Study: Marketers struggle to prove social media ROI

A recent report showed that digital marketers struggle to link online efforts to other business goals and campaigns throughout their organizations. They struggle to listen to their audience, too.

Though most marketers believe that social media boosts their organizations’ bottom lines, communicating its value remains a stumbling block.

A recent Sprout Social report revealed that in 2019, roughly $18.4 billion will be spent on social media advertising. Most of the marketers surveyed (90%) agree that spending budget dollars on social media efforts directly affects revenue, but only 63% say they frequently discuss social media metrics or ROI with executives.

Marketers say that developing social media strategies to support their organizations’ business goals remains their No. 1 challenge, but other top hurdles include identifying and understanding their target audiences, getting the proper budget and resources for social media campaigns, publishing compelling content, measuring ROI, monitoring the competition, aligning the social media strategy to other campaigns and efforts across departments, relaying social media’s value and finding the team bandwidth to execute online efforts.

Sprout Social reported:

Looking back at marketers’ greatest challenges and their primary functions, it’s clear there’s a disconnect in expectations and responsibilities. When so few marketers share business insights gleaned from social with the rest of their organizations, it’s no wonder why so many struggle to develop social strategies that support big picture goals.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that social teams often remain siloed in marketing even though social data can provide influential guidance to other departments. It’s up to social teams to prove it in order to open the door to relationships that will move brands forward.

Marketing goals vs. measurement

Marketers’ struggles might be affected by the way they execute and evaluate social media campaigns.

Seventy percent of marketers say that their main goal for social media campaigns is to increase brand awareness and 59% aim to increase sales or generate leads. Other top goals include increasing online community engagement (48%), growing an organization’s audience (46%) and increasing website traffic (45%).

Though most marketers use social media to increase their organizations’ brand awareness, only 41 percent look to the metrics that align with that goal, such as reach and number of impressions. Instead, 63% focus on engagement metrics and half look at conversion and revenue metrics.

Not all online engagement is seen as equal, either.

The majority of marketers (72 percent) count a social media post’s “likes” and/or comments as engagement and 62 percent include shares and/or retweets. Sixty percent count interaction with consumers as social media engagement.

In comparison, only 34% count revenue attribution as engagement, with 32% of marketers saying engagement is inspiring consumers to take action (such as clicking a link or visiting the website). Only 29% say engagement is stoking an emotional response from consumers.

How social media platforms rank vs. consumer behavior

Just as different types of online interactions are more or less valuable to marketers, so are social media platforms. More than half (54%) of marketers say potential audience reach is a top priority for selecting the social media platforms to include in their online strategies, but consumer behavior might not completely align with marketers’ choices, either.

The majority of marketers (89%) use Facebook for their organizations’ online presences, though in comparison, only two-thirds of consumers follow brands on Facebook.

More than half (65%) have business profiles on Instagram, 50% are on Twitter and 49% use YouTube for their social media efforts. Though only 41% of consumers follow organizations on Instagram, it still ranks higher than Twitter and YouTube, where 22% and 35% of consumers follow brands, respectively.

Other platforms and services, including Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Pinterest remain a part of marketers’ social media toolkit, even though these platforms have smaller consumer followings.

However, audience reach isn’t the only consideration when it comes to selecting which social media platforms to use.

Nearly half (47%) of marketers say they consider a platform’s cost of paid ads, and 38% say they look at the platform’s potential for driving traffic. Nearly the same amount (37%) consider how many leads a platform might generate, while other marketers look at a platform’s algorithm updates (33%), a platform’s demographics (29%) or options for targeting a platform’s user base (24%).

Considering that most marketers want to show that social media efforts positively affect sales and lead generation, it is important to understand why consumers follow and unfollow brands online.

Sprout Social reported that half of consumers follow branded social media accounts to learn about new products and services, and nearly half (48%) want to be entertained. Forty percent want to learn about an organization’s news, while learning about promotions or discounts (38%), connecting with other consumers (36%), and becoming inspired (36%) or educated (35%) rank lower in terms of consumer behaviors:

To play to consumer behaviors, brand managers should remember that posts that entertain will gain the most engagement (67% of consumers will like or comment), followed by posts that inspire (57% will like or comment).

Brand managers should also take care to avoid tactics that drive consumers away.

More than half (56% and 51% respectively) of consumers will unfollow brands on social media for poor online customer service and irrelevant content. Forty-three percent will say goodbye if they see too many ads, while too many promotional posts and posts about politics or social issues also drive away consumers.

Don’t forget the power of your organization’s employees, either. Nearly half of consumers are more likely to research your product or service if an employee posts about it online.

How does this report stack up against your social media marketing strategies, PR Daily readers?

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