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Social channels: One size doesn't fit all

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Marketers have spent the better part of the past year and more grappling with social marketing, often without really knowing what they're doing or how to measure it. It's finally dawning on many that social “media” is exactly that—a number of mediums, each with distinct audiences, challenges, purposes, strengths and weaknesses—and that it pays to know the difference between and among them.

Clarifying things is a new study from BtoB that sheds light on how marketers are using various social channels. The survey, conducted online in January and February, drew 577 b-to-b marketers detailing what they're doing and why.

The broadest advantage marketers claim for social media is that it helps in branding, which is just about the softest objective possible. Without much measurement—only 25% of marketers are using any official ROI tools, according to the survey—one could say this reliance on social media for branding purposes is a gut reaction that might be voiced something like this:

“I don't know what social media is good for, but it pays to get our name out there. I guess.”

What's truly illuminating, however, are the other purposes for which marketers are using social media. The array of social media goals and objectives, tied specifically to particular social channels, indicates that marketers are maturing in their use of social media and are assigning different goals to different channels.

Consider marketers' use of LinkedIn. Yes, branding ranked second among marketers' goals in using this professional networking site and its features, but lead generation ranks first—perhaps the “hardest” of metrics and directly contributive to the bottom line. Lead-gen exploits the résumé-like qualities of LinkedIn, and why not? This is a channel whereby users are directly inviting others to engage with them. Marketers have recognized this LinkedIn characteristic, and are reporting that it's paying off in more and higher-quality leads.

Other, harder goals attributable to LinkedIn derive directly from its value as a forum of active professionals and include gaining customer feedback and competitive intelligence.

Facebook has long been a curiosity to marketers because of its seeming focus on family, friends and leisure time. And while branding support was cited as Facebook's No. 1 quality, marketers reported that customer feedback and community building rank high among its qualities.

One of Facebook's strongest suits is its support of product and event promotion. Here, marketers are using it as an adjunct to email promotions and report that it's working for them.

Among the “big three” of social media channels, Twitter is seen as a key supporter of website traffic-building. The characteristic of embedding shortened URLs that link directly to landing pages, product features, event registration forms and white paper downloads make Twitter a key element in driving website traffic and enhancing search engine optimization.

Each of the other main channels also has its chief characteristics and uses. Their value in gaining customer feedback and competitive intelligence (customer communities), enhancing search engine optimization (YouTube and blogging) and generating leads (YouTube) is increasingly recognized by marketers.

Each social media channel has its particular strengths. Increasingly they are being combined by marketers intent on exploiting those qualities, in support of well-integrated marketing strategies.

Christopher Hosford is East Coast Bureau Chief of BtoB and BtoBOnline.com. He can be reached at chosford@crain.

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