response," Morton says, adding social media metrics has given them perspective.
Centralization yields benefits
Defense and aerospace giant Raytheon, with presences primarily on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, is gauging customer interest in Google+, Pinterest and other emerging platforms.
Similar to Best Western, Raytheon made some strategy adjustments since it first entered the social media realm. Namely, the company centralized all social media properties.
"Everything had been owned and operated differently across the enterprise," says Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications. "Human resources owned the Facebook page and their focus was on recruiting college students and other would-be employees."
Meanwhile, the communications team was operating a Twitter feed as a broadcast channel for corporate news. The company's YouTube stream had no central ownership to start, only random uploading of corporate videos.
In the past 18 months, social media oversight has been gathered under Wickham's group, allowing the alignment of social media content and user interaction with the company's carefully crafted brand and reputation strategy.
Wickham says the inflection point for true transformation lies in understanding the difference between merely having a presence on social media and engaging in social marketing. "Social marketing is the strategic use of social media channels to deliver and amplify specific brand messaging to a targeted audience," she says. "It's much more deliberate. One is targeting, the other is simply broadcasting your message."
Raytheon uses a combination of homegrown social media analytics tools and those commonly available on social media platforms to keep tabs on messaging and sentiment.
As Raytheon's social media presence grows, so does its risk of exposure to a negative PR event. Therefore, Wickham includes social media managers in all corporate crisis strategy planning and drills. "We've always had a robust emergency response plan within the company but now we've baked in a viral element," she says.
A recent corporate responsibility event put Raytheon's social response to the test. The company had partnered with a major football team to provide free game tickets to a group of veterans. One of the invited veterans posted on the company's Facebook page that he only received one of the two tickets promised, along with a negative comment.
Raytheon's team immediately contacted him directly and found that the distributor, rather than asking for more tickets, only handed out one ticket to each person. Raytheon was able to rectify the situation in time for the game -- something Wickham says wouldn't have happened if the Facebook page weren't so closely monitored.
To fully realize his vision, GE's Marcum says that social media platforms need to add attribution, so brands can track back content to individuals through re-tweets and shares. "Once we have the total picture, we can better understand where conversion pricing" -- or the cost to acquire a customer -- needs to be, he says.
Best Western's Morton contends that better attribution will help monetize social marketing efforts by showing the origin of sales -- for instance, an influential blogger sharing a hotel discount posting -- and "shorten the bread trail crumb to customers." His group wants to see "when and where the customer is making the purchase," he says.
The one major constraint in this vision is "making sure we can get the operational data included," Morton explains. "IT plays a crucial role here because Medallia gathers a large amount of customer feedback data, but the more we can tie customer feedback to operational metrics, then the more potential there is for insights and focused, impactful action... Hopefully as systems grow more integrated we can better automate some of these processes, allowing us to focus on deriving value from the information."
Ultimately the goal is for this process to be relatively instantaneous, Morton says, so "the second an online review or feedback pops up Medallia is already processing information captured by Best Western on what happened during the customer's stay."
For its part, PCH plans to use attribution not just to evaluate advertising ROI, but to identify influencers in the PCH social media universe as well as the audience members who are most active.
Also because of the company's large mobile following, PCH plans to keep the heat on Facebook to improve the quality of its mobile applications. "A third of our audience is mobile and that number is growing rapidly," Holland says. "Facebook apps are not completely compatible with mobile devices, but we are dependent on their developers to fix that."
Best Western's Morton, meanwhile, is studying ways to integrate social media analytics into the company's property management system. His hope is that someday if a customer tweets that he wishes he had a first-floor room, that information will be recorded as a preference in his customer profile.
Wickham, Holland, Morton and Marcum all are optimistic about the future of social marketing and are sure it will pay off for their brands. "There is a lot of work left to be done, but it's not an area of frustration -- it's one of excitement and anticipation," Marcum says.
Sandra Gittlen is a freelance technology writer in the Boston area. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story, "Analytics boost social marketing efforts" was originally published by Computerworld.