Erik QualmanEvery couple of months I get together with Erik Qualman for lunch. I really enjoy meeting with him because we talk a lot about social media trends, basketball and what it’s like being a new dad. That picture on the right was taken at one of those meetings and believe it or not, I am not as small as I look in the picture. Erik is actually a pretty tall guy and makes me (I’m about 6′ tall) look pretty small. I was excited to speak with Erik, who many have called the “digital Dale Carnegie,” for our recent eBook, “The Social Marketing Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing.” In case you don’t know about Erik, he is the author of the #1 best-selling international book “Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business” and the producer of “Social Media Revolution“, the most-watched social media video in the world.

In his work to grow the digital capabilities of companies such as Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo and AT&T, Erik has observed that marketers often “expect an immediate result [from an investment in social media marketing], but it’s really a longer-term play.”

Developing relationships is the biggest piece of social marketing. Unlike other forms of media, social channels allow companies and brands to grow word-of-mouth, or highly valuable referrals by other satisfied customers. “Social media is really word of mouth on digital steroids,” he says. The approach is very effective, but it requires a long sales cycle since it “starts with someone who has purchased that product. They’re going to be your best sales advocate for the next person down the line.”

Erik advises clients to understand clearly why they want to invest in social media. The most common pitfall he sees is that people forget to ask the important question, “What does success look like?”.  People charge ahead, under the presumption that the same metrics they use to measure success in other areas – like impressions and click-through rates – will be useful in the social realm. Although some of the traditional marketing metrics apply to social, what companies need to keep an eye on, Erik shares, is their digital influence over time.

A lot of companies complain that they don’t have time for social media… that there’s just too much information coming in. “That’s a nice problem to have. People actually care enough to want to connect with you. If you don’t have time for social, then you are essentially saying that you don’t have time to listen to your customers – which wouldn’t be prudent,” advises Qualman. As you listen to customers, it should become clear that content can’t be approached with a “cookie-cutter” mindset. Content is contextual; it has to resonate with your customers. It’s not about how many times you post in a day; it’s about the quality of your content. “If you have to think for more than three seconds if it’s valuable, it probably isn’t, so don’t post it,” he says.

In our eBook “The Social Marketing Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing“, we recommend the following four measures to help companies focus in on their social marketing content strategy:

– Content-to-Contact Ratio: This ratio gauges companies’ ability to publish engaging content that helps them generate new social profiles or “social leads”. The Content-to-Contact Ratio allows companies to measure the lead generation effectiveness of content and helps focus content efforts for an increased return on sales.

– Comments-to-Content Ratio: This measure allows companies to understand the effectiveness of specific content campaigns.

– Comments-to-Profile Ratio: This ratio measures a company’s ability to connect with its social profiles over time. The more comments from existing profiles, the higher the likelihood that the brand will stay top-of-mind and be considered when the customer is ready to buy.

– Content-to-Share Ratio This ratio gauges your content’s ability to travel beyond your Social Reach. The higher the engagement, the greater the probability that your content will be shared within your profiles’ social graph, driving new social prospects for your brand and products.

To determine how to allocate resources to social media marketing, Erik recommends a customer-centric approach: meet with the top 20 to 50 customers to ask them what they buy from your company and why. “There will always be a general theme,” he says, and once you understand how you are currently serving the needs of your top customers, you can use that as a framework for resource allocation. “All the companies embracing the social change are starting to look internally as well,” he says. “They start with one center of expertise to manage social media”.

Ultimately, companies need to enable the entire organization to be engaged with social media in a “honeycomb approach, where every employee should be able to help the customer,” says Erik. Social media marketing is not an initiative that can be “isolated to the public relations department or the marketing department or the customer service department.” In the long-term, Erik advises, companies need to understand that social media “touches every aspect of the business. “The question in every meeting should be: What is the social media component of this initiative?’”

How are you allocating resources to social media marketing? What metrics are you using to drive your content strategy? What are you doing to listen to customers? We look forward to your comments, insights and feedback.

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