Social Marketing Goes Mainstream: Chief Marketer Annual Survey Find Marketers Believe in Power of Social

Posted on by Brian Quinton

What's the tipping point when a channel morphs from “niche tactic” to “mainstream marketing tool”? It's arbitrary, but 75% seems as good a milestone as any. Once three-quarters of marketers adopt a medium as a valuable way for engaging with their target prospects, you can safely assume it's gone big time.

According to this year's Chief Marketer Social Marketing Survey, we're just a tad shy of that mark. About 73% of respondents to this year's survey say they now incorporate social messaging of some kind into their campaigns. That's up from 64% who said the same thing last year. And of the remaining respondents who don't currently use social media for marketing, a further 15% say they expect to launch social initiatives in the coming year — leaving only 10% who say they will not be social 12 months from now, or who are not sure. (Totals don't equal 100% due to rounding.)

Predictably, consumer-facing brands overindex in integrating social media into their marketing campaigns. Seventy-eight percent of respondents representing B-to-C companies told Chief Marketer they now use social to reach their audiences, and another 13% say they plan to incorporate social in the next year. But B-to-B companies aren't far behind. A bit more than 68% of B-to-B respondents also say they now use social media in their marketing, with 15% planning to do so soon. Those levels are still higher than the overall figures — B-to-B and B-to-C — that we recorded last year.

Going Social

The primary drivers for social marketing have held relatively steady over the years that Chief Marketer has run this survey. The ability to reach customers at multiple touchpoints rather than simply through one channel remains the most often cited benefit of social marketing, according to 85% of this year's respondents (81% in 2010).

And 60% of those polled this year say they're involved in marketing through social media for the plain reason that their target customers are spending increasing amounts of time in those channels, compared to 59% who said the same last year.

For the first time, this year's questionnaire allowed respondents to list the viral effect of social media as one of its key benefits. And it turns out that it's a big one: 59% named it as one of the three key assets of social marketing.

Other reasons for including social in the marketing mix include a transition to one-to-one messaging, customer expectations, cost efficiencies and the chance to reach previously untapped audiences. Least important: Doing social because the boss expects it (15%).

Channel Choices

As might be expected, Facebook is far and away the most common channel for social marketing among the total response group; 91% of those who say they do social marketing run campaigns there, either on their brand pages or via apps or ads.

Perhaps the big surprise is the jump in the use of Twitter as a marketing channel since last year's survey. In 2010, only half of total respondents said they were currently using the real-time messaging platform to reach their audience, with another 15% planning to incorporate it in the next year. But this year's survey found 77% of marketers claiming to tweet for marketing purposes, making Twitter a strong second option for social campaigns.

LinkedIn gets use by 68% of respondents, and YouTube by 61%. After that, channels turn niche, with only 15% of those polled using location-based or geo-social services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, and 13% using social bookmarking platforms such as Digg. MySpace bumps along with about 4% of the social marketing usage.

While B-to-B marketing uses social media at a somewhat lower level, it also applies an interesting twist to this distribution. Among B-to-B marketers polled, LinkedIn edges out Facebook by a nose (86% vs. 85% of respondents in the category). Twitter use is, if anything, more widespread than the overall average (81%), while YouTube is slightly less important to B-to-B marketers than to the response total (59%).

Channels to watch for the future, according to write-in responses, including Google +, Tumblr, Vimeo and SlideShare.

Taking Strategic Aim

So we've established that more marketers are using social media for their campaigns and outlined where most of the action is taking place and what they hope to gain. But what are the specific strategic aims most marketers expect their social campaigns to achieve?

As it was last year, the most often cited aim for social marketing is simply to drive traffic to a brand website or other microsite. Two-thirds of respondents named that among their top-three goals for social marketing this year, compared to 56% in 2010. On average, respondents to this year's survey get 15% of their web traffic from social media, compared to only 7% a year ago.

Interestingly, a larger proportion of those polled cite “generate leads or sales” as a strategic goal for social marketing: 48%, compared to 41% who said the same last year. That increase was just enough to edge out “identify and address brand fans” (47%), the second most popular aim in the previous survey. At the same time, amassing total followers fell off as a stated aim, from 34% in the 2010 survey to only 26% this year, behind driving opt-ins and monitoring brand reputation. The suggestion is that simply racking up fan counts is giving way to more hard-edged indicators of social marketing success — especially those that drive to the bottom line.

Metrics Still a Head Count

Setting a goal for marketing is one thing, but measuring progress toward that objective often involves compromises. Respondents may say that simply acquiring followers in social media is less important strategically. But when it comes to how they measure social success, raw numbers still take precedence. Sixty percent of those polled in the 2011 survey say the number of fans, followers, friends and likers they can get to sign on still counts as their top metric. That's virtually the same proportion that cited head counts as the primary measurement tool last year.

That persistence of sheer numbers may be due to the fact that many brands have yet to reach a critical audience mass in social marketing. The big guys may have millions of fans, but the great majority of lower tier companies are still bumping along with a few thousand, or even a few hundred followers. “Even in social media, you need an audience before you can start marketing at scale,” one respondent comments.

Other metrics run pretty much at last year's levels. Thirty-nine percent of respondents say they gauge success by keeping watch over the rate at which their social content gets shared or retweeted, followed by qualified leads coming from social channels (35%), user engagement with social media (30%) and incremental sales attributable to social (25%).

Brand awareness/favorability is something of a metrical outlier in this year's survey. While 42% of respondents cited it last year as a way to evaluate their social efforts, this year it was named by only 18% of those polled.

Doubts Linger, but Budgets Up

Marketers are aware that their efforts to measure the impact of social marketing fall short of their aims, and in virtually the same proportions as last year. About 13% say they (or their agencies) are “very effective” at measuring social success; just less than half (47%) say they are “somewhat effective.” But a hefty 40% admit that they are either “not very” or “not at all” effective when it comes to figuring out how well their social marketing is delivering results.

In fact, problems of measurement figure prominently in the list of top social marketing pain points. Fifty-two percent of respondents cite as their main issue the difficulty of calculating an accurate return on investment (ROI) from social media campaigns, and an additional 42% point to the relative inability to track sales or attribute other conversions to any engagements customers might have had with their brands' social content.

Those complaints aside, spending on social marketing is on the increase for a plurality of marketers. Forty-five percent of respondents say their social media budgets grew between 2010 and 2011; that's larger than the 36% whose spending stayed level over the period. Only 1% of those polled report that their social marketing allocations decreased in that time.

Naturally, those increases come on some fairly small numbers. The average respondent to the 2011 survey reportedly will spend about $166,000 on social marketing this year. Almost half say they expect their outlay for the year to be under $5,000; those low levels are offset, however, by the 11% who say they will spend more than $100,000 in the channel this year.

METHODOLOGY:

The 2011 Chief Marketer Social Marketing Survey was conducted online between August 18 and August 31, and polled 750 active marketing professionals distributed across business-to-consumer and business-to-business models, from brands and agencies in the manufacturing, retail, financial, healthcare, travel, entertainment, advertising, publishing, database and nonprofit sectors.

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