August 2, 2013

I recently read a question posed by Hootsuite that asked: How do you define success in social media? To be honest, I didn't really know how to answer that question. I had lots of thoughts on the topic but couldn't frame up an answer concisely. So, as I worked on formulating my answer, I also asked my connections on social media for their thoughts. I wanted to see how others looked at this question.

But before we get into all that, let's start at the beginning. According to the freedictionary.com website, Success is defined as:

  1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted
  2. The gaining of fame or prosperity

Now, these could be two mutually exclusive definitions depending on what your attempted goal is. However, if your goal is to gain fame or prosperity, than they are one and the same.

But, assuming we aren't defining social media success as being rich and famous, I want to focus on the first portion of the definition.

One of my social media connections, and valuable LinkedIn expert, Stacy Zapar, phrased it nicely by saying, "To me, success in social media means achieving your personal / professional goals through relationships built and fostered online." Based on the definition listed above, I think she nailed it!

But I want to dig a little deeper. Let's look at it from a business perspective. Social media is a part of your overall marketing strategy for your business. It is not an act exclusive of your business goals. So, what are your business goals? To make more money, to get more clients, to produce more product, to impact more people... Every business will have slightly different goals. But, in general, the idea is to make more money (with a few exceptions, including non-profit organizations).

So, if your goal is to make money, social media should be helping you to achieve this in some way, correct? Otherwise, it isn't really successful.

One of my Facebook fans, Lili Tufel said it really well (and a little more bluntly than I was planning to!) when she said "I think success with social media is making money with social media. Anyone can create a fan page and gain thousands of fans via pay-per-click ads. But if those fans/leads are not converted into paying clients, that's not success, in my opinion. The conversion of the highly engaged leads into paying customers is achieving success."

So, the next inevitable question is how do you convert social media connections into paying customers? This isn't an easy answer, nor is it an easy process. It takes time, energy, and commitment. Social media is about creating a community around your brand and converting those connections into sales/leads. This is not something you can create overnight.

One of my valuable social media connections, Melissa Michel said "I think it's about being authentic and building a solid community. Doing this is definitely a process but in time you will get leads that can be converted into sales. I see people trying to "hard sell" on SM all the time and it gets annoying. I'm a huge advocate of the power of SM and what it can do for your business, but if you're going in fast and hard and make it all about $$$ I believe you'll be disappointed."

So, if the goal (to reach the definition of success) is to make more money, then you want to use social media to create leads and convert customers. But this isn't so easy, nor is it a quick process. So, how do we know if our social media efforts are working towards converting those fans into customers?

The answer is in the community you are building. And the best way to judge this community is through engagement levels.

Another one of my great connections, Brian Stephens, defined it like this, "I think you always need interaction for success. Likes on Facebook and Followers on Twitter are nice, but if you don't have traffic and potential customers from that, then it's useless. Most of the time, folks get caught up in the fluff (aka vanity metrics) of social media and forget their business goals."

A couple years ago, heck, even last year, you could have said you had 10,000 fans and people would assume you were a success with social media. They'd be asking you how you did it and how can they do the same thing. Today, the mentality is shifting drastically.

One of the great things about social media is that it is still so new and we're all learning as it grows. But there is a downside as well, and that is that none of us have a clear definition of what is right or what is wrong. Now, we no longer look solely at the number of fans, we look at the levels of engagement a brand has with their fans. Sure, you could have 10,000 fans but if only 1-2% of them are interacting regularly, are you really successful? Or what if you only have 1000 fans but have 40-50% engagement? Does that mean you are more successful?

Well, it depends on the type of engagement you're getting. You could have really high engagement levels but if your posts are only of dancing cats that get hundreds of shares and likes, is this really helping your business model? Unless you sell dancing cat videos, it probably isn't.

To me, the definition of successful interaction (or engagement) is based on the level of brand advocacy. Are your likes, shares, comments, conversations, etc. helping to promote your brand? Or are they merely boosting your analytics and stats tracking? Valuable engagement is when fans and customers (and even non-fans) do something through social media to promote your business. If they are sharing your post in a way that endorses you to their friends and family, that is valuable. If people are commenting on your posts to share their opinions or insights, that is valuable (especially if you actually use that information to improve your brand). If people are talking about you positively offline because of how you behave online, that is valuable. If people start buying your product or recommending you to their friends and family because they value what you provide online, now you are succeeding.

We have to focus on the real value of real interactions. Getting 200 likes on a photo isn't necessarily irrelevant compared to a direct sales lead. Those 200 likes on that one photo are just one part of your whole social media strategy. Each and every post, each interaction, each opportunity to connect with your audience is important to the overall goal.

So, in the long run, success isn't black and white when it comes to social media. The eventual goal and end state defines the eventual success but it's a long climb up that mountain. And there are so many mini successes that should be celebrated along that climb. Whether it's your first 100 fans, or reaching 10,000 fans, each of these should be celebrated. Whether it's your first viral post or your first celebrity mention, you should be celebrating. Success will come in many forms in your evolution of your social media strategy. As long as the culmination of these smaller successes are leading to your ultimate goal, then you are succeeding!

What do you think? What are you looking to achieve? How do you define success in social media? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Jenn- A good post on the much debated subject of SM success or ROI. My take is, social media plays a secondary role as you have revealed. Traditional media is still the dominant force. This could change, but for now this is the way things work. Media integration, naturally a hot topic, allows the marketer to amplify their brand reach. If a business is not actively considering this, they can be sure their competition is.

    Success in the social media arena comes from realizing that social media is about connections and interactions between people. It’s not about brand-to-consumer exchanges. Focus on bringing people together, not bringing a product to the marketplace.

    GoodJob, rcb

    1. Thanks Randy! You bring up some good points too. Social media really is about the relationships forged between people. And we can see in countless examples that those companies doing well on social media are almost always the ones who embrace this mentality.

  2. I agree that finding “success” on social media is dependent upon your definition and goals. My goal was to get my business name out there to people and companies I would probably not have reached otherwise. This meant working on building my reputation online through my posts, shares, and especially my blog and online newspaper. Once again, great article Jenn that I will be sure to share!

    1. Thanks Kim! And I think a lot of people are in the same shoes of expanding brand awareness. Social media is a great way to achieve that! And as long as you know that’s your goal, you can set your plans accordingly. But it’s also important to remember that if the goals change in the future, the plan will need to change as well.

  3. I agree that finding “success” on social media is dependent upon your definition and goals. My goal was to get my business name out there to people and companies I would probably not have reached otherwise. This meant working on building my reputation online through my posts, shares, and especially my blog and online newspaper. Once again, great article Jenn that I will be sure to share!

    1. Thanks Kim! And I think a lot of people are in the same shoes of expanding brand awareness. Social media is a great way to achieve that! And as long as you know that’s your goal, you can set your plans accordingly. But it’s also important to remember that if the goals change in the future, the plan will need to change as well.

  4. Interesting post Jenn especially with the variety of opinions on Social Media success. I watched a Marketing webinar this week and the phrase Return On Engagement instead of ROI was used. Yes it’s a little fluffy but I think it’s apt.

    Many of the benefits of Social Media are not easy to define into ROI. How do you measure credibility and trust? These lead to sales, but not directly – it’s a continuous process of connecting, engagement and relationships.

    Great post again 🙂

    1. Thanks Jason! I did get some great feedback from my social media connections.
      Unfortunately, it is hard to measure the ROI of social media. I often say it’s a necessary part of doing business – like paying your electricity bill. It doesn’t mean you can directly calculate the value, but I can promise you your business will suffer if you don’t do it.
      And yes, it is a continuous process. It is not an overnight reward. But I think it’s worth it!

      1. Very true that a business will suffer if you can’t measure ROI. I always think that time is the one resource needed to make Social Media a success, which can be calculated.

        I guess my take away from your post is measure measure measure 🙂

  5. Interesting post Jenn especially with the variety of opinions on Social Media success. I watched a Marketing webinar this week and the phrase Return On Engagement instead of ROI was used. Yes it’s a little fluffy but I think it’s apt.

    Many of the benefits of Social Media are not easy to define into ROI. How do you measure credibility and trust? These lead to sales, but not directly – it’s a continuous process of connecting, engagement and relationships.

    Great post again 🙂

    1. Thanks Jason! I did get some great feedback from my social media connections.
      Unfortunately, it is hard to measure the ROI of social media. I often say it’s a necessary part of doing business – like paying your electricity bill. It doesn’t mean you can directly calculate the value, but I can promise you your business will suffer if you don’t do it.
      And yes, it is a continuous process. It is not an overnight reward. But I think it’s worth it!

      1. Very true that a business will suffer if you can’t measure ROI. I always think that time is the one resource needed to make Social Media a success, which can be calculated.

        I guess my take away from your post is measure measure measure 🙂

  6. Hi Jenn, thanks for the opportunity to comment! Success in social media….. I have formulated the opinion that social media and relationship marketing is the same as word of mouth advertising. I am so focused on engagement and reach! This platform is just another tool in the marketing tool belt. But, it is the one tool that enables a biz to establish and nurture relationships. These relationship could become a Client. Or, these relationships could be the conduit to a Client. As you form the relationship on whatever social media platform(s) you choose, you increase the reach and the number of eyes that could possibly view your page, your service or product! That reach become the “world of mouth” advertising. Increase engagement and increase reach and your possible business opportunities will increase as well. The one thing that I always try to focus on though is real estate. And the biz’s real estate is their website. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Why? Because you haven’t created a relationship with that horse. LOL But, lead a relationship to your website, and the potential to do biz with them is greater.

    1. Thanks for your comments Michael! Yes, social media is a great way to nurture relationships which can lead to clients, as you said! And I think it’s important, like you mention, that the key to successful conversion is a good website. Social media is only one step in the process of converting clients.

  7. Hi Jenn, thanks for the opportunity to comment! Success in social media….. I have formulated the opinion that social media and relationship marketing is the same as word of mouth advertising. I am so focused on engagement and reach! This platform is just another tool in the marketing tool belt. But, it is the one tool that enables a biz to establish and nurture relationships. These relationship could become a Client. Or, these relationships could be the conduit to a Client. As you form the relationship on whatever social media platform(s) you choose, you increase the reach and the number of eyes that could possibly view your page, your service or product! That reach become the “world of mouth” advertising. Increase engagement and increase reach and your possible business opportunities will increase as well. The one thing that I always try to focus on though is real estate. And the biz’s real estate is their website. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Why? Because you haven’t created a relationship with that horse. LOL But, lead a relationship to your website, and the potential to do biz with them is greater.

    1. Thanks for your comments Michael! Yes, social media is a great way to nurture relationships which can lead to clients, as you said! And I think it’s important, like you mention, that the key to successful conversion is a good website. Social media is only one step in the process of converting clients.

  8. Some good points raised here Jenn. I agree that social objectives will vary by client, but I’ve always based my social initiatives around two key facets – relationships and conversations. That’s why social media is rarely a “quick fix”. Yes, you will have your brands who comes up with great social ideas which contribute to traffic and conversions, but these are few and far between. I find usually the best way to use social is to integrate the earned media strategy with paid and owned (ie: adding fuel to the fire). Conversations and relationships are things that are built overtime, thus brands who understand the hidden value of social will also understand that social should rarely be used as a one-off fix. Instead, it should be a strategic always-on process that builds layer upon layer of valuable content for your consumer

    1. Thanks Adrian! Yes, social media really is all about the conversations and the relationships. As you said, it is not, by any means, a “one-off fix” and it does build over time.

  9. Some good points raised here Jenn. I agree that social objectives will vary by client, but I’ve always based my social initiatives around two key facets – relationships and conversations. That’s why social media is rarely a “quick fix”. Yes, you will have your brands who comes up with great social ideas which contribute to traffic and conversions, but these are few and far between. I find usually the best way to use social is to integrate the earned media strategy with paid and owned (ie: adding fuel to the fire). Conversations and relationships are things that are built overtime, thus brands who understand the hidden value of social will also understand that social should rarely be used as a one-off fix. Instead, it should be a strategic always-on process that builds layer upon layer of valuable content for your consumer

    1. Thanks Adrian! Yes, social media really is all about the conversations and the relationships. As you said, it is not, by any means, a “one-off fix” and it does build over time.

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