Social marketing gets much lip service, little deployment

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There's no hotter marketing conversation today than that around social media. The question is, what are marketers actually doing about it? Several recent reports indicate that, despite the hoopla, marketers have a long way to go to capitalize on the socialsphere. One inescapable conclusion is that marketers that do engage in social media marketing with precision and aggression can gain a competitive advantage over much of the rest of the field. Consider these facts:
  • One-third of companies are aware that their customers are using social media to comment on or complain about them. Fewer than one-fourth, however—about 8% of all companies—are regularly responding, according to an online study of 331 respondents from Internet market researcher MarketTools Inc. conducted in September. Furthermore, although 95% of respondents said satisfied customers are very important or extremely important to their company, only 36% have any formal voice of the customer program in place.
  • According to Accenture, only 8% of b-to-b companies in the U.S. are “extensively” leveraging social media, even though 65% of marketing executives surveyed identified social media as important to their companies' business. The online survey, completed in May with 200 respondents from large ($1 billion-plus) companies, found that only 5% formally integrate social media with their other customer and marketing initiatives, and 26% said they were only slightly engaged or not engaged at all with the medium.
  • BtoB did its own research on the adoption of social media marketing, and it became apparent that social is virtually a hobby for many marketers. Social marketing is being used aggressively by just 21% of respondents to an online survey of 577 marketers conducted last spring. According to “Emerging Trends in B-to-B Social Marketing: Insights From the Field,” other marketers are only somewhat or moderately involved in social marketing. Challenges to its adoption include lack of resources (cited by 70% of respondents), poorly defined metrics (57%), lack of knowledge (44%) and management resistance (22%).
The inevitable “time suck” syndrome may be keeping marketers from finding the wherewithal or developing the knowledge to include social marketing in their plans. Even among those who are dabbling, a lack of planning is keeping their results—and thus, enthusiasm for social—depressed. “We definitely see a lack of planning,” said Veronica Fielding, president-CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based search and social media consultancy Digital Brand Expressions. “People clamor for ROI but don't focus on measuring and management.” Fielding recommends a multistep process for social marketing implementation, starting with claiming a company's social corporate names and marques, then conducting an audit of who's doing what in the social space, analyzing the regulatory landscape if applicable, determining which channels are most appropriate for which goals and building out the channels of choice with content and design. Lack of social penetration may also be due to misunderstanding the medium, Fielding said. “Social media isn't meant to be a sales channel, although many have success that way,” she said. “We see social as an indirect influence on sales, to engage your audience in such a way that you can follow through to the sales capture.” That sentiment was echoed by Kevin Quiring, Accenture's managing director-customer relationship management North America. “Companies should move from focusing exclusively on social media to pursuing ‘social CRM,' in which social media applications complement other customer strategies and objectives,” Quiring said.
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