5 Steps to Worry-Free Social Media ROI

by | Mar 21, 2012 | Blog, Blog Archive, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

Sales has always been a relationship-driven process, especially in industries like financial services, insurance, biopharma, and casino gaming.  Since many of our clients operate within these industries, we’ve watched with special interest as they started the process of translating their relationships into successful social media marketing campaigns.

For clients who operate in industries that are both highly regulated and distributed, it’s not as simple as hiring a smart, talented social media manager and getting started.  To begin with, there’s the undeniable fact that most people have relationships with other people – not brands.  Sure, they’ll “like” a brand’s Facebook page in order to enter a contest or earn a discount, but a mouse click is hardly a relationship.

Then there’s the fact that while corporate marketing has the strategy and the vision – as well as the resources required for a compliant social media marketing effort that passes muster with the alphabet soup list of regulatory agencies – it’s the local or field sales organization that has personal relationships with prospects and customers.

The planning process required to develop and manage a compliant social media marketing effort in a distributed sales and marketing environment can seem daunting – but it doesn’t have to be.  Here are five steps that can help you toward worry-free, measurable social media ROI.

The five steps outlined in this blog post are like the ladder pictured here – a way to get past the barbed wire that is between where you begin and where you want to wind up, with a continuing social media ROI that exceeds management expectations.

Step #1:  Get help – don’t try to do it alone

Social media help is widely available from industry associations such as LIMRA or PhrMA.  No matter what industry you work in, your first point of contact for information on complying with social media regulations should be your industry association.

The truth is that your employees are already online, and they’re already using social media.  Stephen Selby, director of compliance at the leading insurance industry marketing & research group LIMRA told an audience last year at the Social Media Conference that up to 86% of the employees at companies in regulated industries already have social media profiles.

So finding the information and tools you need to manage the process of identifying, monitoring, and archiving all of the existing social media content that’s out there is the first step.

Step #2:  Minimize compliance risks

During the planning and research phase, your industry association will help you identify specific rules and regulations you will need to build into your social media compliance policy and plan.  Here are four insurance and financial services industry rules that are common in other industries, too.  If you start  with a process for these,  you’re miles ahead.

  • Where required, automate and document management approval of employee posts with an enterprise work flow engine (FINRA 11-39).
  • Monitor and review social media advertisements through a centralized dashboard and real-time notifications (NAIC Model Rules, NYSE 2210(a)).
  • Archive employee communications on social media for three years— or whatever your corporate policy dictates (SEC 17a-4, NASD 3110).
  • Flag messages based on standard filters for profanity, sensitive client information, and industry-prohibited words and phrases (NAIC Model Rules, NASD 2210(d)).

One of the most important steps in social media compliance is understanding that government agencies such as the SEC, FTC, FINRA and FDA don’t always define common words the way that the rest of us do.  For example:

  • Publicly available site posts (Twitter, LinkedIn) are advertising
  • Comments may be advertising or public appearances
  • Password protected site  posts (Facebook) are sales literature
  • Chat room discussions are public appearances
  • Posts to a group discussion are public appearances

Another important note is that the rules on eDiscovery and message archiving apply to all messages, not just to email.  So Twitter and Facebook DM’s, status updates, and Google+ “Hangout” chats may be covered – or they may not, depending on your industry.  Don’t forget that CAN-SPAM rules also apply to social media messages sent using a social media site’s direct message feature.  This is another place where your industry association can help you understand the rules that apply to your industry.

Step #3: Empower local marketing/sales to engage clients and prospects

It starts by providing local and field sales/marketing people with great content and campaigns so they can build credibility as industry experts.  People are more likely to remember what their neighbor said about something than what an anonymous corporation said – so make sure that the messages can be customized and personalized, within brand and regulatory standards, of course.

Two places with the least compliance risk are the sharing of corporate marketing assets and microsites through a “ShareThis” tool that links to social media sites, and the distribution of approved content that can be used on a blog or social media site that a channel partner or local agent already maintains.  Best of all, this can probably be done with the tools you’re already using to communicate, educate, and inform your sales & marketing teams.

We often see our clients start their corporate social media process with tools like “Share This” and pre-approved content shared through the digital asset management tool that’s part of our distributed marketing solution.

Step # 4:  Build measurement into the process

Depending on the size of your company and your budget, you may be able to use one of the many free services to monitor social media results – or you might need a social CRM application with more robust analytics.  The truth is that it hasn’t always been easy to calculate ROI from social media strategies.

“Feel good” analytics like fans, followers, wall posts, retweets, check-ins and so on may be fun, but how do you convert them into bottom line business value?  It just got easier, with Google’s announcement of a new set of social media reports it is adding to Google Analytics.  More details are in an excellent blog post from Vertical Nerve’s Tyson Kirksey, that you can find here, but the bottom line is that it’s now possible to connect web data like conversions and goals with social media data, so you get a solid picture of what’s working, and what’s not.

Of course, you can only measure against pre-determined goals and objectives.  So building measurement into the process is a good way to reinforce the basic “best practice” of planning the communications strategy against business objectives.  At the end of the quarter, management wants to know how many dollars in new revenue can be attributed to each marketing campaign – not how many new followers or likes you got.

Step #5:  Consistently create new content

As with other marketing initiatives, social media isn’t a one-night stand.  It takes consistency over a long period of time to build an online presence, and one of the areas where corporate marketing has fallen short is in consistently creating new content that can be shared through social media.

This blog has previously carried reports on the best time to post a social media message, creating an effective content marketing strategy, and the steps required for an ongoing social media content marketing effort, so I won’t repeat those here.  But I will repeat something that’s been said often before:  social media is a marathon, not a sprint.

It’s far more effective to spend a few minutes a day networking on LinkedIn or Twitter than to pop in and out of social media for several hours “when you have time”.  So as you’re planning your social media marketing effort for a distributed marketing organization, think about what’s reasonable for the long haul.  How many new pieces of content – suggested tweets, pre-approved blog posts, abstracts for sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon, or Facebook/Google+ updates can you reasonably plan to produce every month?

If you don’t have a dedicated staff or external agency that can produce multiple, relevant posts every day, what can you produce every month?  Speaking as someone with sales responsibility, I know for a fact that I’d be thrilled if my marketing department gave me a true multi-channel marketing campaign every month that comes with a microsite or landing page, a multi-part email campaign, some downloadable collateral, a blog post or two, and a dozen suggested tweets or status updates that I can use during the month.

David Potter is Vice President of Professional Services at Distribion, Inc., where he works with complex distributed multi-channel marketing organizations to assess, implement, and resolve marketing operations issues. He is a monthly contributor to this blog.

 Photo credits:  Mike Castle made the photo of a 5-step stile (or ladder) over a barbed wire fence near a geyser in Iceland available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.  Constance Ashley Photography took the corporate photo of David Potter for the Distribion website.