Many companies have succeeded in building up large fan bases on Facebook and Twitter, but what is a fan really worth? Many people will "like" a brand on Facebook, but will never take the extra step to visit the company's site, share a promotion with a friend, or buy a product.
"Every fan is not created equal. Many brands are realizing that having thousands of Facebook fans does not have much impact on their sales or brand reach, because these ‘fans' don't engage or share much," says Ron Schott, senior strategist at Spring Creek Group, a division of IPG Mediabrands.
Schott says as the social media marketing sector moves beyond experimentation in 2012, B2C and B2B marketers will place less emphasis on simply amassing fans and followers, and begin to deploy sophisticated social analytics software to identify and engage their most loyal fans: the "super influencers" who share the most widely. A move toward deep analysis of online sharing patterns is fueling a spending boom in the social marketing software space.
In the U.S., companies will spend $2.1 billion on social media marketing, according to Forrester Research. This spend encompasses "earned media" initiatives such as social content creation, free Facebook pages, and viral video, as well as "paid media" advertising such as Facebook Ads, promoted Tweets, social-enabled display ads, and paid YouTube placements. By 2016, organizations will spend nearly $5 billion on social media marketing – a 26 percent annual growth rate and one of the fastest-growing segments of digital marketing.
Much of this growth in spending will come from implementing social analytics platforms. These technologies, which range from simple listening platforms that allow marketers to get a high-level view of what people are saying about their brands or products, to full-service social CRM platforms that aim to integrate social marketing initiatives with larger marketing and customer retention programs. Some of the leading social media analytics providers include Radian6, Trackur, and Visible Technologies, while enterprise analytics vendors such as Autonomy and SAS Institute also now integrate social media data. Products such as Cisco SocialMiner integrate social media into customer care work flows, so that organizations that want to move from analytics to engagement have a tool to do just that.
Another class of tools promises to not just measure how social marketing programs are performing, but also help companies find and "activate" super influencers. These companies, including Lithium and startups such as Meteor Solutions and Zuberance, use analytics to identify a brand's biggest influencers, then provide ideas for special rewards to encourage these people to share even more.
"Many marketers have focused on building Facebook pages and tweeting, but to really get substantial results from social marketing, you have to analyze vast amounts of social data across the Web to find the 1 percent of your fans who share the most often and most widely, whether they share on Facebook, Twitter, via email, or on blogs," says Ben Straley, CEO of Meteor Solutions. "Targeting these super influencers with exclusive promotions and content means they'll do your marketing for you – spreading your content far and wide."
Straley says approximately 1 percent of visitors to a company's site or social page can directly influence 30 percent or more of sales just by sharing promotions, brand content, or links with others. By reaching the 1 percent, you indirectly engage thousands of other people.
So how do you find your company's super influencers then activate them to share? First, you need to use social analytics tools to find your most influential followers; this involves measuring sharing patterns and the impact of sharing on campaign traffic and conversion. Second, you have to find ways to "activate" these people in ways that don't feel salesy. (You don't want to annoy your biggest fans and risk potentially turning them into your biggest detractors.)
Once you've found your top fans, ask yourself these five questions to really understand what makes your super influencers tick – so you can give them more of what they want.
What do your super influencers share?Your top fans may be shopaholics that love sharing deals and discounts. Or, they may prefer to share entertainment like videos, social games, or music clips. Some social influencers like to share information or research, serving as experts for their wider social net. Find out what your super influencers really value – deals, entertainment, or information.
Where do they share it? Your fans don't just share on Facebook and Twitter, but also on niche social networks, blogs, forums, and websites. Find out where they hang out, and also how they share (email, tweets, updates, blog posts, etc). You may be surprised that Facebook and Twitter aren't the only games in town.
What motivates them? Some people who take the time to share content are motivated by fame (to be seen as an expert), while others want fortune (free deals and coupons). Find out why your super influencers share. You'll probably find that most people share not just to get deals, but to appear helpful to their friends, family, and communities.
How can you make them famous? Call out your top sharers on public forums like Twitter and Facebook, give them badges for their websites, and recognize them widely for their insights and deep social networks. Retweet their messages or re-post their updates – anything to call out their contributions and recognize them for being so influential to your brand.
What rewards do they want? Being famous is great, but everyone likes a good deal. Don't forget to give your super influencers discounts and deals, but also offer them special VIP treatment. Invite them to a closed-door sales event or let them buy a new product before anyone else. Why not give them free products to review? It's worth giving away a few free products if your super influencers will announce to their networks what a fantastic product it is.
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