How to Set Reasonable Expectations for Social Media Results

Are you getting frustrated with the progress of your social media efforts?  Do you wish you had more followers, faster growth and better engagement with your posts?  You are not alone.  Many engage in social media hoping to grow their business, but after the initial glow wears off they begin to wonder why their efforts aren’t yielding more success.  But, how do you know what to expect from your social media initiatives and how do you measure results?

The Current State of Social Media:

The social channels are maturing and are under tremendous pressure to show a profit.  Their challenge is to balance the need to retain and grow their user base, while offering advertising and partnership opportunities to the businesses who pay their bills.  This means that they must continually adjust their offering and algorithms to ensure that they are delivering the information that their users want, when they want it while leaving a little room for promotion.

What was once proclaimed to be “free marketing” (aside from the copious amount of time required) has developed into a highly competitive arena where the only way you can be sure your message will be heard is if you pay to promote it.

There is still opportunity for organic (unpaid) results but success varies from one channel to the next.  The key lies in attracting an audience that is truly interested in what you have to say and providing relevant and meaningful information that catches their attention and inspires them to engage with your organization.  When they engage they send a signal to the social platform that the information you provide is something they want.

So How Do I Set Reasonable Expectations?

Understanding the state of social media is important for setting reasonable expectations.  The definition of success for your organization will depend on the platforms you participate in, your industry, the nature of your customers, your organization’s overall business goals and what you have done on social media thus far.  But, regardless of your situation, the first thing you must make clear is that social media is not a quick fix.  It is a process and it will require resources.

Using social media, whether for business or personal, is all about building and nurturing  relationships.  It takes time and you must be respectful of social norms.  Yes, you can nudge things along and attract new friends by waving around a little money (advertisements), but to build quality, lasting relationships that result in ROI, you must be genuine, deliver on your promises and offer value.  Once you have made this abundantly clear you can follow this process and set reasonable expectations:

1.  Create Relevant and Measurable Social Media Goals

If you are just getting started on social media, your initial goals might simply be to build relationships and establish a reputation as knowledgeable and trustworthy.  If you have already been participating in social media for a while perhaps you are ready to leverage your connections to gain paying customers through targeted campaigns.  Whatever your status, determine which overall business and marketing goals you intend to support with social media then create relevant and measurable goals for each platform you intend to participate in.

For example, let’s assume your organization sells B2B.  You have been focusing on Twitter and LinkedIn with your social media.  You have built up a quality following and have been nurturing your image as knowledgeable in your space by providing useful information to your followers.

You have decided to invest in the creation of an e-book for the purposes of lead generation and would like to leverage your social presence toward this effort.  Current and potential clients can download your e-book if they submit their contact information through a landing page on your website.

Your goal?  Leverage your presence on Twitter and LinkedIn to drive traffic to your landing page.

2.  Specify the Tactics You Will Use to Achieve Your Goals

After you have identified what you wish to achieve with your social media activity, define the specific tactics you will use based on the norms of the social channels you choose to participate in.  Thinking through these tactics will help you to be realistic about the time required to achieve them and will help clarify the metrics that will demonstrate progress.

To expand on the example above, your tactics for Twitter might include:

  1. Create and schedule a series of tweets (that include a link to the landing page and a specific hashtag) with varying messages and images.
  2. Track the response to these tweets to determine what resonates for your audience.
  3. Pin your best performing tweet to the top of your page so that it is immediately visible to new followers.

Your tactics on LinkedIn could include:

  1. Create posts (that includes a link to the landing page) with a variety of unique messages that you can share on your company page over a period of time.
  2. Ask employees who are active on LinkedIn to re-share these posts though their individual profiles to further expand your reach.

There are certainly additional tactics you could use (including advertising) but for the sake of brevity, let’s stop here.  My point is that your tactics will be specific to the platforms you plan to use.  Yes, there will be similarities but each social channel will require unique posts and will offer different ways to reach your target audience.

3.  Determine Metrics to Track and How to Track Them

All of the social media channels offer reporting on your performance within that platform, but they do not provide information on what happens after people leave the platform.  Now that you know exactly what you are planning to do identify the metrics that will demonstrate your progress and make sure you have the ability to track those metrics.

For example:  The campaign above is intended to attract people to your website to download an e-book.  Your social platform will provide metrics up to the point when someone clicks on the landing page URL.  You must determine how you will continue to track everything that happens after they land on your website by setting up connections between your social posts and your website analytic tools.  Here is a great blog post that describes how to make the connection between social media and your website with Google Analytics.

If possible, find benchmarks so you can define what success looks like.  A great place to start is by reviewing this report from HubSpot which compares social media results, broken down by industry.  However, your business and your specific initiative is unique, so you will often need to look for information on a more granular level by monitoring the success of your competitors and by tracking your own progress over time.

4.  Analyze Results and Adjust

Once you have everything in place it’s time set the ball in motion.  Schedule your posts, track their success, analyze the results and use those results to determine your next move.  With a little experimentation and time you will begin to see what is and is not working and you will build up historical data that will show your progress so you can set new goals based on concrete information.

Please keep in mind that in the example above every single element involved in the campaign will affect your results.  If your social effort is successful in getting people to your landing page, but the landing page is poorly designed and doesn’t inspire action the whole campaign falls apart.  So, carefully consider every step your target audience will take and tighten up any points of weakness.

Conclusion:

With a little planning and communication you will be on the path toward setting reasonable expectations for your social media efforts.  Stay abreast of the state of social media, create measurable goals and tactics then follow through by analyzing the results and making adjustments.  Compare your results to how much it costs for your organization to participate in social media and you will be able to show the complete picture and make more accurate suggestions for continual improvement and that ever elusive ROI.
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For additional reading check out these posts from my fellow bloggers.  As I mentioned, this is a hot topic and one that is well worth a little research.

Why it takes so long to achieve social media success by Mark Schaefer
3 Ways to Measure the Value of Your Social Media Marketing Program by Debbie Friez
So…Is That Good? The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Benchmarking on Social Media by Kevan Lee

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