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Social Media Marketing ROI and the Loyalty Trifecta

By Eric Fletcher
Chief Marketing Officer at McGlinchey Stafford

The one thing that makes social media special from a business perspective is also the one reason social media marketing (SMM) is worth investing in. It comes in the form of the conversations that used to occur at the water cooler, over the backyard fence, or in the good old-fashioned town hall meetings. It is about give and take and real-time feedback. It is the conversations of shared experiences.

Anyone or any venture whose social media strategy emanates from the perspective of a pulpit, platform, or one-way message-delivery channel is missing the point—not to mention the real marketing potential. This causes some of the consternation around identifying and measuring the return on investment in SMM.

While we almost always evaluate marketing tools in terms of how effectively a message is delivered, social calls for a new way of thinking about media, which can actually help refocus our perspective on what constitutes successful communication. This is a new brand of media, made up of the rich fabric of relationships. This tool is far from one-way, one-sided, or one-dimensional. It is about participation, collaboration, and the dynamics of interaction. And it embraces the countless possibilities of shared experiences. This relational foundation is the reason that, while it continues to evolve, the growth of social media shows no signs of waning.

If you're a marketer, social media is for much more than simply transmitting highly produced messages. It is tailor made to instigate dialogue, generate feedback, and be integral in making an on-going brand experience accessible to customers and prospects. While this seems like good news on the surface—it is, after all, communication theory 101—many organizational discussions about SMM as part of a marketing strategy are stymied when ROI becomes the question. What is the expected return on investment, and how will it be measured?

Some enterprises face unique challenges around the use of social media, but identifying ROI should not be one of those challenges. When properly used, social media delivers the ultimate return on investment. It is a return that transcends sales totals and revenue projections, which inevitably fluctuate dramatically based on multiple market realities. It also trumps the fickle "satisfied customer," always vulnerable to a cheaper price or greater convenience.

The ultimate ROI on a marketing investment is loyalty. Loyalty is not built over the span of a 13-week communication blitz or a state-of-the-art Web presence. And it is not the byproduct of any strategy employed to deliver a single message. While all those tools can play a part, loyalty implies a relationship, and it is born of experience or a series of experiences.

Creating the kinds of experiences with your brand that engender loyalty will change the way you (and your CEO/CFO) think about and measure ROI. In this context, return becomes exponential. Loyalty not only endures; it instigates whole new conversations in the marketplace, and these new conversations have potential far beyond any marketing message you might create. (Think word-of-mouth on steroids.)

While not a silver bullet for every marketing effort, when it comes to facilitating an ongoing experience with an eye on loyalty, social media affords something few other options can: proximity, presence, and unfiltered feedback. (As an aside, is it conceivable that the very thing that makes social media a dynamic force—authentic, unfiltered feedback from the market we target—actually strikes fear into the heart of some companies?)

Certainly, specific executables will vary, but the framework for an SMM program designed to facilitate shared experiences and build loyalty requires a three-pronged strategy. Focus on doing these three things well, and you’re on your way to relationships that endure:

  • Intentional listening
  • Generation of unfiltered feedback
  • Instigation of collaborative conversations

The foundation is intentional listening. Social media at its best is at least as much about listening as message delivery. Without a robust listening component baked into the strategy, even the most articulate message does little to engender loyalty.

So we set the stage with a best practice that is philosophical in nature. It is about the way we think. Successful social media marketing does not focus on message delivery; it focuses and builds on listening to the experiences and voices of the marketplace. For many marketers, this is not easy. But the truth is that social media is a great gift to every marketer willing to listen.

For perhaps the first time in the mass media age, we have a tool that is collaborative and experiential at its core. We have constant and easy access to the voice of our markets. And if we will listen, our customers, prospects, and targets will tell us of the experiences they most cherish and exactly what is required to win their loyalty.

Now that is ROI! And with this as a philosophical basis, we will begin to explore some best practices for executing the loyalty trifecta. Stay tuned.

Eric Fletcher

Eric Fletcher is the CMO at McGlinchey Stafford, a national business law firm. With 200 attorneys operating from eight offices across the U.S., he is responsible for all aspects of marketing communications and business development for the firm nationwide. With more than 30 years in marketing and communications, Eric has produced successful radio and television programming; served as a partner and creative director with an award-winning advertising, marketing, and public relations firm; and counseled a number of the leading professional service organizations in America. Eric is a member of The Social CMO, an informal consortium of several individuals who have embraced social media and the opportunity it represents for advertising, PR, sales, and marketing.