Powerful forces at work within digital marketing are transforming the social media communication landscape. My recent visit to B2 Interactive offered insights into what the next 12 months will bring to media and public relations.
B2 Interactive has honed a business model in the last two years working as a growing digital agency in suburban Omaha, Nebraska. The steady stream of end-of-year business suggests that there is profit from three basic functions: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), content creation and management, and coding.
While social media strategists might be tempted to proclaim a slow death of search, in fact, SEO principles now dominate successful social media projects. Keyword research, website audits and optimization offer a path to learning audience motivation and needs. Satisfy those, and the social media data will trend upward. From information to entertainment, real-time data analyses generate strategies for earned organic versus owned, paid and promoted campaigns.
Just as SEO continues to be important in driving website traffic and advertising revenue, sites often remain the end game of social media return on investment (ROI) strategies. By replacing business jargon with natural consumer language found within social media, we can target blogs, video and other rich media. While digital marketing works well, it is also worth emphasizing the need to be restrained by ethics. As we go forward, an SEO mindset must never ignore basic ethical principles.
Social Marketing and Ethics
The recent Sony email hack and subsequent news reporting of private message content, for example, crossed an obvious line. Most religious faiths emphasize that we should not do to others what we wouldn't want done to us. Hacked email does not pass the smell test because you would not want your private emails published on a news or entertainment website.
Still, what happened to The Interview film this week is instructive of an emerging distribution model that leverages social media buzz and publicity:
Online pre-release of content → social & media amplification → release
While 2014 was about using social media tools in PR and marketing, 2015 must move our conversation toward ethics and improving measurement methods.
The Social Media Measurement Problem
There is a strong desire to measure effectiveness of social media messages across platforms, but many currently available tools fall short of applying rigorous social science methods. Social science teaches us to be mindful of reliability and validity issues. We need to be able to define what we are trying to measure, why we want to measure it, and how we can measure variables in a scientific manner. Frequently, the concern of social marketers is showing ROI rather than the more fundamental issue of junk data.
Once we accept that sound social research methods are important, we can turn to Google Analytics for understanding how to measure owned website traffic, including that which comes from or goes to social media sites. A combination of paid tools, such as Hootsuite Pro, and free tools offer useful measurement dashboards.
Facebook insights and Twitter analytics now provide page owners limited free data that comes directly from these sites. Individual tweets can be measured for impressions, replies, favorites, permalink clicks, detail expands and re-tweets. While engagement can be measured as clicks, impressions are perhaps the most vague of measurements. As tweets scroll across a user screen, we cannot say how these are cognitively processed.
The measurement picture is even fuzzier in our desire to research real-time social media events and content generated by others. There is too much algorithm secrecy, not enough accuracy in machine-coded sentiment, and lingering questions about review credibility.
In 2014, we identified more questions than answers about the value of social media relationships. Let's hope this is the year that SEO thinking, reasonable data privacy expectations, and clear data and methods move us forward. My best projection is that social and digital marketing, with a clear lead on traditional media and PR, will continue to clear the rocky trail.