Brian Carroll

Is Social Media Really Living Up to Expectations?


Over the holidays, I had some time to really dive into the LinkedIn B2B LeadGen Roundtable discussions. One started by Ann Thornley-Brown, President & CEO, Executive Oasis International, Toronto, caught my attention. She started the discussion in August, yet members continue to provide feedback. B2bleadgen

Ann wanted to know how happy the group was with the lead generation results of their social media campaigns.  “Are your efforts on LinkedIn and Twitter paying off?” she queried. “How many leads have you generated? How many specific pieces of business have you picked up? I know a lot of bright people who are really active on these sites and very few are seeing results. How about you?”

Her question, and too many of her 30-plus responses, illustrated the disconnection between the expectations of marketers who are out on the frontlines every day and marketing gurus proclaiming the wonders of social media.  After all, if you Google  ”Top 10 B2B Trends in 2011” you’ll see social media listed on every one of them.

Then why, if Ann’s discussion is any indication, are so many marketers dissatisfied with the results they’re getting from it?

I took this question to Sergio Balegno, Director of Research for MECLABS, the parent company of InTouch. He authors MarketingSherpa’s Social Media & PR Benchmark Guides, is considered a foremost authority on social media strategy, is quoted by the media extensively and presents at institutions like Harvard.

He’s also been in marketing for more than three decades, well before the internet was even on the scene. This gives him some not-so-typical long-term perspective in a world that demands instant gratification.

If anyone could provide insight to why this is going on, it’s Sergio. Here’s his take:

“I had a B2B communications firm from the mid-80s to 2000. When we got into the ‘90s we started hearing about the World Wide Web. I brought the concept to our customers: some adopted it very quickly the other half shrugged it off as a passing fad.

“Of course, today, the web is considered traditional media and social media is now that new ‘fad.’ The same thing is happening all over again, except at a much faster pace.

“You see, you have to look at the history of social media, it’s really short. Our first benchmark guide was published in 2009, which analyzed the use of social media in 2008. It was at the ‘all-hype’ stage then: there were no clear objectives or best practices beyond the soft objectives of building customer awareness. There weren’t the hard-and-fast lead generation and sales conversations that will be featured in our 2011 report, which I’m working on right now.

“What does surprise me is that of the 2,300 marketers we surveyed at the end of 2010, six percent – 138 – already felt they were producing measurable ROI. In just a couple of years, social media has rocketed to a place that took the internet a good decade to arrive at.

“A big part of the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report will look at the monetization of social media. A solid quarter of marketers are at the mature, strategic stage of social media marketing. They have clear objectives and practices. Now they’re trying to go back to the budgeting committee to prove that it’s producing revenue.

“That’s where they’re stuck. They can’t get a grasp on how many leads social media is generating.

“A big section of the study is going to be about software and tools that can track someone from when they become a member of a social network to when they download a whitepaper and become a part of a standard CRM system.

“Essentially, we’re at critical mass: marketers need to prove social media’s value, and there is a need for CRM tools that can track that. Mzinga is one company leading the way with its OmniSocial platform, the study will review more.”

Considering Sergio’s response, marketers are expecting way too much too soon. Paradoxically, this in itself demonstrates the remarkable speed at which social media is being integrated into marketing initiatives.

We can’t yet calculate with the most exacting precision how many leads are generated from social media, but considering how quickly technology is evolving, the ability to do so will be here in no time. I expect if Ann poses her question again at the end of 2012, her responses will be far different.

What do you think?

Finally, Sergio gave me some penetrating insight at the end of our conversation: “After 30 years in marketing, I thought I had seen all of the changes that could possibly take place, and then social media changed everything again.  Our brand is no longer what we say it is, it’s what our customers say it is.”

If you want to hear more from Sergio, be sure to sign up for MarketingSherpa’s brand new Inbound Marketing Newsletter, which will announce when the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark guide is released. The newsletter is published bi-weekly and explores the power of new marketing tools, including social media, to attract customers without advertising. Click here to see the inaugural edition. Click here to subscribe.

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Books, Lead Generation, Sales, Social Media, Thought Leadership



  1. | #1

    Brian,

    I do not see social media as a direct sales model. I see it as a passive marketing tool to build trust, social proof, educate customers, convince customers into wanting more of your expert ideas and advice, and eventually give you permission to market directly to them.

    The permission typically will come in the form of a FREE download, such as a template, newsletter, or e-book. Once they give you permission to communicate, then you can start to use your email campaigns to move them along the path of a sales funnel with auto-responders.

    The interesting thing about social media is that your potential customers need to see you in a variety of venues to trust you (social proof). Some will find you on facebook, others will follow your LinkedIn Group Postings and Status Updates, others will view your YouTube Channel, some will crave your daily blog posting into their favorite reader, and others will retweet every tweet you post to name just a few.

    All these efforts are to drive the potential customer into giving you permission to communicate directly with them. In that regard, social media is a tremendous success. As a direct lead generation/sales model it’s a complete failure.

    I suppose you could measure how many of your social media subscribers, friends, followers, connections give you permission to communicate directly with them. At that point you can start to apply traditional metrics against marketing campaigns.

    Social Media allows you to establish your expertise, value, thought leadership in an unobtrusive manner reaching thousands, if not millions. It’s the new TV or Radio advertising for companies, consultants, and coaches that level the playing field. The best part of social media is that you can target your message to where your potential customer likes to hang out on the Web.

    Barry Deutsch
    IMPACT Hiring Solutions
    http://www.impacthiringsolutions.com

  2. | #2

    Thank you Brian. This is a great post. I’m glad to see that I have inspired you.

    I haven’t checked the discussion in a while. I had no idea it was so popular. Look what I started. :) Times are a-changing. In the past when I have attempted to get this dialogue going, I was met by silence, motherhood statements about what is “supposed to work” or declarations from business owners that they weren’t on Twitter or LinkedIn to generate business results but just to “engage”. . From my blog, here is my take on this issue:

    Social Media R.O.I. – All Businesses Aren’t Country Clubs
    http://bit.ly/socialmediaroi2

    I think that the analogies Sergio draws between the impact of the Internet on marketing and the impact of social media are spot onI guess you could call us an early adopter. Our original company launched its website in December, 1996. For the first 3 years when people asked “Is the website paying for itself yet?” The answer was always “no”. In fact, for the longest time it seemed that the only people making money from the Internet were business teaching Internet marketing strategies through seminars and e-books. Others were having difficulty replicating their results.

    All that changed for us in November, 1999 when a Malaysian company contacted us for a quote. We hadn’t even targeted Malaysia. I always tell people that God sent the right people to our website. After that, things took off. All of the international business we have done (10 foreign countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean) was generated through the Internet. Now the Internet is our biggest source of leads and new business. I have toured Asia 16 times and all of that came through leads generated via the website.

    I suspect that the impact of social media will, eventually be similar. It’s like sprouting beans. It seems like you water them forever and nothing is happening. Eventually they sprout and when you plant them, not overnight but eventually, you have a huge beanstalk.

    Marketing efforts are like that. I think that the global economic downturn has slowed down the pace at which people are seeing results but that results will eventually come.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and getting Sergio to give his perspective.

    Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA
    President
    Executive Oasis International

    Author of: The Tough Guide to Corporate Survival for Executives Blog

  3. | #3

    I think Barry has an insightful observation on social media not being a direct sales model as it’s a bit of a taboo to clog the social media/blogosphere with self promotion. However, I think social media is a valuable medium for both lead generation and client retention that is still very much untapped. Basic social media monitoring and engagement tools like Radian6, Cision, etc. allows you to find influential blog conversations, forum threads, etc. that are discussing your company, competiton, and industry products. I see business people asking for product recommendations from fellow industry peers on a daily basis.

    As for measuring social media’s impact on the bottom line, I would agree with Barry that measuring subscribers, followers, etc. is good, but I also suggest that your company’s marketing or PR team begin analyzing social media’s impact by tracking metrics such as inbound links, on-topic posts, forum thread size, followers, engagement, etc. on your company and products. This will at least allow you to benchmark, goal set and track improvement over time.

  4. | #4

    Barry,

    I think you are on to something. The proof is that I have never bought anything directly through Facebook or Twitter. I have heard about deals, and have become interested in companies via Social Media. But this does not constitute direct sales.

  5. | #5

    Yes and No!
    Yes for the business owners and marketers out there who expected social media to be a platform to listen to their markets, and start a conversation and education process; No to the ones who expected business to come flying through the door!

  6. | #6

    Social media is a good way to advertise your product and services. However, it does not generate warm leads that can be converted to a closed sale. Yes you can get leads through social media however you still need to follow it up. Its good that you discussed this Brian. Thanks.

  7. | #7

    Well, As Mr.Sergio has such a long period of experience, so i would agree with the fact that a small quantity of people may give you a good lead generation.
    But i also agree with the fact, that keeping in view this particular modern era people have now become more and more indulge with social media, weather it’s the internet or the TV or so.
    So, yes Social Media in this period of time really pays out your bills.

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