Social Media: A Tale of Two Studies

I came across two interesting pieces of research this week that at first glance would seem to indicate there is still a gap between perception and reality when it comes to social media and its viability as an effective communications tool.

In an excerpt of its upcoming 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report, MarketingSherpa concludes that “Social media is gaining respect at a critical time – when budgets are being formulated. And this attitude adjustment is having a major effect on marketing spending.” According to the study, when asked “Which of the following statements best describes how social media marketing is perceived within your organization at budget time,” 7% of the 2,317 respondents indicated their organizations feel social media is producing measurable ROI and budgets should be increased liberally for continuous improvement.  Another 49% say social media is a promising tactic that will eventually produce ROI, so budgets should be increased conservatively.  Some marketers were less enthusiastic; 27% said the value is unknown so why invest more and 17% replied social media is free so let’s keep it that way.  Still, 56% of all the respondents feel their organization sees enough ROI (or potential for ROI) in social media to increase funding for it.

Within minutes of seeing the Sherpa study, a co-worker shared some research that would suggest we might be getting ahead of ourselves.  The results are based on 454 responses to the following question posed in a Cisco Systems support forum: “Which social media most helps you solve IT issues?”  The results break down as follows:

  • YouTube (10%)
  • LinkedIn (7%)
  • Facebook (6%)
  • Twitter (4%)
  • Delicious (0%)
  • I rarely use social media (31%)
  • I never use social media (43%)

A few of the respondents went on to leave comments about how ridiculous it would be to try to find answers to highly technical questions on a social media site.  One person noted: “I’d like to see, or even hear about, someone using Twitter as a technical resource for a bonafide problem.  Or even Facebook, for that matter.  Seems a bit silly to me but you never know.”

Having seen and written about other research that indicates B2B markets aren’t yet embracing social media avenues, I thought this further reinforced the point.  Nearly 75% of these folks say they have no use for social media.  But hold on, they said this in a customer support forum, which happens to be a form of social media.  Don’t you love irony when it sneaks up and smacks you across the jaw?  I’m pretty sure the survey’s respondents wouldn’t think so, but I wonder if the folks at Cisco do?

The fact of the matter is we are all partially guilty of associating social media with its most popular (and written about) forms, but social media only makes sense when it is executed in a fashion that makes sense for your business.  Perhaps posting a video on YouTube and then tweeting about it will help you demonstrate your new product’s competitive advantages and user benefits more effectively than a print ad would.  Or, if your customers follow the same profile as Cisco’s, perhaps starting a support forum where customers can ask you and each other technical questions would provide a greater return on your investment. 

But before you get too caught up in your ROI, remember the key to the social media equation isn’t necessarily the return on your investment as much as it is the return on your customers’ investment of time and effort. If they find value in the information you are providing and are comfortable with the manner in which you are providing it, they will likely become engaged and further the dialogue.  If your materials are self-serving and your intentions more transparent, they will be turned off and will likely walk away.


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