Social media has been grabbing the attention of everyone for several years now; Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are popular social media platforms that have all become household names. With such enormous scale, everyone easily recognizes its potential for marketing. But what exactly consists of social media marketing, and how can we scope out the tasks for social media marketing in order to measure the ROI?
Currently, this is not really a problem for many other forms of internet marketing. Email marketing and search engine marketing are two example forms of internet marketing that have come a long way in its accountability for a company's overall integrated marketing results. With relatively mature analytical support, these forms of online marketing have enjoyed rapid growth in its adoption and optimization techniques for these marketing efforts have become a lucrative art, if not science.
Social media marketing have also enjoyed rapid growth in its adoption, and in many ways in much larger scale than other forms of internet marketing. This is because social media, by its nature, is more conducive to growth. However, our ability to measure its accountability in marketing clearly lags behind other forms of internet marketing. I believe one major reason for this is a lack of common framework in defining the scope of social media marketing. Just like in a job, you cannot be accountable if you don't know what you have committed to, and you cannot commit to something if you don't know you are responsible for it.
But why would it be confusing? Let's look at a few examples. What are some marketing activities you would consider as part of social media marketing? Promoting your brand by posting a summer sale announcement on your Facebook page? Responding to a consumer's angry outcry on Twitter regarding a poor experience? What about paying for a spot on Facebook to show an image ad of the largest and juiciest burger on earth, enticing users with some witty text urging that they must try it before they die?
All of the above have been known to be part of a company's social media marketing plan, but they are actually quite different activities. The reason the lines are blurring is because traditionally, social media is most often associated with the creation and sharing of user-generated content on the internet. (Note: While I understand the social media can often be referenced via offline activities, for the purpose of this analysis we'll scope our discussion within the area of internet marketing only). Confusion arises because both the platforms that enable the creation and exchange of these user-generated content, such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as the action of creating and exchanging the content, are often synonymous with social media. The rapid growth of social media is largely contributed to the technology that enables the social interaction at such a large scale. As a result, any activity conducted on these platforms, have been basically considered as part of social media marketing, even though they may or may not directly contribute to the creation and sharing of user-generated content.
If that is the way marketers are practically approaching social media marketing, then we must embrace it and help them optimize their efforts in an integrated manner. I believe the first step to optimization, is to define the scope of these activities. To me, the easiest way and also the most comprehensive approach to defining the scope of social media marketing is via the Paid, owned, earned, media framework, aka the P.O.E.M framework. This framework has been around at least a couple years now, and can be used not just to describe social media, as Nokia has been categorizing all their global interactive media using this framework. I feel, however, that it is particularly fitting for describing the scope of social media marketing. The framework was defined formally by Forrester Research's Sean Corcoran with the following breakdown of media types:
Paid media has been the main commodity in the traditional advertising world. To many, it is a necessary evil overemphasized by agencies and publishers because of its direct revenue generating nature. To some adopters of new media, they believe its effects have been greatly diminished in today's content-rich world where consumers are numb to one-way mass messages. Yet to others, paid media is the most justifiable media type to optimize for relevance vs. revenue in such a way that its effects will not only not diminish but amplify when presented at the right place at the right time. Regardless, paid media's role in social media platforms is definitely not diminishing; eMarketer believes that global Facebook ads spending will reach $4 billion this year.
Owned media is content produced and controlled by the company. With the growth of eCommerce owned media has extended beyond providing information about the company but is often the content a consumer sees right before the transaction, through the company's website. With social media, the companies have extended options for publishing owned media. For example, they can publish content via a blog, or post company information or products on Facebook pages or via Twitter.
Earned media seems to be the critical piece that represents the main differentiator of social media from others, in that it is content generated by consumers through interactions and awareness about the company, brand, and products. It can also be heavily dependent on the owned and paid media the company produce because it is often a response to the content that is worth sharing to prompt the act of generating earned media through feedback.
While earned media may be the most important factor of social media marketing compared to other forms of internet marketing, paid and owned media cannot be ignored as part of the overall social media marketing efforts, and an integrated plan utilizing all three types of media must be executed to maximize the effectiveness of social media marketing. Just like in search engine marketing and optimization, where the paid search results can complement the organic results and the company's landing page (owned media) can affect how Google or Bing ranks the search results (earned), integration of the different types of media pay a critical role in optimization of social media marketing.
While the exact tactics for integration and execution plans vary based on each company's marketing objectives, there are definitely strategies and heuristics to approach the integration, but that is a separate article. For now, it is important to understand that social media marketing, just like other forms of internet marketing, can be described and scoped based on the types of content generated in the channel, and how these contents are generated. For social media in particular, the platforms on which these contents are generated and shared are just as important as the act of generating the contents itself.