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This article was published on October 10, 2011

Social media ROI: It’s not about immediate results

Social media ROI: It’s not about immediate results
Sherilynn Macale
Story by

Sherilynn Macale

Sherilynn "Cheri" Macale is based in San Francisco, CA. You'll probably find her tucked away in her apartment blogging, playing video games, Sherilynn "Cheri" Macale is based in San Francisco, CA. You'll probably find her tucked away in her apartment blogging, playing video games, or immersing herself in geek culture. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+

Remember a week or two ago when I told everyone to invite me to join your mafia in Crime City on Google+ Games because I just loved it so, so much? Yeah. Stop that. There’s no way for me to individually mute the other games, so people are inviting me to a bunch of crap I don’t even play — cough, CityVille, cough.

This inevitably means that the invites I actually want to respond to get lost within the floods of “so-and-so has sent you a message”, which means that there are way too many actual notifications to individually sort through. This on top of several other minor issues — Phew!

It would be a total headache if not for the awesome experience I’ve been having with Google+’s amazing staff.

I know. It sounds a bit gushing, but using Google+, I already feel reassured that a request like this will later be addressed, as there is one thing that Google+ does right that I just haven’t seen from competing social networks. That is, the brand-to-user experience. Google+ has already successfully developed a positive and long-term relationship with me, so when minor hiccups like these arise, I am more likely to look past small issues than I am to completely give up on or dismiss the service.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of a newer user, however, who might see issues like this as a bigger problem.

The details are surprisingly important.

What might seem like a minor issue to someone who doesn’t use Google+ specifically for games is actually an incredibly abrasive experience for G+ members who come to the platform solely for gaming. Knowing this, Google+ could potentially lose out on the loyalty of several consumers when it could instead be focused on developing that brand-to-user experience, addressing the issue right from its root and reassuring the user that it’s being worked on. In this way, Google+ can better form a positive and user-friendly reputation for itself rather than taking after its currently-more-successful but more-likely-to-be-spoken-about-negatively counterpart, Facebook.

By actively fine-tuning the service according to the needs of the users actually engaging with the product, Google+ is creating a well-oiled machine that its consumers are more likely to return to time and time again. Google+ becomes their “old faithful”, their loyal companion that users know they can depend on. The customer feedback center disguised as a social network that is Google+ has effectively become a bubbling hub of fresh ideas and smart suggestions.

Eric Wheeler, CEO at 33Across Inc., recently said in his AdAge article on the demise of advertising campaigns that “it’s no longer the advertiser that controls the message, it’s the recipient.” And this is very true. A TV commercial, for example, can talk up a storm about some fantastic device, claiming it will completely change your life. But load up the reviews on Amazon and see that it’s received 1 out of 5 stars in every single customer experience and I sincerely doubt you’ll trust what the advertisement initially wanted you to believe.

Wheeler also provided a description that simply does not have as much power when paraphrased or summarized, so I’ll leave it for you here.

“Suddenly, it’s no longer about the “campaign.” Rather, it’s about understanding the social influence of your own loyal consumers. What are these people interested in, what are they actually buying, and how can they be turned into a word-of-mouth marketing powerhouse? Advertisers have always known that an endorsement from a trusted source is the most powerful marketer. Just now they are coming to understand that they can decipher, court, and empower their “socially-influential” customers to do just that—a much more rewarding enterprise than simply trying to move a widget.”

This means that regardless of how well a company is doing, the moment it begins to neglect its users is the moment it begins developing a negative reputation. Sure, Google+ has me supporting it, but that won’t mean much if it doesn’t get its core users to completely rally behind the service. It needs to continue maintaining its social presence within its most active community in order to remain successful.

Social media is about cultivating quality leads.

Social media provides the unique opportunity for companies to more directly and easily target their most loyal or influential consumers. For example, a small business like “Joe’s Popsicle Stand” might begin a Twitter page, encouraging those who stop by to follow the brand on Twitter for real-time hints at when the stand is giving away free popsicles. Motivated by free food — everyone likes free things — both current and new consumers are more likely to be deeply engaged and develop brand loyalty now that they have a way to interact with the brand outside of actually visiting the physical popsicle stand.

Now, brands can continue the relationship it develops with its consumers outside of dragging them out to its various locations by interacting with its audience through social media. Consumers active in social media are also more likely to spread the word if they receive outstanding treatment or have some sort of grand user experience, making them a key player in word of mouth advertisement. We’ve all seen our friends tweet about how awesome the Apple store is. The store has a great social reputation, which encourages unfamiliar customers to pay it a visit.

Knowing this, it almost sounds ludicrous to imagine that a company would not take advantage of such an effective method of customer service. And yet, there are still some brands who remain stuck in the past, basing their investment decisions on the bottom line or immediate return rather than long-term effects. As with anything in life, however, a rushed job might look pretty for a little while, but it’s bound to come tumbling down if it wasn’t done right. The same can be said for buildings, relationships and, yes, brands or companies.

It starts with user loyalty.

I’ll be using Google+ in this example, as I’ve been with the platform since the beginning. Having used Google+ since its inception and monitoring its growth these past few months, there is one huge thing to be said about the service. That is, its current community just absolutely loves it. So much, in fact, that its numerous loyal members are quick to jump to its defense when they hear any little inkling of negative feedback — especially the sort that appears ill-composed or under researched.

Take, for example, an article from Forbes titled, “A Eulogy for Google Plus.” In his post, Forbes Contributor Paul Tassi stated that “Google Plus is a failure no matter what the numbers may say.” That intro alone was enough for many satisfied Google+ users to rally against Tassi, several of whom are active thought leaders in the technology industry. So while I can definitely sit here and list off the many areas where Tassi was wrong, I will instead suggest that you peek at the comments of his article to read the negative reactions from the platform’s own community.

The reaction was so strong that it prompted Tassi to create several follow-up pieces simply to appease the masses and form a more thoroughly-researched idea about the service. On the same day of his original post, Tassi followed up with a piece titled “The Rise of the Google Plus Faithful.” In it, he invites Google+ members to follow him on the platform and show him what he’s been missing out on. A full week of investigation later and Tassi posts his third piece, “A Second Chance for Google Plus,” where although he remains firm with the idea that Google+ still needs work, he takes care to form a less biased opinion by highlighting the service’s strong points as well.

Now, the point of sharing this story with you isn’t to fangirl over how “cool” Google+ is. It’s to point out how deeply engaged and willing to interact its current community is. Because Google+ was able to develop brand loyalty earlier on with so many key and influential players in the technology space, it’s secured a popular and positive reputation moving forward, ensuring that regardless of its minor hiccups, it will still have supportive members on board. The voice of the brand is its community, and its members obviously have a strong and powerful opinion.

The effects of targeting quality leads.

In a way, we can look at Google+ like the ultimate customer feedback center for the Google brand. You won’t just find Google+ devotees on the service — you’ll also find Google and YouTube executives, along with engineers or product managers specifically focused on the Google+ Games user experience, as well as a community manager whose primary focus is to work and interact with the Google+ community etc.

All of these people regularly reach out to Google+ members to personally address problems or issues that arise, making the Google+ experience feel more intimate. It makes Google feel less “snobby”, less corporate and more “mom and pop”. It makes its users feel a sense of deeper importance, as if their voices truly matter and their opinions highly influential on how the Google+ experience will be like moving forward.

This is a team so focused on developing the relationship between Google+ users and the Google brand that it rarely seems to fail in communicating its message. That is, “Your feedback is important to us, and we are listening.”

Just yesterday, I saw Hillel Fuld, a tech blogger, tweet his love for the service.

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Vic Gundotra is the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Google. To have someone at that level of influence in any company personally reach out to any one of its product’s users is a testament to how “user-friendly” Google+ is aiming to be. Then there’s the fact that Fuld has just over 20,000 followers on Twitter, most of whom probably trust his opinion when it comes to the technology space and are more likely to act on what he has to say about it.

By fostering that relationship through social media (Google is lucky enough to own its very own social networking platform), Google can better shape its brand identity among its core users, helping project its message and its voice through these key influencers. This, of course, is only one experience of many. Even I’ve been reached out to personally by power players in Google’s ranks to assist me with issues or direct me to the appropriate sources for contact — thanks for that, Google. It feels very personal and real, and makes me want to use the service more often because I feel that I’m being heard rather than ignored or dismissed.

Use social media to create the voice of your brand.

Social media isn’t just about getting loads of followers or likes on your Facebook page. You are investing instead on working with your most loyal users, as well as the consumers most likely to voice their opinion about your brand. Monitoring that sort of feedback, whether it’s only coming from 5 Twitter accounts or 3 Facebook profiles, is what will develop positive brand reputation. You want your users to become evangelists for your cause, just as Google+ users tend to be. You want your users to stand 100% behind what your company is trying to do, and one of the best ways to do that is through social media.

Not everyone will have a team large enough to handle every single blurb of feedback, but it’s better to have someone there managing that channel and listening in on that conversation than no one at all. Would you rather have your customers vent their complaints to the rest of the listening world, or directly to your company or brand where you’ll actually be able to deal with it?

Again, social media provides the unique opportunity to target your quality leads. By identifying who is actively discussing your brand, who is reaching out to your company and who is actually willing to talk about issues with your service, you will be better prepared for the majority opinion. You may have heard that Twitter users are 3x more likely to impact brands than any other social network. This is true because daily active and contributing Twitter users are mostly bloggers, writers, or broadcasters of some sort who are more likely to spread the word about your brand or service on or off of Twitter than those who simply consume information.

By default, social media users in general — those who actively participate and remain social on popular networking platforms — have that same power to impact your brand. We already know that 40% of active Twitter users aren’t actually tweeting — they’re merely consuming information from thought leaders. It is these thought leaders that will spread the reputation of your brand and become the voice of your company. Which means, if someone is talking about your brand somewhere on Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc, regardless of whether their opinion is positive or negative, you need to know about it so you can be better prepared to deal with the consequences.

To borrow a phrase from Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best Seller, Crush It!, measuring immediate return on investment in social media is like measuring the ROI of your mom and everything she’s done for you. Don’t just use social media to broadcast company information — use it to foster the long-term reputation and well-being of your brand. Use it to engage with potentially loyal consumers. Grow those relationships. Make an effort to seem personal and inviting. Give your corporate-looking brand that mom and pop store feel again that makes users feel welcome and happy to come back.

Allow me to leave you with a quote from Social Media Today.

“If you still don’t get it, maybe social media isn’t for you. If the company you work for doesn’t see the value in engaging employees and customers, developing new sales opportunities, reaching target markets and doing some social good, then perhaps it should stick with traditional media like TV. After all, no none is using their DVR and skipping all of the commercials… Are they?”

Oh, and PS. Spell good, and stuff.

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