Beyond Engagement

On June 30, 2022, I had the pleasure of presenting a “Flash Talk” at Social Media Day Philadelphia 2022. The subject was social media strategies and insights for B2B. Here is an written excerpt of what was presented …

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I’ve been a marketing strategist and creative director for 25 years. I’ve worked for some of the largest ad agencies in the country. I’ve worked for some of the biggest brands in the world. And I’ve always thought of advertisers and marketers as kind of off-brand psychiatrists. After all, our job is to persuade people — and before you can persuade people, you need to understand people.

But the truth is, most marketers are far more concerned with human behavior than they are with human thought and emotion. And that is the source of our biggest limitation as an industry. It’s also the source of our biggest opportunity.

Let’s start with two broad truths about social media:

First:

Social media may be the most-effective marketing tool in the modern age.

Think about it. Social media lets you communicate with audiences on a daily basis. That alone is something no other channel provides.

Every touch point at our disposal — display ads, TV spots, email, audio ads, YouTube preroll — are generally seen as annoyances standing between you and the content you actually want to digest. But with social, you can be right there, in your audiences’ feed, a welcome guest.

And social, as we all know, is growing. According to Pew Research, 82% of the U.S. population uses social media. That’s up from 53% just ten years ago. And they spend an average of 2.5 hours per day.

You simply cannot get an audience that large, that reachable, that welcoming of your messages, through any other medium.

Second:

We don’t really know how well social media impacts sales.

Total social media ad spend is projected to reach $62.9 billion by the close of 2022. And that’s just ad spend. Imagine what that number jumps to when you add in agency services, technology, etc. For all that spend, can we really measure the return on that marketing investment? The honest truth is, we cannot.

But — to those who budget for social media and buy agency services: the marketing directors, the clients — would you dare go without it? Would you even dare drop your spend, or let your strategy go slack, and give your competitors the opportunity to eat into your share of attention? Of course not.

There is a key to maximizing social media value that comes down to just one thing. A missing link. A missing link that holds us back from a clear view of what’s possible and from unlocking multi-fold results.

No, it’s not attribution. (True attribution is like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot. Stop looking for it. It doesn’t exist. But that’s the topic of another talk.)

The missing link is understanding what our audience are thinking.

For years, we’ve been focused on metrics and analytics. Both those are all measures of behavior — not the psychological, cognitive and emotional processes that precede the behavior.

We’re measuring likes … but not bothering to ask why we got the like, what it means, and how it will or won’t drive sales.

But understanding that — answering these critical questions — will drive the next evolution of social media marketing.

Understanding audiences on a cognitive and emotional level can be done. And you don’t need an fMRI machine. Instead, you need a rigorous scientific process. One that starts with a question, follows with a test, then a hypothesis, then a second test and then a conclusion — before you can arrive at something actionable.

The days of simple A/B testing are over.

Remember H.L. Mencken’s observation that “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.” The next era of social media analytics will be less clear and less simple. It will require more work. But it will yield true, highly valuable insights into our best audiences — insights that will inform higher-performance strategies that persuade and drive sales.

And then, that missing link will finally bring it all together.

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