The Changing Role of Social Media

Eric Postma

We’ve reached a point of maturity with the role of social media in marketing. Gone are the days where mere presence on social media is satisfactory – we now need more out of our activities on the different social media platforms. We’ve moved from a goal of “social media presence” to a goal of “social media ROI” and this switch typically results in a desire to have social media play a role in customer acquisition or driving business growth.

However, our hopes for social media to play a role in acquisition are misplaced.

A non-scientific survey of 12 corporate websites for North American agriculture companies revealed that on average, less than three per cent of traffic comes from social media.

This should be a shocking statistic to most marketers. For the amount of time, effort and resources that we pour into our social media efforts, we would expect to see a better digital return for that investment.

The reality is that we have missed the role that social media needs to play in the broader customer journey. Social Media is obviously failing us as an acquisition tool – that doesn’t mean we should abandon social media, instead I would advocate that we should change our approach.

To take a new approach on social media, you need to adopt three new perspectives.

Perspective 1: Recognize the role that social media plays in the broader customer journey.

The statistics are pretty clear - we know that social media is not leading to customer acquisition (at least in driving traffic to websites). Instead of thinking of our social media audience as prospects or potential customers, we need to recognize the fact that our social media audience is most likely your existing customers and advocates. Therefore, the role that social media would play in the customer journey is not in customer acquisition, but in adding value to your most engaged fans. In taking this approach, social media is not perceived as a marketing tool or a sales tool – social media is a service tool.

Perspective 2: Know what it takes to be remarkable on social media.

There is a lot of noise on social media, and it is necessary to be very remarkable for an organization to capture the attention of its audience on social media platforms. Being remarkable on social media requires a perfect combination of being different, interesting and authentic. Add on top of that the speed at which social media moves, it is easy to get left in the dust.

Venn Diagram

Being different requires an understanding of what your competitors are doing and ensuring that you are doing something that sets you apart. It requires having a unique approach and a unique value proposition on social media. It’s important to point out that this is not just being different with the content you broadcast, but also being different with the way you engage and connect with your audience.

Being authentic means that you need to be real, personable, and engaged with users on social media. Social media works best when it is seen as a 1-to-1 engagement tool rather than a 1-to-many communications tool.

Being interesting can play out in a lot of different ways on social media. Your brand (and social personality) could be the most educational, entertaining, informative, bold, weird, flashy, or fun personality on social media. Being intentional about the value that you provide to your users on social media allows you to clearly understand and define how you are going to be interesting.

Perspective 3: Use paid campaigns to reach new people.

Your potential customers are using social media on a daily basis. It is vital that you leverage these platforms to reach your target audience. Thankfully, there are very robust advertising tools available through social media platforms. These advertising platforms allow you to use objective-based advertising to target your ideal audience with campaigns that drive clear and measurable results.

With these tools you can target people that have not yet engaged with you on social media and reach them with a variety of media. This provides many opportunities to reach your target audience in a platform that they are using on a daily basis.

Don’t let this perspective be permission to stop trying on social media. Instead, this can help focus our social media efforts to the area of the customer journey where they can be most effective. As marketers we often believe that our efforts are responsible for growth, but word of mouth has always been one of the primary drivers of purchase preference.


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