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Answering the tough questions about social media

Has your boss started asking you the so-called “tough questions” about social media yet? You know the ones. Is anyone making any money on this? Are we going to make any money? What’s the ROI for this social stuff? When are we going to see some results? And my personal favorite: What’s in it for me? How does this make me look good to my boss (or shareholders, board of directors, core customers, etc.). Now, don’t get me wrong. These are great questions. They’re just not the right questions to start with. (Don’t worry, we’ll come back to them in just a moment).

So, if these aren’t the right questions to start with, what are the right questions?

CEO of Lanxess
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Actually, I recommend just a few:
  1. What is it you want? What are your goals and objectives? What matters to your business? Are you trying to increase the number of leads you generate? Or drive increased sales? Or improve your PR efforts? Social can fill a vital role in each of these areas. Not only is it good for those, but social media can do lots more, too. Are you trying to get better market intelligence? Improve customer service? Monitor your reputation? Each of these tasks—and a number of others—lend themselves to social solutions. More important, by looking first at your objectives, you can better apply all the tools in your toolkit—social, search and so on—to find an integrated solution to your company’s challenge. Of course, to address that challenge most effectively, you’ve also got to ask…
  2. What does your customer want? Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, ask yourself how it aligns with what your customers want. Are they looking for the best product? Or do they have questions about how to get the most from that product? Are they satisfied with your service? Or do they need to talk to someone? Also look at the tools and services your customers use to solve these problems. While Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of the social media world, it’s useless for you if your customers are doing their socializing somewhere else. (It happens. How many hotel reviews do you find on Facebook versus, say, TripAdvisor?) Also keep in mind that “your customer” varies by objective. For example, if you’re looking to boost PR, substitute “journalists,” “bloggers,” and “social media influencers” for “customers” to ensure you’re asking exactly the right question.
  3. How will you measure success? Now, this relates closely to #1 above as well as to those questions you hear from your boss that we started with. But, make sure you’ve got the right measures in place that align with the business result you’re looking for before you begin. Many initiatives go off the rails because, for lack of other measures, C-level folks start asking for financial measures when the initiative aims to achieve some other end. Don’t get me wrong. You’re usually well-served by including some financial measures as part of your efforts. In fact, I almost always look for a “dollar value” measure along with any alternative measures for each initiative. But, if it’s really about reducing customer service calls, for example (which, in itself has a financial benefit to most companies), make sure you’ve got buy-in across the organization that that’s what you’re going to measure.

The problem with many social media campaigns is they start, for instance, by asking “How can we use Facebook (or whatever the hip, new social space is)?” That lack of focus leads to the sort of backlash against social media you’re starting to see. It also leads to business results that lag your competition.

Instead, by starting with the three questions above, you provide the proper framework for determining which of Facebook or Foursquare, LinkedIn or, Twitter or Tumblr will accomplish your goals. Or if a different solution altogether is what you need.

And that will help you answer your boss’s tough questions. Or, even better, provide her the answers before she can ask.

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs.

Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line.

An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association.

Tim currently serves as Senior Advisor at SoloSegment, a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies.

Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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