3 questions to ask about your social brand

Social media’s return on investment isn’t about how many likes you have, but the strength of your connections with your customers. Here’s how to strengthen them.

Marketers get preoccupied with tracking the return on social media investment: “How much does each like cost? How many sales will each like bring in?”

These are the wrong questions.

Social media gets a return on investment that far exceeds the number of likes a brand acquires.

Using social media as a direct response channel or to provoke action leaves a lot of business-intelligence value on the table.

To add value to your brand, ask these questions:

1. What am I trying to accomplish as a social brand?

The number of fans on your page has nothing to do with the page’s value. If a user likes your page and never looks at it again, you and the user lose.

Even worse, some pages purchase likes from users outside their market, which is no better than fabricating numbers. Those users aren’t interested in engaging with the brand, so they add nothing to the page.

Change your thinking: Rather than work to increase your fans, work to drive true engagement.

An engaged user is a valuable user. Figure out how to interact with him. For instance, if your content users often comment on and share your content on their personal networks, you increase your page and brand reach. You gain valuable perspective on what people think about your brand. Do they hate your new logo? Do they love your new TV ad? If you have a vibrant brand that fosters conversation, engaged users will let you know.

By pursing the quality of followers over the number of followers, you get visibility into interactions that add business-intelligence value to your social media results. You also add value to the users who engage with your content, making them more loyal to your brand.

2. How can I use what I learn from social media engagement?

If you just use Facebook as a place to publish text you already wrote for a brochure or to repurpose your display ads, you miss out on what Facebook offers.

How often do you talk to customers? That is, without spending money on call centers that bother customers at home (when they probably don’t want to talk)?

Facebook and Twitter provide the largest set of public observational data ever, and it’s far less biased than survey data. Even better, you’re already building it as part of your existing marketing strategy.

This is an opportunity to learn about your customers, and show them the human side of your brand. Connect with customers meaningfully outside of selling your product. You have subject-matter expertise that will benefit them, and social media lets you share it.

If you try to engage beyond building fans and followers, every time you post a new image or graphic you can gauge interest, interact and see what’s important to customers.

There is software to collect and analyze this kind of data, but you can do your own analysis. Ask, “Which pieces inspired more comments? Which photos did users share to their own pages? Which posts had no activity?” Instantly you know what works and what doesn’t.

3. What does success look like for a brand on social media?

If number of followers is a bad measure of social media success, what’s better?

Answer: Affinity, the connection between brand and buyer beyond paid ad response.

The strength of the connection between your fans and your brand teaches you a lot about your brand. “You are what they say you are” applies. Brands that use social media data to learn more about themselves will be far ahead of brands battling for numbers.

I encourage marketers to take a long-term view of social media investment. Instead of focusing on numbers, build affinity, so users will interact with your brand without your paying for an ad or increased page reach.

Remember, not everything you post has to be directly related to your product. It probably shouldn’t be.

For example, if you’re a car maker promoting the safety of your cars, seek out conversations about car-seat safety or safe driving. Provide your community resources about road conditions or hands-free phones. This content, though not directly related to buying a car, shows your brand is authentically interested in adding value for those who engage with it. That’s how you build real connections with audiences. And strong ties build data and intelligence for your business.

If you still ask, “How can I get more likes than my competitor?” you’re going about social media all wrong.

Instead, understand how your social media dollars should create new connections. Recognize the business-intelligence value of social media data. Your brand will see better success than your competitor who bought likes because he couldn’t see past numbers.

A version of this article originally appeared on Marketing Profs.

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