Social media: should we really be questioning its value for brands?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

What is the brand value for social media?

In light of the recent decision by Wetherspoons to delete their social media accounts, the true value of time and resources spent on social is up for debate – but should it be?

Most organisations believe social media has a role to play in their marketing communications, but, equally, most would struggle to explain exactly what that role is. There’s little doubt that social media takes up a significant amount of consumer time and attention but without understanding the influence and quantifying the commercial benefits for brands and businesses, no marketing activity should be above question.

Like every other marketing activity, a social media strategy must be judged on its positive impact on business or brand metrics. It’s very straightforward; consider the opportunity costs and the potential benefits to be gained from other marketing initiatives that could be pursued instead.

Do brands actually understand social?

Many brands originally joined social media because they felt they should, rather than having a clear strategy and objectives. Competitive brand peer pressure and the sheer scale of the social audiences resulted in the creation of brand pages and profiles.

There’s definitely been an evolution towards brands having defined social strategies with measurements and metrics but there remains an absence in understanding of the true efficacy of social media marketing activity.

A lot of data about the level of activity exists, but much less about the commercial and brand impact. As suggested by the IPA Datamine studies, setting commercial objectives and prioritising among them can have a transformative effect on effectiveness. It’s also crucial to establish a balanced scorecard of measurement, including short-term and longer-term effects. Having this knowledge will mean that your teams approach campaigns guided by feedback and data.

As a result, those responsible for social media in their organisations face renewed pressure from above to prove ROI from social activity. Social media is no longer new and all marketing activities should be held to account. The marketing mix is highly fragmented. Brands need to be selective about the channels that are most suited to their audience and focus on representing their brands well in these channels.

Back to basics

Brands benefit the most when they ensure maximum synergies and consistent look, feel and messaging across all channels and customer touchpoints. This is the strongest case for social media to be “owned” by the marketing department and its agency partners.

In-house brand teams can help to educate the wider business on the role of social media for the organisation how it connects within the lives of the audience, with our other marketing touchpoints, as part of the purchase journey and how social media helps with consumer decision-making.

With marketing as the channel guardian, the wider business teams can direct relevant content, which can then be shared in the most relevant, effective and appropriate way to the social audiences. In an ideal world the whole business would contribute to a brand’s social content with the marketing team and agency partners being responsible for managing content publication for best results.

The role for agencies

Just as social media is under increased scrutiny from brands, so are the agencies providing services and consultancy around social. It would be foolish, though, for brands to dismiss the positive contribution agencies can make to social success.

Brand client teams bring expertise in their industry, product and services. Agencies bring their expertise in creative branding, effective marketing strategies, campaign activation and data analytics.

Agencies can support clients with social strategy and planning as well as creating content, building connections, driving engagement and paid for promotions. A good agency will develop targeted social customer profiles based on audience insights. This detailed analysis will allow campaigns to be strategic, creative and focused on effective distribution to reach the right people in the right place at the right time – with the right content.

At my own agency, IF Agency, our output always takes the form of a return-on-investment metric that is comparable across all marketing channels, and we always look beyond a simplistic last-click view, to get a rounded perspective of the true incremental impact.

In the end, the social role of social media, as with all marketing, is to aid the consumer-decision making process. As we live in an age of information overload, if your activity hasn't helped consumers, it has almost certainly hindered them. Time to make sure that your social media activity is delivering the benefits it should.

Peter Harris is data science director at IF Agency

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