(c) The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Contact CPA Canada for permission to reproduce this article., Communications and Media, Social Media

“Like” is not enough

By Lisa van de Geyn

Brands are spending more and more on social media in the hope that it will lead to greater exposure and increased sales. But is the payoff worth the investment?

Sixty-year-old actress Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday, December 27, 2016. Her death came at the end of what was deemed a morbid year, with dozens of hugely popular celebrities — from David Bowie and Prince to Florence Henderson and Debbie Reynolds (Fisher’s mother, who died a day after her daughter did) — passing away. When the news broke of Fisher’s death, the Twittersphere (the collective postings made on the social media platform Twitter, for those who don’t partake in the site) lit up with celebs and fans sharing condolences and memories. Most centred around folks saying a final goodbye to Princess Leia, the role Fisher made famous when the first Star Wars flick was released in 1977.

William Shatner tweeted about his friend at 10:07 a.m.: “I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of Carrie Fisher. I will miss our banterings [sic]. A wonderful talent & light has been extinguished.”

At 10:38 a.m., costar Mark Hamill tweeted, “no words #Devastated.”

Star Trek’s George Takei wrote at 1:43 p.m.: “May her soul rest in eternal peace, as we return her to the heavens, in a galaxy far, far away.”

Even Justin Trudeau sent his sympathies with a tweet at 1:46 p.m. “We’ll never forget you, Carrie. May the Force be with you always.”

Later in the day, at 4:39 p.m., an employee at Cinnabon — perhaps sitting at his or her desk with a smartphone in hand, maybe getting ready to go home after a long day at the office — tweeted this from the organization’s official account: “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” An image of Fisher with icing-topped Cinnabon rolls representing Princess Leia’s famous hairdo accompanied the tweet.

To put it delicately, the US baked goods company was burned (pun intended) online, taking enough heat from its arguably tasteless post that it issued an apology at 10:28 p.m., six hours later. “Our deleted tweet was genuinely meant as a tribute, but we shouldn’t have posted it. We are truly sorry.”

Cinnabon made a #SocialMediaFail. It’s certainly not the only company that’s been there. Businesses are finding that social media can make or break their marketing efforts — the wrong tweet, an irresponsible Facebook post or an awkward Instagram photo can damage brands that have taken decades to build, lose important celebrity endorsements, upset loyal customers and ultimately lose big bucks. In January, H&M (the international Swedish-based clothing company) was called out as racist by superstar The Weeknd all over social media because of an ad it posted with a young black boy wearing a hoodie that read, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” The Weeknd, in turn, tweeted this to his 8.39 million followers: “woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore…”

Yes, these anecdotes are alarming, and you might be wondering if participating on social media platforms is worth it. The truth is, social media isn’t something you or your company can simply ignore. “It’s no longer a question of whether an organization or firm should be active on social media. That’s like asking if one should have a telephone, fax or email back in the dark ages,” says Bhupesh Shah, a professor in the school of marketing and program coordinator of the Social Media Graduate Certificate program at Seneca College in Toronto. “It’s an expectation. It’s a given. You can’t say you’re in business without the tools to communicate with your customers. Social media is one of those standard tools.”

Ernest Barbaric, a digital marketing strategist in Calgary, views social media as putty. “It can be shaped to fit any marketing purpose — from customer service and lead generation to relationship building and influencing policy. You get to decide how it will be used.”

And when it’s used properly (unlike the way it was used in our previous examples), the medium can add a ton of value. There have been a myriad of brilliant campaigns that have gone viral — the #KnowYourLemons worldwide breast cancer awareness and education program; BuzzFeed’s Tasty food video series on Facebook; and, whether you like him or not, US president Donald Trump’s #MAGA hashtag, which was used more than eight million times during the last 30 days of his campaign. Word is that about 80% of Fortune 500 companies have superactive Facebook pages and are really using their social-media-savvy employees to garner follows by creating custom content such as videos, live-streams and more.

A survey released by Clutch, a US-based research firm, in September 2017 estimates 2.5 billion people worldwide will be active on social media this year. It found more than half (52%) of social media marketers say these platforms have helped increase their company’s revenue and sales. Social media managers said the most valuable platforms for business are Facebook (89%), LinkedIn (83%), YouTube (81%) and Twitter (80%). What’s more, nearly 80% of companies are sharing mostly original content on their platforms and the most important metrics they found for tracking social media success are engagement (36%) and conversion rates (35%).

If you find your firm is not making the most of its social media platforms or you are not seeing any of these possible paybacks, it’s time to re-evaluate your efforts. Here’s what experts say are the most important things you need to be doing to reap the benefits of your posts and campaigns and #MakeSocialMediaWorkForYou.

Know your audience and cater to it

Makes sense, right? You’d be surprised how many companies forget this key point. Knowing your audience isn’t about being general, says Linda Raynier, an accountant, career strategist, YouTube influencer and coach. “These days it’s so easy to scroll past something that doesn’t directly scream, ‘You’re talking to me!’” she says. “Social media needs to be personalized, specific and offer value. People will usually ‘like’ posts that they resonate with, find value in, have learned something from or are inspired by. Social media managers really need to understand their ideal customers.”

If you’re looking to attract the business-to-business audience, for example, Adam Rodricks, who works as a social media manager in Toronto, says LinkedIn can be highly rewarding. “I attribute this to longer post lengths, a more engaged and active network and, most of all, the absence of anonymity,” he says. “When we post on LinkedIn, we put our personal brands on the line. As a result, those who engage with me and my brands tend to put extra thought and effort into their posts on the platform because they’re accountable for their commentary.”

Companies should start by checking out the various platforms that are offered and, as Barbaric says, instead of looking at them as one marketing line item, focus on those that they are familiar with and that best suit their strategic objectives. “For example, Instagram seems well suited for business-to-consumer organizations, connecting with younger audiences and communicating visually. Medium, on the other hand, is driven by text-based content and caters to tech-savvy folks with a longer attention span.”

Jason Boyer, Deloitte Canada’s national director of marketing, adds that authenticity rules. There’s no point in joining every single social media platform just for the sake of having an account. “Be wary of chasing shiny objects,” he says. “Your organization doesn’t need to adopt every new and shiny thing. I love Snapchat filters and have seen some brands do amazing things with them. But does that mean Deloitte should launch one tomorrow to help us engage with Fortune 500 CEOs? Probably not.”

Understand what you’re investing in

Successful social media accounts aren’t necessarily about dollars and cents. “I’ve been part of organizations in the past that threw thousands of dollars at Twitter and Facebook ads simply because XYZ competitor invested a similar amount,” says Rodricks. “I don’t consider that a meaningful investment.” Instead, there’s an alternative way he quantifies investment — knowledge sharing. “Does the social expertise in your organization lie with one or a few individuals? Do these people do everything on social media for the organization? If they do, you’re doing it wrong. Social media is about conversations and the more people who are equipped to have them, the better it will be for your company.”

Deloitte views social media as part of its larger “communications continuum that spans digital and traditional media, rather than as a stand-alone activity,” Boyer says. EY has made way for social media by altering the role of many jobs and resources. “It’s a communal investment. It’s about getting each member of the broader team to be thinking about how they will integrate a social and/or digital aspect into their campaigns to deliver meaningful insight and drive engagement,” says Vanja Baresic, associate director of EY Canada’s brand, marketing and communications team.

Figure out how you’ll calculate your ROI

Don’t measure return on investment using vanity metrics — things like hearts, likes or your number of followers, says Shah. “These just make the CEO feel good that the time and effort spent on social media wasn’t wasted. It’s relatively meaningless unless you think of it as a precursor to engagement. It should be measured using engagement metrics such as retweets, replies, questions, comments, leads generated, sign-ups to your newsletter or downloads.”

Still, most organizations struggle with calculating social media ROI. “In its infancy, the tie between social engagement and ROI was hazy at best. But now we have the ability to track the prospective and existing client’s journey further than we have before,” Rodricks says, adding there are several metrics that provide far better insight into the effectiveness of social media efforts than vanity metrics. “Brand awareness tells you the number of impressions, clicks and the click-through rate. Brand consideration shows the number of new visits, page views, time spent on content, content downloads and exit rate. And brand preference shows email submissions, repeat visits, social shares and inquiries,” he says.

It’s about quality over quantity for Deloitte. “We’re not focused on having the most likes, followers, comments or shares as much as we aim to engage our target audience with compelling content,” says Boyer. “Accordingly, we measure our social media ROI by asking such questions as, How many of our clients and prospects viewed a social media post? What did they do as a result? Did they read more content on our website, download one of our reports, register for an upcoming event? How many influencers and market leaders engaged with our content? How did we impact the conversation happening on this topic?”

You’ll also want to take the long view when it comes to your efforts. “Don’t expect a 120% ROI after posting a few things on Facebook or Twitter. Invest the time in communicating with your customers, building relationships and goodwill, and work on making their lives a little better for engaging with you. It pays off in dividends,” says Barbaric. “By the way, I still haven’t met anyone who has been able to fund payroll with likes or retweets.”

Apologize when campaigns #fail

It goes without saying that businesses should always test social media campaigns internally before pushing that “live” button, but let’s be honest — gaffes are inevitable. “Communication can be misinterpreted or misconstrued. There are trolls out there ready to pounce the minute a brand trips up,” says Shah. If it happens to you, respond professionally, quickly and with transparency. “Do what you would do in a face-to-face situation. You would not respond aggressively when a mistake is pointed out. Behave the same way online.”

To minimize the chances of your campaign bombing, look at how the messaging is accepted on the platform you’re planning to use, Shah says. For example, are you using a hashtag that can be read differently or one that will mean something other than what you’ve intended? “Remember Susan Boyle’s Album Party hashtag? #SusanAlbumParty or #susanalbumparty.” (Eek.) Also, don’t forget your automated posts. Sure, these save time so you won’t miss the trending topic of the day (like Valentine’s Day), but pay attention or you might find yourself guilty of ill-timed tweets. “There are countless examples where these have resulted in a lot of negative press and social outrage.”

It turns out that the best way to get the most out of your social media effort is straightforward: just get immersed and participate as a regular user, Barbaric says. “Understand the experience. Look at what captures your attention. Look at how your peers and other organizations interact. Comment on posts.” Now that’s a great recipe for a #SocialMediaWin if ever there was one.

Lisa van de Geyn is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of CPA Magazine.