4 key questions about using social media buttons

Icons for the various platforms adorn your website, but what do you actually do for folks who ‘like’ or follow you? What should you be doing instead? Some experts explain.

A common comment we hear at MarketingSherpa is this: “I put some social media elements on my page and have not seen much of a difference.”

I’m sure you can relate, because social media icons are everywhere. On landing pages. In emails. Heck, I even saw some on a billboard while I was driving the other day.

On behalf of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their investors, I’d like to thank the marketers of the world for all that free co-op advertising.

All kidding aside, let me throw the questions back at you to help you get the most value from your sharing icons. We’ll focus on four questions you should ask yourself:

No. 1: Should we be using social media icons?

Most marketers will find value in using social media icons, because although the value might not be great, it is probably higher than the cost.

As marketing tactics go, slapping a few social media icons or sharing buttons on a landing page is fairly easy. Almost any value you get creates a decent ROI, because it is higher than the minimal cost involved.

For example, AT&T added Facebook and Twitter icons into an email newsletter.

This was one small part of a program that helped the AT&T Developer Program increase its Twitter audience 136 percent and its Facebook audience 113 percent.

Of course, as you’ll see in the case study above, the team at AT&T did much more than just add a few icons to an email to get that lift. Because the cost—in both IT execution to add the buttons and real estate on the email—was probably low, why not add social media icons?

Well, here’s why not. The answer is a simple yes for most brands, however, that doesn’t mean every brand should use them. For example, I interviewed Steve Parker, vice president for direct marketing at firstSTREET, in the MarketingSherpa webinar “Optimization: A discussion about an e-commerce company’s 500 percent sales increase.”

“In our case, given our target market, you’re looking at an age 75+ customer, they’re not big social users,” Parker said, “and the ones who are on social media, they really just want to see pictures of their grandkids and their kids. So they’re not going to be as interactive in the social world. So from our standpoint, it’s pretty low on the priority list. There are no social buttons on this website.”

No. 2: Which social media icons should we use?

Ask your audience in direct conversations, in surveys, and through customer service interactions and other customer-facing employees: Which social networks do they use?

Once you find out, be present on those platforms. See how they’re using social media, and look at your analytics.

Here on the MarketingSherpa blog, you’ll notice the prime social sharing button we use is from Twitter.

That’s because when we looked at our analytics, more inbound traffic came from Twitter than from any other social network. You might also notice, at the bottom of our blog posts, we have social media sharing icons as well.

That’s because the rest of our inbound social network traffic came from LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Delicious and Digg.

Your analytics won’t be foolproof. Over time, they become a self-fulfilling prophesy (we receive more Twitter traffic because we encourage the audience to share on Twitter), but combining your analytics with active listening to your audience through many means will at least get you in the ballpark of how they want to interact with your brand using social media.

No. 3: Why should your customers follow you?

Adam Lapp, associate director of optimization and strategy at MECLABS, offers this:

“Start with developing a strategy that is focused on a clear value exchange.

“Often, marketers will stick an icon on a home page or a landing page and hope someone clicks on it. The problem with that is there are no clear expectations set up beforehand that offer users any real value in exchange in return for joining your social networks.

“Marketers who take the time for value proposition development to answer the fundamental question at the heart of all social media marketing— ‘If I am your ideal customer, why should I follow your Twitter account instead of your competitor’s?’—will probably see more success in their social media marketing efforts because they clearly explained the incentives and benefits available to their customers in exchange for their ‘likes,’ follows, pins, shares, and +1’s, etc.”

This is a little easier for natural content creators, such as newspapers and magazines. Customers are used to turning to them for content they value, and they probably see the value in a simple social media icon as one more way to get that content from them.

For other brands, a social media icon may not be enough. You may need to add value-based messaging, such as, “Follow us for the latest updates on waterproof sprockets,” or even, “Follow us for exclusive discounts on polarized sunglasses.”

You may also move beyond brand icons and involve your people, because, after all, people are inherently more social than faceless companies. For example, IBM invites you to connect with their experts:

When all else fails, and you have difficulty identifying and communicating value, you can always turn to incentive, the bacon of marketing tactics, as Kobo does here with a Twitter contest:

The Twitter contest boosted followers 43 percent for Kobo.

No. 4: What else should I think of beyond the icon?

Every brand wants followers, but how many brands really want to be a leader?

So, you’ve got these followers, where are you going to lead them now. Sure, you could try to use that social platform to sell, sell, sell.

Or you could actually be social, and use it to deepen engagement. So suggests Jonathan Greene, business intelligence and social media analyst at MECLABS:

“Currently, the best thing you can do with social media in terms of increasing conversion efforts is to focus on engagement; which will give potential converts a better understanding of your company and products so when it comes time to make a decision—you’ve helped them make an informed one.

“I would also add that while social media is great for nurturing leads, it’s also important to remember that users will unlikely purchase directly from a social platform unless their motivation is really high.

“So efforts to affect sales directly from social platforms are generally doomed to failure because of the nature of social media. Conversion focused on a direct sale on your social media platforms is almost antithetical to engagement, when you think about it.

“In one case, you’re asking people to leave your platform and accomplish a task and in another, you’re asking them to stay and hang out with you, so the focus should be one or the other, and I recommend engagement.”

A version of this article first appeared on Marketing Sherpa’s blog. (Image via)

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