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Making Sense of Social Nets

I recently read an article on Brandweek.com detailing study results that show CMOs don't feel they're maximizing the potential of the digital space—in particular, reaching out to and understanding their audiences in the social network realm. It's no surprise that as a result, they are unhappy with their respective digital agencies.

As a CMO, you face a number of challenges in this area of marketing, but with a little insight it's possible to become more confident and recognize where your brand can have a positive impact in the social space.

To start, you must understand how social networks "work" and where your target dialogues are within them. It's vital that you actively follow the dialogue of your customers and capitalize on it. You know your brand better than your agency partners, so don't leave such critical awareness solely in the hands of others.

Also, you need to rethink the way you structure your bud—gets, to better accommodate smaller, more reactionary (potentially more impactful) social projects and initiatives. While easier for smaller clients, it can be tough for a large corporation to step away from the standard yearly marketing plan and make these changes happen—but they need to.

So who should gather and make sense of all this data? Well, you and your marketing department, with support and insight from your digital agency. Please leave your I.T. department out of it. With all due respect to their omniscient powers, when it comes to your digital marketing plan, they cannot be expected to know where to look, what to look for and how to decipher it all into a tangible strategy that plays back to your campaign goals and mandates.

Another key part of staying informed is being prepared to adapt to the changing landscape. For example, accept that Facebook is dead. OK, maybe not exactly dead, but as a social marketing tool, the early adopters are already moving on. Though Facebook continues to grow in foreign markets, within North America savvy digital marketers are exploring new social toolsets to exploit. Now, that doesn't mean that your current Facebook initiative is not going to hit its mark and be a wild success, but the tolerance for run-of-the-mill social marketing initiatives has reached its saturation point, and the real social influencers have already blown the popsicle stand.

Right now, there seem to be three key areas of development in the social networking arena that will have an impact on where the marketing opportunities land in the near future. Keep an eye on Google's OpenSocial project that allows the development of specific applications to work on virtually any social network host. This is good for porting one application or utility to many social network sites in one shot. Facebook APIs (application programming interface) like Facebook Connect allow you to port Facebook account information to third-party Web sites and share any information through that site, back within your own Facebook page. And topically focused social networks that cater to niche interests or motivators are gaining momentum—for example, Dogster for dog lovers, Rockyou for fledgling bands, Moterus for bikers.

Once you know where to look, you need to master the measurement of response and engagement, beyond click-throughs, page views and time on site. The goal is not only to provide results, but also to learn from those results and do even smarter work next time.

One way is to base it on a simple formula that is familiar to most: Actions equal Intent; Intent equals Value.

This measure may be unsatisfactory for some since nowhere in the equation does it show the mighty dollar sign, but this is just one way of determining overall value as it pertains to a measured ROI. Not a perfect science, but the takeaway is that the higher the level of engagement that you create for your target, the higher the potential level of intent to purchase.

Bottom line, a happy CMO is a social savvy CMO. It is up to members of your marketing team to immerse themselves in the social space, see where your brand lives within it, make a plan to get involved and stay engaged. Plan for the unplanned by allowing flexibility in your marketing initiatives so you can be more responsive to the conversation about your brand or product. Embrace the data. It is your friend. Allow it to point you in the right direction.

Recognize what success means for your company in the social space and be involved in how your agency works to help you achieve those goals.

Cameron Wykes is partner, digital executive creative director for Zig, a communications company within the MDC Partners Network.

--Adweek