Getting yourself into social media is a breeze. Membership is free and setting up shop on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn takes all of about an hour.
Getting yourself out of social media is another question altogether. How do you judge program performance? How do you know if the ends justify the means? How can you tell whether you're one tweet away from a roaring success or only throwing good money after bad?
Here are factors to consider when determining whether it's time to make a strategic withdrawal from social media.
Decide with metrics
One of the silliest ideas floating around is that social media is somehow above or beyond statistical analysis. Don't buy into this thinking. If your social media program does not have metrics in place, you'll need to put them in place and track performance for several months to make an informed decision on whether to continue or terminate your effort.
Whatever your program's goal, there are performance metrics that can be associated with it. For instance, retweets and mentions are measures of brand awareness. Blog and Facebook comments are measures of engagement. Referred traffic and form fills are measures of conversion.
For a plug-pulling discussion, the key consideration is not magnitude, but the trend. If numbers are going up, keep going. If numbers are flat or declining—and you can't think of ideas for improving—consider other marketing options.
Decide with business sense
Even though social media metrics exist, they are far from perfect and should always be considered in the context of your general business sense of what's going on. Contextual issues to consider include:
Anecdotal evidence. Managing social media from an ivory tower can be deceiving. When you're in the trenches, reading comments, responding to tweets, etc., you may find success stories that don't show up in the analysis. For example, if you secure one new customer with a lifetime value of $100,000, this alone may justify your social media program. On the flip side, the numbers might show tons of retweets, but if they all involve strategically unimportant tweets, they may have little or no value.
Competitive evidence. How are your competitors doing in social media? If some of them are doing well, it indicates your program has the potential to succeed. However, if few (or none) of your competitors are thriving, it could mean that social media is not a good option in your niche.
Decide with every option in mind
Withdrawing from social media to save money is risky; withdrawing to devote resources to another, more promising program is smart. The problem with eliminating social as a cost cutting maneuver is the difficulty of starting up again when your business returns to expansion mode.
Certain Internet marketing activities, such as pay-per-click advertising, can be turned off and on like a faucet. In the social space, however, consistent presence is critical. A sudden withdrawal may inspire conversations that negatively impact your brand, and you'll have a hard time winning people back if you return.
Decide by process of elimination
If you decide to abandon social media, you won't want to look back and wonder, "What if?" To avoid abandoner's remorse, ask yourself the following questions before taking the step.
- Have we given social media our best effort?
- Were our goals clearly defined?
- If we lack internal resources, would it help to outsource some or all of the work?
- If we are outsourcing, would it help to bring some or all of the work in house?
- Are there any bold ideas that we can try?
- Would it make sense to scale back rather than eliminate social media, and give our customers time to catch up with us?
It is not smart to abandon social media because you are so repelled by the idea of social media that you are blinded to its high potential in your business. Neither is it wise to give up because of a negative comment or two, or even several. People are going to talk about your brand whether you have a social media presence or not … which, come to think of it, is a really good reason to have one.
Brad Shorr is director of content and social media for Straight North, a Chicago marketing agency. Contact him on Twitter via @BradShorr. A version of this article first appeared on PR at Sunrise.