Leap of Faith? Boardrooms and C-Suite Still Skeptical of Social Media’s Value.

The Guardian reports results of a recent poll of global senior marketers that found only half of all boardrooms are convinced about social media’s value.

Graph via Useful Social Media (USM): 2014 State of Corporate Social Media Briefing - See more at: http://www.evolve24.com/blog/technology/rethink-social-roi-gain-c-suite-buy-in/#sthash.L1umiGVB.dpuf

Graph via Useful Social Media (USM): 2014 State of Corporate Social Media Briefing.

Why? It’s hard to see the value of social if you are not there yourself. According to another survey 64% of CEOs do not use social media at all, with only 5% of all Fortune 500 company CEOs on Twitter. So many marketers, advertising and PR pros are running into road blocks with their social pitches when they reach the executive level.

But those executives said they would use social media more if it were helpful to their business (90%) and if they better understood the benefits (60%). In other words, not understanding the  return on investment (ROI)  is a main barrier to social media adoption in the boardroom.

However, it may useful to put ROI into the context of other marketing communications with which executives are already comfortable. I can see this ROI question from the perspective of advertising. As an advertising agency, even when we ran TV ads for a client, unless it was a direct response commercial (think infomercial) we couldn’t directly prove ROI.

For example, we would run commercials for a fast food client to generate awareness. Sales of their sandwiches either went up or they went down. Perhaps it was the commercial but there are many other factors that could have caused it. What we did know is reach – how many eyeballs we bought based on TV ratings.

Today we may have a Facebook page and post pictures of the sandwiches. Showing up in the newsfeed of consumers generates awareness. Reach in social can be measured by number of fans, shares, etc. passing the branded sandwich pictures on further. But if some see the post, get hungry and go to the restaurant to buy the sandwich we still don’t have a direct measure of ROI.

I think there is a higher standard of ROI in digital because we have been told and sold on “everything” being measurable online. Yet this simply is not true and we forget that many of the traditional marketing we take for granted doesn’t have a direct line of ROI either.

Marketers and the C-Suite and boardrooms make leaps of faith with traditional advertising all the time. How many millions of dollars were spent by Fortune 500s for 30 seconds during the Super Bowl last year? I think it is just harder with social media because it is so new. That said, there is a lot that is provable like the data in the graph below that shows social media drives more leads than traditional advertising.

A recent Hubspot report indicates social media drives more leads than traditional marketing.

A recent Hubspot report indicates social media drives more leads than traditional marketing.

Again, It might simply come down to the C-Suite’s lack of personal involvement. It’s easier to understand the influence of a TV commercial on purchase decisions when you watch TV, but harder to see how Facebook could influence a purchase decision when you don’t use it yourself. The bottom line is social media marketing works not because executives are using it, but because the customer is using it.

So in addition to social media strategist, we must also be social media educators. Our job is to help executives understand that the rest of the world is embracing social media to make purchase decisions with consumer products and in business-to-business.

As John Andrews of Collective Bias says, “Recent studies have shown that more consumers are relying on social media to help determine what products to buy. They are using social to research, find inspiration, search for coupons, read reviews, etc. Connecting with potential customers via channels they use and trust most, allows brands to find out pertinent information about their target audience as well as themselves.”

Let’s all start building a case for social media marketing acceptance. How do you combat C-Suite Skepticism of social media?

Social Media Is Like Running A Marathon.

Training for a marathon is long. I just starting my four-month training program for a fall marathon. This after months of setting a solid base of 30 to 40 miles a week and years of consistent running before that.

The marathon itself is long. The beginning is exciting with the crowd, the newness, the scenery. But then somewhere after the halfway point, away from the crowds, the novelty wears off, replaced with grueling mile-after-mile. This is when I start thinking “Why am I doing this?” “I am so stupid.” “This isn’t fun!” “I am never doing this again!” Then you “hit the wall” around mile 20 when all energy is used up. Yet if you pop some energy gels and “will” yourself to the end, it is all worth it. A feeling captured in The Baltimore Sun describing a runner who crossed the marathon finish line, threw up and said, “That was the best time of my life!”

Social Media can be like this. Not the throwing up part (perhaps sometimes), but the day-to-day posting. Despite all the talk of ROI and immediate measurement, social media marketing doesn’t give immediate return, like a new TV campaign that can spike retail sales the weekend you run it. Many are jumping into the social media race, but you must be in for the long haul to see real results.

As Jay Baer said in “Are You Slow Enough To Succeed In Social Media?social media adoption is quick, but interacting and engaging with customers and prospects happens on a one to one or one to few basis and that takes time. Social media is built on trust. Building trust takes time. Jay likens this to recruiting a volunteer marketing army one soldier by one soldier. That doesn’t happen overnight. We may think it happens overnight because we read an article about a social media star and never get the years of hard work background story. Like all those overnight success bands that actually gained popularity on their 10th album.

Seth Godin has been publishing a blog post everyday since 2002. No I didn’t miss the “1″ in front of that last “2.” For over 12 years, he has faithfully put out daily social media content and it wasn’t always highly successful. His first post “Death of a myth?” to this day only has 1 Tweet and 4 Likes. But today his post “Trading favors” received 1,162 Tweets and 568 Likes. Of course he is also the author of nearly 20 best-selling business books.

What takes up social media staff time?

Unfortunately content creation takes a lot of time and there are no guarantees. Just ask Jack Torrance from The Shinning.

A 2014 survey on MarketingCharts.com reveals that social media marketing’s main expense is staff and the staff spend the majority of their time (60%) on content creation. Content development takes up nearly 6 times the amount of time as the next nearest activity – strategy development.

Being a writer, a content creator for nearly 20 years, I can understand this. Advertising agencies are the same. Our main cost was staff and we spent most of our time developing content. The great novel, short story, brilliant 6 word headline (It’s Everywhere You Want To Be) or brand building 3 word tagline (Just Do It) takes a lot more than the time to type out the letters.

Quality content comes in the idea before you write. Quality content comes in the 10th rewrite of the same sentence or paragraph. Quality content will come into its own, but it takes time to build a mass audience and response. Who remembers Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Divine Gesture?” It was his first professionally published piece in 1922. Thirty years later he published the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Old Man and the Sea.

For those who have patience social media does deliver results. It may not take 30 years, but it may take longer than you think or are willing to accept. In June I presented at INEGRATE, WVU’s IMC conference. Before my session I saw David Higdon, NASCAR’s IMC Managing Director, talk about the brand’s remarkable overhaul.

The effort has been successful. Sponsorship deals have risen 8% since 2008 - higher than before the recession, and 23% of Fortune 500 brands are now part of NASCAR up 20% from 2012. A survey also found that 61% of 18-34-year-old avid fans are more interested today in NASCAR than the year beforeand 65% of those have been fans for less than 5 years. This increase in fan interest is attributed to NASCAR’s social media engagement.

The average CMO tenure

Its hard for short term managers to deliver long term results.

Yet the story behind NASCAR’s success is these results came after an 18-month review and then a 3 to 5 year plan to achieve these goals. That’s right 3 to 5 years. How does that work in a business culture where the average CMO is out in 2-3 years? By the way David Higdon (the NASCAR Social Media Guy), his father is Hal Higdon – famous marathon runner and author of best selling books including “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.” Perhaps his father influenced his social media strategy?

What’s my long-term marathon goal? Qualifying for Boston. I may not qualify this year or next, but I will keep trying. Logging in those miles week after week. Like in social media, the only way to see the return is to put in the daily effort over the long-term. But daily training isn’t so bad, I get to run next to the beautiful river you see in my masthead. I wonder what kept and still keeps Seth Godin writing daily. What is his and what is your Boston Marathon jacket? 

Before You Pronounce Traditional Advertising Dead Check For Its Social Media Pulse.

People love to pronounce things dead. In fact, the phrase “is dead” returns over 226 million Google search results. However, most media and marketing that has been pronounced dead, doesn’t actually die, it just changes into something else. Radio was pronounced dead when TV came along. Instead radio became a valuable local and promotional medium. I still have the cover of WIRED magazine hanging in my office that pronounced Apple computer dead in the 1990′s.

Advertising Is Dead

Death predictions may be popular, but popularity does not make them right.

Many have pronounced traditional advertising dead as digital and social media have increased in usage and influence. In 2013 a Harvard Business Review article said, “Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.” The author’s evidence? More people find information about products/services on their own through the internet and social media. CMO’s lack credibility and can’t prove business growth. It doesn’t make sense to hire 3rd parties to try and sell your products for you. (I have paraphrased Bill Lee, please check out his arguments yourself).

From the evidence I gathered I see a different story. Instead of death, social media seems to be giving traditional advertising new life and this new life is growing evidence for the importance of integration of marketing methods. Instead of replacing the old, we should be including it. Even in my Social Media Marketing class focused on social media, I make it clear that it should never exist on its own. It is not a replacement for traditional marketing, but should be integrated into traditional efforts. But perhaps I am biased because I received my masters degree in IMC (Integrated Marketing Communication) so lets look at the numbers and you can decide for yourself.

How consumers find out about new products and brands

Traditional media still has influence with digital and social.

According to Ipsos research released in 2013, the number one way to create awareness around new brands and products is still with TV ads followed by friends and family and then the Internet. Nearly a third of consumers also turn to magazine ads (31%), social networking sites (25%), entertainment (TV shows/movies; 22%) and direct mail (21%). Even in the younger 18-34 group, the Internet becomes the primary source of discovery (59%), but TV is still third (48%).

Most influencial forms of advertising

Again, traditional media has not been completely replaced with new media.

Nielson data reports surveys of online consumers indicating the more influential forms of advertising (ones they always or sometimes take action on). People I know and opinions posted online are number one (84%) and two (70%), TV comes in at third (68%). Ads in newspapers are still number five (65%), magazine ads are eighth (62%) and billboards are just out of the top ten (57%). These charts say “integration” to me, not “death.”

TV Multitasking Behavior

Consumers are combining traditional with social media, why shouldn’t marketers?

Brands that are integrating are seeing better results. Deloitte research reports Some 86% of US consumers (aged 14+) claim to always or almost always multitask while watching TV. Almost half of Millennials this year say they use a social network while watching TV. The brands that know this are acting on it and benefiting from integration. For example, combined print advertising with online has been shown to increase intention to take action by 85%. And combined use of Twitter has also delivered greater results for traditional TV by increasing awareness, favorability and intent.

Combined print and online advertising effectiveness.

Traditional media and digital media work better together.

TV X Twitter increases awareness, favorability, intent.

Traditional media and social media work better together.

I am still a social media fan and highly suggest that all brands need to jump into social media marketing. But in your enthusiasm for the new, don’t leave behind the old. Traditional advertising is still alive and kicking and gets a boost from social media marketing. The best marketing efforts combine both in IMC fashion. Do you agree or do you see a flat line for traditional?