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Navigating the Social Media Maze; Gauging Social Media Success; Keys to Monetizing Social Media; Drive Traffic to Your Site with Google AdWords; Keep Your Communications Safe and Secure
Navigating the Social Media Maze Gauging Social Media Success Keys to Monetizing Social Media Drive Traffic to Your Site with Google AdWords Keep Your Communications Safe and Secure
If you’ve been testing the waters of social media marketing lately, you are not alone. In a survey conducted by Constant Contact in fall 2011, more than eight in 10 small businesses reported using social media in their overall marketing programs, up from about seven in 10 just six months earlier. And if you are at least a bit unsure about this 21st Century marketing channel—what exactly it is, how it’s different from traditional media, how best to leverage it, what benefits it can actually deliver—you also have plenty of company.
Assessing the social media programs of all types of businesses, large and small, Steve Goldner, senior director of social media at MediaWhiz, a digital media agency based in New York, estimates just five percent represent real business value, and 95 percent are wasted effort. “Regardless of size, most businesses simply don’t understand what social media is about—which is building relationships and having appropriate metrics that align to your company’s KPIs (key performance indicators) and core business objectives,” he declares.
There are notable differences between marketing via social media channels and traditional channels, the most glaring of which is the prevalence of two-way communication in social media, something that was never supported to a meaningful extent by traditional media. “People talk back,” says Natalie Henley director of marketing and analysis at the Findability Group, a Denver-based Internet marketing firm. While traditional media is based on the concept of outbound communication—talking “to” your audience—social media is about developing a community and having your audience “talk back” to you.
“This can be scary for a lot of companies,” she says. “For the first time, you can’t control absolutely everything said about your business in social media. But the reward is building an excited, engaged community and crowdsourcing some of your marketing to your biggest fans.” Daniel Ladik, associate professor of marketing at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, says the bottom-up approach to marketing inherent in social media (as opposed to the top-down approach of traditional media) means, “You are not in control anymore; the crowd is in control. They decide to participate via a ‘like,’ a tweet, a forward, a blog post, a comment, etc.”
Goldner notes that many companies stumble over the “tremendous need” to listen first and market second in social media. Effective business use of social media starts with listening to key conversations in and around your industry and target markets, building trust with those communities and slowly working your way into those conversations. “Trust within those communities has to be there first, otherwise consumers will tune you out,” he warns.
Two other ways social media differs from traditional marketing channels are in measurability (good for your business) and transparency (a potential challenge). Any marketing you do online is highly trackable—much more so than conventional print and broadcast ads—with tools like Google Analytics. However, traditional advertising allows you to create the best “version” of your messaging and your company, Henley points out. “With social media, your company and corporate culture become much more transparent.”
The basic components of building a strategic social media marketing program should include:
Realistic goals for social media programs include community building, driving traffic to your website, and increasing awareness, consideration, loyalty, and advocacy. The exact numbers you set as targets for community building will differ based on business type and budget, Henley says, and the programs do best when they are run internally. “Even though we have an agency that does social media marketing for businesses, we always recommend to clients that they make plans to bring social media in-house at some point,” she says.
In general, social media is not a highly effective channel to directly drive transactions, but its ability to increase levels of customer awareness, consideration, and loyalty is a powerful tool to “tee up” conversions. “Social media provokes these behaviors, and these behavior changes drive transactions,” Goldner says. He adds that social media marketing programs are most effective when the right tools are used, enough time is allotted for the programs to build momentum, and you are committed to delivering value to customers as opposed to selling to them.
As with any marketing investment, it’s important to measure the return on your social media activity in both quantitative and qualitative terms. There are two schools of thought (at least) on the relative difficulty of each of those endeavors.
Measuring the quantitative impact of social media marketing on your business performance in a meaningful way is very difficult because quantitative metrics can be a false indicator of consumer engagement, argues Mona Askalani, director of social marketing at Aimia, a Montreal-based provider of loyalty management services. “Marketers need to understand the meaning behind the numbers,” she says. “Are you defining success by customer activity or by customer engagement?”
Darian Shirazi, CEO of Radius Intelligence, a San Francisco-based provider of sales intelligence on the SMB market, thinks it’s much simpler than that. “If you’re looking for raw numbers, it’s not that difficult once you have the data,” he says. “With data, you can measure the numerical difference between different time periods.”
Dana Todd, senior vice president of marketing at Performics, an SEM (search engine marketing) specialist headquartered in Chicago, comes down somewhere in the middle. “The measurement really isn’t the issue. It’s the valuation that’s tricky when you’re trying to understand the impact of social media on business performance,” she contends. “Most marketers haven’t really done the hard work of analyzing what is the value of a person’s interest, engagement, loyalty, and referral.”
Askalami and Todd are in concordance on the question of qualitative measurement, with Shirazi offering the dissenting voice. Qualitative impacts can be determined using surveys and attribution models, Todd says, “but, again, marketers must determine the business metrics up front, before the campaign runs,” for them to be meaningful. But Shirazi believes measuring the qualitative impact is quite difficult since you need to weigh sources and the influence of the person posting. “Quality also varies by medium. For example, Facebook posts are more valuable than tweets on Twitter,” he says.
Check-ins, tweets, and Facebook posts are straightforward metrics you can use to see how often people are talking about your business. Tracking business mentions in social content is the best approach, Shirazi suggests, but it can be difficult because of inconsistencies in how people spell a business name, (e.g., “Hog & Rocks” vs. “Hog + Rocks”). The native metrics available in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter can also be useful, Askalami says. For example, Facebook’s “People are Talking About This” metric provides a data set that counts stories that are eligible to appear in a user’s newsfeed—“likes,” wall posts, comments, shares, questions answered, etc. “This metric allows the page administrator to know what posts have proven the most compelling and interactive,” she says.
The most important points Shirazi suggests keeping in mind when gauging the success of your social media marketing are:
When it comes to social media, many businesses rightly echo the demand of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!” Can blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc., actually help you make more money? “Absolutely,” insists Tom Pick, digital marketing and public relations director at K.C. Associates, a marketing research and services company in Wilmington, Delaware.
Pick says there are hundreds of case studies and examples supporting that claim. “In the B2B realm on which K.C. Associates focuses, social media is about increasing lead generation. One of our clients launched a blog and began promoting it through Twitter and LinkedIn, and within three months the blog was producing nearly 10 percent of the company’s leads,” he says.
Leveraging social media to create real business value is a long-term process that requires some upfront investment in terms of resources and time. “Like any form of promotion and exposure, repetition combined with the ability to show value or knowledge in an industry draws customers when they have a need,” says Dona Storey, American Express Open advisor on procurement. “Through social media you can position yourself as a credible solution to their potential challenge or problem.”
Pick suggests giving things away—expertise, resources, free tips, information—to attract a following. “But the ultimate goal is to get that following to do something in order to convert them into leads,” he says. That action can be downloading a white paper, registering for a webinar, subscribing to a newsletter, signing up for a free trial, or anything else that gets them into your company’s sales pipeline.
Benjamin Enterprises is a total workforce solutions company with offices in New York, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. Founder and CEO Michelle Benjamin says social media has been more effective than traditional marketing channels at increasing opportunities for her company’s sales and operations people to interact with bona fide prospects.
“We use social media to survey prospects and get immediate feedback on our products and services,” she says. The resulting dialogues helped drive a switch to green cleaning products in its facilities maintenance division and a reevaluation of the lasting effects of classroom training vs. hands-on mentorship in its training division. “In those cases, social media helped us save money and time by understanding the needs and wants of our customer base at a substantially lower cost,” she says.
The social media platforms best suited to monetization efforts vary by industry type. In retail and hospitality, for instance, Facebook, Foursquare, and Pinterest are likely to be key tools. In the B2B world, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs tend to be the cornerstones of successful social media marketing.
“People consume content in different ways and have different preferences,” Pick says. “To be successful in monetizing social media, SMB owners and managers need to consider producing content in a variety of formats: photos, infographics, presentations, video, text, etc. Often, the challenge of constantly producing new content can be made easier by instead presenting previously published content in a new format.”
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For more information about using Google AdWords—along with Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, and host of other tools—to bolster your online identity, download a free pdf version of Google’s A Guide to Optimizing Your Digital Presence.
Learn more about using Google Adwords or Google Adwords Express, and about the discount for Comcast Business Internet customers.
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