Last night I had the incredible opportunity to go to both meet and listen to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Helio Castroneves. I was the guest of co-host and performance coach David Gorsage, who asked if I would provide social media updates throughout the event. As I organized hashtags, followed sponsors, and got to know the VIPs in the room, one racing professional quietly leaned in and asked:
Are you really a social media consultant?
The manner in which he asked it caught me off-guard… as if he were asking, is that really a thing? Worse was my reaction. I was somewhat offended. Not that he wondered whether or not social media was a viable marketing channel… that he thought I was one of those social media consultants. I let him know I was a marketing consultant with backgrounds in both traditional and digital media, with a passion for increasing results for B2B and SaaS companies.
He shared a story of how his company had hired a social media consultant a few years ago due to all the buzz that was going on with social media. He said that the person did a marvelous job on social media, but it never actually resulted in a justified business expense. He said they eventually let the person go because they would be upset at the requirement of validating the ROI with the medium. He wondered it if it ever did.
I had to be really careful with my response. I do believe in social media marketing, but it's honestly not my go to channel when I work with a client on acquisition strategies – search is. While that's most likely due to the industries I work with, it's also a matter of where my practice and expertise are. I love sharing and engaging via social media every day, but I don't honestly look at it as an acquisition channel – even in my own company.
That said, I do know many social media consultants who execute measurable campaigns, build awareness, and even do a great job in acquiring customers online. I made that clear to the gentleman I was speaking with – but I don't think it's a solution for every business. I think social media can bring value to an organization outside of direct acquisition as well:
- Monitoring your brand and competitors online to identify issues and opportunities within your industry. There's a wealth of information that companies used to have to hire survey and polling statisticians to gain access to. Now it's often available in most social platforms. We love Agorapulse – which I'm a brand ambassador for.
- Customer Success is another strength of social media. If you have a responsive, helpful customer success team that can find resolutions for prospective and existing customers, social media can be a great channel to build trust and retain customers through.
- Awareness is a tough strategy to measure ROI on, but it is a great function of a solid social media strategy. However, it's another one that requires talent. Getting your brand's voice heard and spread amongst the masses isn't easy, but it can be cost-effective. At some point, if your competition is crushing you… you need to be able to measure whether or not prospects know your business is an option.
- Trust is another benefit of social media that's difficult to measure. I may make a search online and find a product or service I wish to buy… but then I'll shift over to a LinkedIn group or Facebook group of professionals and ask for their opinions. If I see a lot of negatives out there, I'll typically move to the next option. Having raving fans sharing a ton about how great your company is online may not be solely responsible for the purchase decision, but it can help.
I let him know that, while I wasn't a full-time social media consultant, I never ignored social media with any client. I'd often integrate tools to automatically publish and share quality information online with the audience, and I'd build feedback mechanisms that the companies could respond to. I did this because I couldn't justify the expense of a full-time social media consultant, but my clients still realized the good that could come of social media.
And, I advised him that his company may just not have found the right consultant to assist them. I think a great social media consultant can justify the expense of this medium… and if they can't, they'll be honest about how it could be used without the expense of a targeted expert.
In racing, where there's very little separation between the fans and the drivers, I think social media marketing should be profitable with proof of the ROI. Racing fans have an affinity to the brands that sponsor their drivers – unlike virtually any other sport. Sharing those brands via social media, while providing a backdoor to the life of the driver is an incredible opportunity. Coordinate with your sponsors and measure the awareness and purchase behavior of the fans! In speaking with him, it didn't sound like that was the focus of their consultant. Perhaps a missed opportunity.
I think I changed his mind about the channel… and in doing so, I changed my opinion of the term social media consultant as well.