Is Social Media Marketing Poaching Direct Marketing Results?

For the marketing community, social media is the newest, shiniest toy we’ve had in a while, and most of us are rushing to learn how to utilize each new social platform to our advantage.

Marketing budgets have begun shifting as well. Of the participants in the 2009 PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey 31% reported shifting in marketing and communications budgets to add social media to their mix, with 48% of their social budgets being pulled from past advertising budgets, 41% from direct marketing, 29% from media buying, and 18% from PR.

Despite these budget shifts, marketing executives surveyed in the study still say they believe each of the more traditional direct marketing, advertising and PR channels have a greater impact on the success of their company or brand.

Source: 2009 PRWeek/MS&L Social Media Survey

So even though marketers believe that direct marketing and other traditional tactics are more effective, they’re willing to divert the budget to social media. Is this a rational decision to test new marketing tactics, or are marketers just succumbing to peer pressure and a search for “the next big thing?”

So does social media marketing actually work?

According to the study, 39% of respondents reported “they are not convinced of the value or ROI” of social media. This may be due to the notorious difficultly of tracking and calculating conversions influenced by social media.

There are many commonly accepted case studies that have shown effective use of social media for business initiatives, including:

  • B2C brand building through viral campaigns.
  • Brand reference monitoring and proactive customer service/complaint response.
  • B2B thought leadership (using outlets such as a blog or social network).
  • B2C customer loyalty programs communicated through social media and mobile marketing.

With all of these business uses of social media, questions remain about their actual revenue generation. As social marketing practices are honed, and social tracking tools improve, this may change. However, it may not. Which leads us to…

The Marketer’s Dilemma, and a Plan of Action

So budgets are limited, and it’s time to start dividing your resources and time. Social marketing may be a winner for your audience and business model, and should probably be tested. So what percentages should you allocate to social marketing initiatives? Here are some suggestions:

1) Keep doing what’s working

If you’re achieving good ROIs for your direct marketing, PR or advertising, don’t reduce your budgets for these channels for something untested.

2) Allocate a test budget for social media

Is social marketing right for your business model and audience? There’s only one way to be sure. Start by allocating a portion of your budget, just as you would any test initiative.

3) Plan and focus your efforts

Before you start, make sure you have clearly identified your objectives and success metrics. Then, instead of trying to engage in every social media platform, choose one or two specific actions, and focus your efforts. Some examples:

  • Start a blog, and update it frequently with relevant topics for your audience.
  • Set up a free Google Alertson a specific topic, and monitor and engage in online discussions on the topic.
  • Join or start a LinkedIn groupon a topic of interest to potential customers.
  • Create a simple series of YouTube videos answering common questions of your audience.
  • Create a Facebook Fan Page or mobile site and distribute special offers to subscribers (location-specific restaurants and retailer should check out ruxter.com).

4) Analyze your results.

Can you attribute new customers to your online interactions? Did traffic and conversion for your website increase? Have you increased foot traffic to your locations? If so, congratulations, it’s time to allocate more budget and increase your social marketing efforts. If not, it’s either time to test other social marketing tactics or funnel your budget and efforts back to the marketing channels you know work for your business.

So now I want to know, what social media tactics have you tested for your business, and what type of results have you seen?

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