lack of social media ROIEarlier this spring HubSpot produced some research into B2B usage of social media.  They concluded that LinkedIn was the best value in terms of converting visitors into leads.  The feeling persists however that most companies still lack a clear understanding of just what it is they want to achieve with their social media work.

A new study by Eloqua has explored how B2B companies are using social media, and the findings are pretty dire.  The top three reasons given for using social media were:

  1. Creating brand awareness (86%)
  2. Encouraging social sharing (56%)
  3. Gaining trust and followers (55%)

No love for branded communities?

Another interesting finding is where people are doing their social media work.  By far the most predominant locations were Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  I can only assume that branded communities weren’t even included in the report, or that they bizarrely weren’t considered to be social media.  Suffice to say however that they absolutely rock.  Or I should say, they rock when done well.

For you see a branded community, or indeed any social media work, only works if it’s a central part of your business strategy.  It’s not a part of your marketing strategy or your sales strategy, it needs to be part of your complete business strategy.

Too often (as the Eloqua study highlights), companies isolate their social media efforts within the marketing function. That is a mistake. For a community to yield maximum benefit, it must be framed as a high-level strategy supporting business wide goals.

Purpose is key

It’s also worrying that so few companies have any idea what it is their community will actually do, or worse, they frame their answer in terms of what it will do for them rather than what it will do for members.  Managers often forget that consumers are actually people, with many different needs, interests, and responsibilities. A community-based brand builds loyalty not by driving sales transactions but by helping people meet their needs.

Listening as much as talking

It’s also a shame to see that so few companies are actively using their communities to get feedback from customers on what they can be doing better.  Instead they’re transplanting their ‘make and sell’ approach onto a platform that isn’t suited to it.  Communities work best when you’re engaging each member of that community, and understanding the various roles people will take on within that community.  It will never work with just one ‘voice’, no matter how authoratative that voice is.

Don’t try to be cool

It’s well known that senior executives are struggling to see the benefits of social media.  Forming an online community is often a knee-jerk reaction to the CEO’s demand for a Web 2.0 strategy. Online social networks get lots of buzz, and given today’s enabling technologies it seems silly to pass up opportunities in the virtual world. Unfortunately, most company-sponsored online “communities” are nothing more than groups setup in the hope that a purpose will magically appear and success will then come.  Or worse, they’re setup around some fluffy aim such as raising brand awareness.  By all means evolve your strategy based upon experiences, but if you do social to follow the crowd or because everyone else is, then you’re destined to fail.

I’m not sure whether studies like the Eloqua one are indicative of the industry.  A quick scan of some social media job descriptions this morning suggests many companies still have no idea how they’ll measure ROI on social media, as most still judge success based upon followers or traffic stats.  It all suggests that few have any idea quite what it is that they’re trying to do with their communities.  Until that strategy forming function is performed by senior managers you feel that social will continue to underwhelm.