Virtually every business today, from multibillion-dollar corporations down to the corner sandwich shop, now manages at least one social media account, if not multiple on multiple platforms. The relatively low barrier to entry makes starting a social media channel almost risk-free. While it’s easy to start, building a productive social media channel that support an organization’s marketing strategy is far harder. Which platforms are worth the investment in time and resources? How do you measure progress? How do you measure impact, since follower growth over time is not an adequate measure of social media’s influence on demand generation.

In my role with Onsite’s Marketing Center of Excellence, I see far too many marketing organizations misunderstanding the appropriate role of social marketing in driving marketing success. It is not a strategy, but a potentially powerful tactic and it’s important to note that there’s no one-size-fits-all advice around social media: Your strategy will be dependent on your company size, customers, industry vertical, product and corporate goals. All that said, here are my top five tips for integrating social media marketing into your marketing strategy. 

#5: Clearly define your company’s goals for social media. Social media’s power is in its ability to connect directly with customers – you finding them – rather than hosting all of your resources on your website and hoping they find you. Consumer companies typically use social media to grow brand awareness, interact with the public, serve as a customer service touch point and drive traffic to customer conversion landing pages.  Hello Fresh provides a good example.

Enterprise companies are less focused on building a brand and more focused on creating targeted lead generation opportunities. B2B social media could include relevant industry news, gated white papers, video, webinars and conversations with journalists and customers. Yext does this effectively.

Understanding the specific role that social media can play in driving progress toward your marketing goals is the critical first step.  Don’t waste your money or time if aren’t clear about your goals for social media marketing.

#4: Followers aren’t everything. Social media metrics are difficult.  The easiest, and most obvious, performance metric to track is follower growth over time. But showing that your Twitter account increased from 10,000 followers last month to 10,400 followers this month isn’t very useful , particularly if they’re not the right followers. Invest in social media analytics software that is capable of showing you more meaningful metrics, such as total estimated reach, influencer amplification, follower engagement, and the leads driven directly from social media. Customer conversions, rather than leads, remain the key objective for most companies on social media. Marketing automation software can help tag customer conversions and follow them through the funnel to completion.  This allows you to begin calculating your ROI from social media.  A positive ROI is when the c-suite, or the most senior decision-maker begins to pay attention! 

#3: Double-down on the social platforms that deliver. Once you’re able to track meaningful metrics across platforms, test different message formats on different platforms to understand where you’re seeing the greatest impact against your goals. A fashion or lifestyle brand might see strong engagement on Snapchat and Instagram, while Twitter falls flat. A SaaS company might see huge results on LinkedIn, but little from Facebook. Engage where your customers hang out. Testing is critical, including different messaging, assets, and calls-to-action.  Remember that social media is a long game, that requires sustained nurturing and data-driven analysis before you start seeing real results. 

#2: Paid promotion is nearly always necessary. Incredibly, on Facebook alone, people upload an estimated 136,000 photos, 293,000 status updates and 510,000 comments every 60 seconds.  It goes without saying that business-focused organic content is in a war for attention online, and nearly always loses out to cat photos, vacation footage, clever tweets from comedians, viral videos and more. To rise above the noise, it is essential to pay the platform to segment the social audience so that you can promote your brand to them directly. In doing so it’s essential to measure your cost per lead and the value of those leads in driving SQLs.

#1: Social media isn’t a strategy, it’s a tactic. Social media should be one of several communication vehicles you use to converse with your customers. Your social media team should understand how their work fits into the company’s marketing, branding, communication and sales strategies. At some companies, social media is still deployed as a side vocation with little strategy and murky metrics. Not much success should be expected in this environment.  Every marketing organization should have a defined strategy that will leverage a variety of tactics to achieve its objectives.  Social demands the same level of commitment, rigor, and analytics that have long been required by more established tactics such as websites and email.

Ultimately, social media marketing won’t save a flawed marketing strategy.  But,  if done correctly, it should be a critical tactic and channel for reinforcement of you cohesive marketing message and customer attraction strategy.