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The true ROI of content and social marketing

Publishing branded content and sharing it via social networks makes a lot of sense, but does it actually bring in revenues?

big moneyLove it or hate it, welcome to the golden age of inbound marketing, social marketing and content marketing. According to an annual study by the Content Marketing Institute, a pioneer in the growing field, 86 percent of B2C marketers and 91 percent of B2B marketers are actively involved in content.

Ok, so everyone is doing it, but does it work? Are content and social all the rage among marketing tactics simply because there’s a buzz surrounding them? Are brands getting involved because management thinks they “have to”? Or is this actually an effective business decision?

With so many platforms to consider (your website, your blog, your guest posts, your slide decks, your ebooks, a growing myriad of presences on social networks) and so many potential directions to take, how do you develop and continually tweak a strategy to effectively leverage content marketing and engage your audience? How do you keep an eye on your return on investment (ROI) to quickly recalibrate a strategy that isn’t working. That’s a lot to cover, so we’ll take a look at the “who’s” and “why’s” of inbound ROI first – scroll down a bit to check out the “how’s.”

Just like family: the influence of content marketing

The Clever Girls Collective, a network of trusted social media mavens, bloggers, and brand ambassadors, asked their audience about their purchasing plans for this past winter holiday shopping season. A full 44 percent said that their purchasing decisions are influenced by a trusted blogger. Keep in mind that they didn’t just ask if respondents trust a blogger, but rather if a blogger whom respondents trust has influenced what to buy. If that figure sounds underwhelming, consider that 41 percent said they were influenced to make a purchase by friends and family. Any strategy with a stronger influence on purchasing behavior than big sister’s advice is a force to be reckoned with.

Their survey also showed that 93.3 percent of their network members have made a purchase simply based on a blogger recommendation. And 88 percent made a purchase because a brand shared a coupon or special deal on a social networking site. The potential benefits of content marketing are clear when you consider that 70 percent said that they would go over their holiday shopping budget for a good deal.

Making social work for you

There are a million companies using blogs and social networks in a million different ways. Finding a way that works for your company takes some fine tuning, but as you get started, there are some general principles to follow.

  • Pay close attention to your social audiences. Find out who they are as people and where they hang out, so you can listen to what they care about. Use a combination of pro-active and re-active. Post on your blog and your Facebook page. Use your Twitter account and respond to the comments and retweets.
  • Take the good with the bad. For every 100 happy customers, there is one irate customer – and he is the guy who will post on Yelp, Twitter, or Facebook. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so you have to turn it around so the outcome is in your favor. Respond with and apology and explain your side of the story. Offer to make things right. It shows that you are paying attention and will make you look just as good as 100 compliments and good reviews.

Content marketing can work wonders when done correctly. But measuring your efforts can be a challenge.

Making peace with the immeasurable

Hard sales figures are easy to measure, but measuring the value of social marketing is more of a “soft science.” How do you measure the effectiveness of your brand image? How do you measure the value of your owned online properties?

Sure, there are ways to go about answering these questions – check out Social Media Today’s recently published formula suggestions as a starting point – but the methodology is hardly indisputable.

Attributing sales holistically is often trickier than counting sales figures, so there are many different ways to measure the ROI of your content and social marketing efforts.

The value each fan, follower and share

Eventbrite, a company that specializes in online event promotion and ticket sales, has a major vested interest in measuring the ROI for social shares. Their annual study, first released way back in 2010, elucidates the complex ways that promoting your event on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can help to generate interest and ultimately, to generate sales.

They calculate two metrics: visits per share and dollars per share. Visits per share measures the “amount of additional traffic per share” and dollars per share measures the “average value of the additional tickets sold through this share.” These types of metrics are on the money when it comes to social ROI, and even if it takes zillions of transactions to obtain representative data, the model for calculating arguably applies to everyone.

Eventbrite found that Facebook generates the greatest dollar value per share ($4.15, compared to Twitter with $1.85 and LinkedIn with $.92), while Twitter generates the greatest number of visits per share (33 visits, compared to Facebook with 14 visits and Linked in with 10 visits). Twitter is catching on dollars per share – growing by 330 percent in dollars per share since 2010, but all three networks examined were growing in both categories.

Hubspot has its own philosophy for calculating the value of Facebook Likes, but it’s built on empirical data rather than potentials.

How should you use these figures to your advantage? You know your audience and where they spend their time online, but in general, if your strategy is looking at LinkedIn but not at Facebook, you are clearly missing a significant piece of the pie. And Twitter represents an opportunity to get a toehold in a social network that is clearly on the rise. Become a trusted brand in the Twitter-sphere today and it will pay dividends tomorrow.

Impact yield vs. sentiment metrics

A recent Forrester Research report tackled social ROI by examining the various qualitative and quantitative ways to measure a social marketing campaign. First off, consider the financial angle. You can tie email campaigns and promotions/coupons on social networks directly to sales figures. Now that you’ve engaged a social marketing plan, simply track the yield – are you making more money than you were before? Are people using the coupons and responding to the promotions?

Then there are the factors that are measured qualitatively. These are best tracked by looking at the aggregate sentiment across the social sites and blogs. Are comments favorable? Are people retweeting your blog articles? Do site analytics show that more visitors to your website are being referred from your social media presences? In general, does a big picture emerge of a brand that is perceived favorably as a result of your social presence? How does it compare to earlier efforts, or your brand perception before you started social marketing?

Are you engaged in social and content marketing? Have you taken a look at these issues related to your own strategy? If you need help getting an inbound marketing strategy, complete with ROI metrics, off the ground, or if you aren’t seeing the results you want to see, feel free to contact the experts at Managed for Mimi.

Photo courtesy of flickr user by 401(K) 2013 under a Creative Commons license.

About Ben Jacobson

A content marketing services professional since 2001, Ben Jacobson serves as Operations Director of Managed for Mimi and Co-Director of its parent organization Action Packed Media. To see Ben's LinkedIn profile, click here.