What is the true value of Social Media to a brand? I believe many are STILL looking at this in too narrow and traditional a fashion. Most people are focused on trying to assign a dollar value to each Facebook post, like, share, Twitter follower, TikTok view, etc., instead of paying attention to the fact that without the engagement and interaction that takes place in these mediums, the value of each user is greatly diminished and the brand is leaving so much value on the table. The relationships built with existing and future customers fuel activation (conversations, the conversion of users into advocate influencers, and especially sharers of content, through meaningful experiences), and therefore hold the true value and strength of social media/marketing. If we don’t value Social Media with the end in mind, and take it beyond the “advertising” measurement aspect, our numbers are essentially more ad conversion metrics, and/or meaningless indicators of simply who shows up online, but not who matters to long-term brand success.

The “social” part of social media campaigns makes them quite different than traditional ad campaigns; therefore, the value they contribute also needs to be measured in a different way than traditional ad campaigns — the ongoing communication, feedback,
and ability of the consumer to have an impact on the brand (and for the brand to allow that to happen!) must be considered important.

Instead of a brand presence relying on traditional means of catching attention that used to be limited to the initial “look and feel” of a website, packaging, brochure, television ad, etc., and moved to the constant bombardment of digital advertising that invaded not only digital media, but has almost completely overwhelmed the social space as well, brands need to give much more thought and attention to a broader and deeper ongoing connection with audience members based on brand personality and a relationship… even if they only limit it to valuable content sharing. Social media has the power of immediacy with seconds/minutes-to-market TikTok videos, Instagram posts, Tweets, Facebook postings, YouTube video clips, etc. In other words, with social media we can communicate daily, thereby allowing (and requiring!) a brand to adjust, change course, and redirect on any schedule they see worthwhile depending upon the feedback they are receiving every day. If only more brands empowered this to happen. But in some ways the fact that so few do, is what makes this such a tremendous opportunity for the ones who will take this action, empower their employees AND start considering what the Customer Experience is with their marketing.

As these relationships are built and nurtured, an incredible partnership forms which circumvents the traditional modes and timeline of activation. Now a brand can call upon its followers, advocates, and fans to help them with any initiative that presents itself as important to the brand, and they are immediately ready to launch into action. Add in a component of “what’s important to the consumer” and there lies the magic.

Years ago, in 2008-2010 before almost any brand was willing to make the effort, I spent a year building a very broad, interactive, and well-respected social media presence at e.l.f. Cosmetics via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and — most importantly — by courting the blogging community. This took a great deal of time and effort which was not well received by the rest of senior management. Like everyone else in this space, they wanted to see immediate results and were most interested in driving direct sales from our Twitter, Facebook and YouTube audiences. They, like many others, viewed these “fans” (for lack of a better word) as an audience instead of as assets. When I started this effort the company had approximately $5MM in annual sales, when I left 2+ years later they had grown to $50MM+ and today the company is public with a market cap of $1.62B.

The refusal to treat the followers we work so hard to attract as assets is a clearly-evident key problem IMHO.  

Most senior management has been spoiled over the past 20 years due to the scaling of easily-trackable media like email, search, affiliate, and all digital marketing. These are incredibly powerful and worthwhile marketing tools, but they have caused many to forget the long-term value of building a brand and how loyal customers actually evolve and how much value they can provide.  Again, we need to consider the end results, not just the raw numbers of users, followers, etc, in order to accurately assess the value of the relationships.

I can talk for days about this, but without real-life examples these concepts are just another opinion about how to make sense of the social media explosion.  Allow me, therefore, to back up my opinions with affirmation from my days at e.l.f. Cosmetics.
At e.l.f., with no marketing budget other than my time and travel, our social media outreach, and earned media attention, we managed to create a powerful following of “Dynamic” Brand Advocates. I define “Dynamic” Advocacy not as passive liking, recommending, or sharing, but instead characterized by vigorous, forceful, and effective action.  These e.l.f. dynamic advocates were bloggers who demonstrated a sincere interest in being involved with things like comments and questions for a new site design before it was launched, advance knowledge of new product releases and samples of those products in order to help spread the word, helping to choose new colors, products, etc. Through these relationships, e.l.f. was able to have dozens of blog posts created in advance of many initiatives, reaching hundreds of thousands of readers who trusted and had a relationship with these bloggers.  The readers and bloggers provided invaluable marketing and word-of-mouth that quickly spread throughout the social graph of all these people.

The most successful of these initiatives was during the launch of a test holiday promotion with Target Stores. Within ten days of launch, there were in excess of 400 related blog posts, dozens of related YouTube videos, 1000+ related Facebook postings, 1000+ Twitter ReTweets, and hundreds of multiple platform stories written about e.l.f. products being available nationwide in Target stores. This represented a direct reach to over one million readers and the extension to their social graph brought the number
into the tens of millions! Well before mid-December, Target was sold out of e.l.f. products, with no other promotion whatsoever, and before year end had made the decision to bring e.l.f. products into a majority of Target stores throughout the US as a permanent inline cosmetics brand. As you can imagine, this had an enormous effect on the top and bottom lines of the organization then, and to their subsequent exponential growth going forward.

This is just one of many social media success stories from my time at e.l.f, but this one perfectly demonstrates the incredible potential for these platforms that cannot possibly be accurately measured until end results are achieved. If we had insisted on valuing this initiative simply by placing an initial dollar figure to each Facebook fan or Twitter follower, we would have highly undervalued the initial and the ongoing success of the initiative. When we looked instead at the end result of not only sales,
but also the impact of greatly increased brand awareness resulting in and from product placement at Target stores, the different impact is clear. This is Social Media with the end in mind! The bloggers in this example were initially activated because e.l.f. took the time to reach out through social media and build trusted relationships which resulted in the bloggers’ sincere interest in
involvement. They were ready to be influencers. Those bloggers then leveraged existing relationships and built further trusted relationships with their readers, and quickly the bloggers’ positive opinions about e.l.f. products became the readers’ opinions, turning the readers into Brand Advocates as they spread their opinions throughout their social graph. Suddenly, in a ridiculously
short amount of time, the e.l.f. brand took on a huge life of its own, and Target took notice. Take a few influencers (talented content producers), add social media with a focus on relationships, and you get activation resulting in high ongoing value for your brand.

Just activating your audience, however, is not enough.  A brand always needs to be working to keep these valued influencer relationships alive and strong and build an emotional connection. Thankfully social media allows us to do that quickly and cost-effectively, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you can sustain relationships by just tossing a few posts out now and then. The key to continued success for any brand/retailer/etailer/organization is identifying with the customer, and that requires that you pay attention. Listening is finally getting the respect it deserves, so take advantage of those tools to listen to many and to listen carefully, using that information to adjust your message to keep it relevant to your consumer…. and most importantly to show them you are listening.

Why does this matter? Because brand loyalty declines due to lack of relevance — this has been evident for years and is clearly a direct result of not listening. Now we have the tools to help us listen, so leverage them! Instead of having to wait for year-long plans to evolve and run their course, if incorporated properly, engagement can allow a brand to become much more relevant… think how much that is worth! Every company is looking for magic viral campaigns—and that is half the problem with the way most major brands view media today. Marketing is not about that kind of one shot, campaign- related impact. It is about sustainability with regard to building relationships and getting a return on investment for that effort, or in my vernacular, ROR: Return on Relationship, #RonR.

When building a social presence, therefore, building relationships through engaging as many people as possible either face-to-face or one-on-one will enable that brand to count on those influencers (and don’t forget… EVERYONE INFLUENCES SOMEONE) to be a voice for the brand in all their future endeavors. When you have that end in mind, whether it be selling more product directly to the consumer, developing products that have a long life-time value, or getting the attention of a retailer, you see the unmistakably high value of activating consumers to powerfully strengthen your brand.

Number one is always try to understand who your customer is and their most likely activation point/connection to your brand. Social media’s incredible power is in allowing us to instantaneously connect to, interact with, and build relationships with our audience of thousands to gain high-value end results.

Now let’s talk about the Power of Relationships… because for me “It’s All About Relationships” and building, nurturing, and expanding them via Social Media. But be sure to remember… “Social Media is a facilitator of relationships, it is not the relationship itself.” You have to give to get… Relationships matter. This is not just about how many friends you have on Facebook or how many are following you on the various platforms… this is about reaching out, getting the opportunity to say what you think, communicate, and most importantly… Engage, Interact and Learn. I am going to say that again… Engage, Interact and Learn. Anyone can shout out what they think… some will listen and some will not, that’s Broadcast Media. In my humble opinion Social Media’s special value is not a broadcast medium (there are many now and in the future); it’s a communications medium… not about advertising, but about building relationships. Mark my words… Relationships will lead to sales or a word I like better… VALUE.

In my humble opinion… the true long-term value of a brand “and” personal marketing is the relationships that will be with you for the long-term and will drive ROI and VALUE if developed and used effectively. This is truly what I call ROR… Return on Relationship, #RonR.

Two important takeaways…

1 – Trust is built upon interaction, when you’re true to your word, authentic, and genuine. To build relationships online,
you (as a brand or individual) have to offer value in return.

TRUST Simplified… TRUST is different from most things we earn. It is highly valued, but it can’t be bought, sometimes shared, but that window closes quickly when overused as it often is. It must be earned, but cannot be sold. Its lifespan will be as long as you are willing to nurture, respect, and care for it. IMHO trust has a way of earning its own value and maintaining its own lifespan. Those who seek it, and want to keep it, have to live with that reality. “REAL trumps PERFECT… because REAL creates TRUST.”

2 – Relationships ARE the most valuable currency – honor them, invest in them, and start measuring your ROR!

 

 

 

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