Opening Personal Note:
Hello to all my readers. Apologies for my brief hiatus. I changed jobs which upped my hours on the grind and allotted me less free time for blogging. But I’m back.
From experience, It’s safe to say that many marketers still play the ‘guessing game’ about how to optimally use social media for branding or advertising. Frequently, the result of this ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ methodology is poor/ambiguous audience engagement results.
Such was the case recently, when our marketing team executed a social media contest which merely garnered 2 participants.While we had a high # of shares, retweets as well as strong CTR, the contest failed (hard) on the only indicator of success which truly mattered – actually getting people to enter and participate.
What went wrong? For this social media contest, we had invested in strong creatives, put together an attractive prize package, utilized a top-notch social media contest platform and we had even undergone training for using the Facebook ad platform. In addition (and quite remarkably), this social media contest followed on the heels of another of our social media endeavors – which had garnered strong participation from the public.
When I expressed these thoughts to a friend of mine who ran a marketing agency, (surprisingly) I received a very even-keeled response,
“Social Media is the Wild Wild West marketing. We’re still figuring out how it all works. Snags and pitfalls are commonplace. You’re going to have to fail fast and often to be more consistently successful….”
My friend’s recommendation was to do a deep-dive analysis with my team and use the outcomes to hone our instincts for engaging audiences over social media in the future. Below, I share the salient points of our analysis – starting by briefly looking into practitioner models for ‘social media engagement’
Briefly, What is Social Media Engagement?
Social Media Engagement, broadly , is defined as the audience responses in the wake of a brand’s social media activity (for e.g. posting of a video or offering a discount/coupon offer). Bosco Anthony expands the definition by incorporating the importance of social media engagement, “it is a form of validation of a brand’s social media outreach/presence.”
There are multiple layers to social media engagement, however, that marketers must recognize and be able to peel apart. Matt Simpson, for example, characterized social media engagement as a funnel. The narrower parts of the funnel at the bottom consist of audience response types where ROI can be more easily measured or estimated. The broader top of the funnel consist of response types where ROI becomes more ambiguous or impossible to measure.
Tuvel Communications, on the other hand, portrays this engagement complexity as an onion, where different types of responses exist on different layers; the deeper one goes into the onion, the more meaningful audience engagements with the brand become. For example, responses such as following or liking the Facebook brand page exist on the outer layers of the onion BUT advocacy for the brand (re-tweets, shares) and active contributions (service queries and comments) exist at the deepest layers.
When we apply these engagement models to the context of the failed social media contest, we can see a clear distinction. The contest performed well at Tuvel Communication’s outer layers or Simpson’s top of the funnel. However, the contest performed poorly at the deeper levels of engagement. Why was this the case?
Here’s what we found and the top 3 lessons we learned:
We were ignorant of potential time burdens/ user frustrations as it relates to participating in the contest.
Contest structure simplicity, as every experienced practitioner can tell you, can make or break your chances for getting your audience to hit the submit button with their contest entry details. When we leaned back and re-examined our contest structure, we realized the contest structure wasn’t as simple/easy as we had initially thought. In fact, it may have actually been cumbersome to the users/participants.
We realized we had failed to account for pesky pre-requisites – steps that participants needed to complete before attempting specific tasks on the entry form. For e.g. We asked users to leave a review on our app but we did not account for the wait-period which users had to undergo to sign up for and activate an account with our app. (Our team had hurdled passed the sign-up steps several months prior; therefore, unfortunately it dropped off our radar as potential barrier to entry). For a digital community which values ‘instant gratification’, this cumbersomeness may very likely caused them to lose interest in the contest.
Therefore, we (inadvertently) proved right the practitioner rule of thumb: always plan for and understand user experiences with the product Even if it was just for a social media contest.
We were lulled into a false sense of security by fancy, well-marketed technology.
Prior to the social media contest, our team had signed up for an app service that enabled us to easily create contest pages for social media. This app service marketed itself impressively, demonstrating a history of success with other major brands across multiple sectors and countries. Indeed, after performing a small (but in hindsight shoddy) in-house beta test, were satisfied with the capabilities of the app service and decided to roll it out for our social media contest.
However, our confidence in this service was mislaid. When our digital/IT team ran some deeper checks, we found that the app service was indeed buggy. Incredibly, the app’s landing page showed up as ‘unavailable/blocked’ on many mobile phones. This seemed corroborated by Analytics which showed hundreds clicks from mobile phones to the contest page but zero conversions. What we surmised happened was that many mobile phone users had seen the ‘page not available’ message and then quickly clicked the back button, instantly disregarding participation in the contest.
The lesson we learned is technology is very fickle (even those that claim infallibility); as marketers, we can lessen the chance of buggy tech biting us in the rear with more robust, in-house beta tests that cuts cross a range of platforms (Android, Apple) and devices (desktop, tablet, phones) .
We didn’t take advantage of digital’s synergistic effects to attract more participation.
New research from Microsoft/Brandscience and Google/Dove indicates that a mix of digital and traditional media adds more lift to a campaign than digital or traditional media by itself. In fact, there studies indicated that when digital is brought into the media mix “traditional media spend will work harder”.
Considering these findings, we clearly saw that we had missed an opportunity to amplify the advertising for the contest and, thereby, reap more participants. We had put the majority of our media spend into social and almost nothing for traditional media. Our logic at the time was that social ads would be more contextually relevant for a social media contest. Also, we would be able to use that money we saved by not focusing on traditional to invest into an attractive prize package for the contest.
We surmised, however, that a lack of radio or print coverage actually did the contest a disservice. For the market and its current demos, research showed that many segments of the market still depended on traditional more so than social as a credible information source.
The Wrap Up
There’s no doubt that social media is a great way to reach and engage your audiences. However, marketers must ask themselves – just what kind of engagement are we getting? Is the engagement shallow or deep? Is it just fan counts or are people actually advocating for our brand using social media?
In order to avoid merely skimming the surface of audience engagement, our team leaned that i) we had to ensure that the responses we’re looking to receive are not too cumbersome for web audiences, and ii) ensure that these responses are feasible through the response pathways we present to audiences. In addition, we are reminded that despite the wide reach of social media, social media spend works best when complemented by traditional media spend.