Among marketing folk, social media marketing often gets a bad rap.

Since it’s one of the newest forms of marketing, sometimes it’s hard to show a return on investment (ROI) based on things like retweets, likes, or shares. Still, for marketers working in social’s trenches, they seem to feel they deserve a little more respect from their colleagues working in more traditional forms of marketing.

That was the sentiment coming from a social media-focused panel at Inbound Con, a Toronto-based conference that looked at search engine marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, and of course, social media marketing.

“I hate explaining why I have a job, and why social media manager or community manager, or digital strategist with a specialty in social – blah, blah blah, I get really tired of explaining why those exist,” said Shannon Hunter, social media manager at Virgin Mobile Canada and one of the panellists at Inbound Con. In her eyes, social media marketing just doesn’t seem as prized as other forms of marketing. Yet dismissing social out of the gate isn’t fair – this form of marketing is still in its early days, she said.

“Everybody said radio was going to die, everybody said TV was going to die, now print’s going to die. Nothing’s dying. It’s an integrated system. What we build on social is no different from Google AdWords – we’re using keywords, we’re using search terms, we’re using targeting,” she said. “It’s all just a process and when people come to accept it all connects … that’s when we’ll all start to feel a little more respect, and people will stop telling me my job is just to tweet shit all day.”

If you’re anything like Hunter, read on for five quick tips on doing social media marketing, the right way.

 

1. Use numbers and analytics to prove ROI – and eventually, figure out ways to monetize what you’re doing.

For Hunter, proving the worth of social media comes down to being able to show other marketers, and potentially the C-suite, why it’s worth investing in this area. Her favourite tools include Facebook Insights, Twitter Insights, and any analytics tools that provide hard numbers.

“Here are your engagement numbers, here are new acquisitions. Here’s why we’re doing this. So I like proof,” she said.

Matthew Stradiotto, co-founder of Matchstick, a digital marketing agency, agreed. However, he added social media marketing is still relatively new and needs time to prove itself. If marketers are looking for ways to reach audiences that are free, quick, and cheap, social media is none of those things, he said.

“It does take time, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “We need to figure out how to monetize this… We need a certain generation of marketers to pass the torch.”

2. Don’t rely on freebies to perform good social media marketing and outreach.
When Facebook announced it would be restricting its organic reach, moving instead to boost Promoted posts for brands willing to pay for the privilege, many marketers seemed to feel they’d been cheated somehow. But they shouldn’t, Stradiotto said.

“Facebook promised us all free, organic reach and engagement. That’s the problem. That’s what we built our homes [on]. Now, the landlord came knocking and says, you owe me. That’s what’s happening on Facebook,” he said, adding the trend will probably continue on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks.

“The reluctance is that the expectation is that it would be free. The expectation would be that we are smart, we have this great content, that people love us, that that would never end. And it ended … The gravy train is over.”

What marketers should start doing is getting used to social networks’ ad products. For example, Facebook has a number of tools geared towards brands, and marketers need to familiarize themselves with them, Stradiotto said.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Part of being a marketer means constantly testing your assumptions and experimenting with your techniques. Social media marketing is no different, Stradiotto said. And if anyone in other forms of marketing try to argue that social media marketing doesn’t deserve a chunk of the budget, they’re wrong, he added.

“Experimenting with paid, experimenting with custom audiences – you know, remarketing. All of these things are possible inside social. And you’re only going to learn them through testing and experimenting,” he said.

“Wrestle those paid dollars back from whichever media company has control over them, because they’re no better at it than anyone in this room, I can tell you right now. You can learn a lot by opening up your own accounts, experimenting, and building your own page. Try, try try – this is still so new. And we forget that.”

And marketers should remember – there aren’t really any world-ending mistakes they can make with social, Hunter added.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Make them all. Make all of the mistakes. There’s so many brands that have done the wrong thing and then they’ve just shut down,” she said. “Don’t shut down, don’t disappear. Make a mistake and then be honest, apologize for it … The only thing that will kill your brand in the social space is if you let yourself die.”

4. Don’t have an exciting product? That’s OK – you can still pull off some great marketing to build buzz around whatever it is your company does.

There are a lot of brands out there that have done amazing campaigns, despite having ho-hum products to promote, Hunter said. She pointed to Tangerine, a Scotiabank subsidiary that has successfully branded itself, despite offering banking services – not necessarily something that fires the imaginations of consumers everywhere.

Then there’s Cashmere, the toilet paper brand that has made a campaign comparing its product to fashion shows and dresses made of your everyday, home-friendly TP. The point is, marketers should be able to find fun ways to show off their brands, Hunter said.

“That’s a marketing question, not so much a social media question. If you can’t fix your brand at the core, then maybe you’re in the wrong business,” she said.

 

5. Be human – that means being the most genuine version of yourself on social media.

While it’s easy to treat social media as a one-way conversation, or an avenue to broadcast your messages, that’s not what social media is about, Inbound Con’s social panellists agreed.

For Hamza Khan, founder of Splash Effect and a digital community facilitator at Ryerson University, social is kind of synonymous with sacred.

“At one point, I thought of myself as a social media marketer, and I think I stopped calling myself that after I attended a conference called Social Media Marketing World in 2012,” he said.

“A lot of navel-gazing, a lot of patting on the back, and just not a lot of substance. I left there feeling a lot of the social media tactics they were sharing were very much bordering on disingenuity – doing things that came across the way that advertising talks to people. Advertising doesn’t talk to people the way people talk to people.”

He added while money is definitely part of using social media on behalf of a brand, he doesn’t believe marketing needs to be the focus of the conversation around it. Social media should be part of a long-term strategy to build community, and not necessarily be a way to get a quick sale.

“We have this medium where we can talk to you in the most unfiltered, most honest way possible. It’s a two-way conversation, finally. And we have to respect that,” he said. “You’re asking for permission to put something on somebody’s timeline that’s going to compete for the attention with everything else that’s already important to them … How can you suddenly go in there and to start to pollute that?”

For Hunter, being part of social media marketing is being able to avoid all of the rules that constrain other forms of advertising, and letting marketers’ genuine selves come through their tweets and posts.

“We can actually be people,” she said. “And you know what, if you want to curse, curse. If you want to talk like you’re upset, be upset. As human as you are, people will respect it because it puts a face on a brand.”

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  • Alvaro Lopez

    I believe that social media marketing is becoming an art form because of how difficult it is to market to consumers without annoying them. Whenever I keep receiving advertisement through email over and over again from the same company, I sometimes feel as though it is hurting them because it makes me not want to buy whatever they are selling. In fact, I know a lot of people who “boycott” those companies that try to sell too hard and move on to the next company who is subtle about their advertising. If the consumers like or want the product, they are going to buy it regardless of how many times the company advertises it to them. I agree with the first way social media can earn more respect which is to use numbers and analytics to prove your return on investment (ROI). While I agree that companies are still testing the waters in terms of social media marketing, I believe that social media marketing can be proportional to the sales of its posts. If a company does not post or tweet a new product or discount sale, then they will be able to determine whether if it worked or not. The company can then re-evaluate itself to see if they are selling a desirable product because consumers will keep coming back for that great product, regardless of how many times you advertise it to them. I also agree with the fifth way social media marketing can earn more respect which is to be a genuine version of yourself on social media. I believe that this method really puts things in perspective when companies are making campaigns because this is where they attempt to relate to the consumer. I believe this creates rapport with the customer and makes them notice your product more than an advertisement that tries to just show the product. While companies are still testing for the best way to calculate how much the company is making through social media marketing, it will be exciting to see what companies can do to market with annoying them.