When companies first contact me about launching a social media campaign, they usually have three big questions.
First, how much will it cost.
Second, how long will it take.
And third, how to approach the building of a blueprint for launching the effort.
A few weeks ago my friend Mack Collier posted his second annual "How Much Does Social Media Cost" post. In it, Mack shares the results of his informal poll of his fellow social media consultants. I love this post and hope Mack continues to do it every year because he's helping answer the first question -- cost.
As a follow up to Mack's post, I polled a number of my Talking With Tom interviewees from 2011 to answer the second question - time. In the spirit of the Talking With Tom effort, I asked each to respond to a single question.
How long should it take before a company or brand's new social media program begins showing results?
For the purposes of answering the question, I asked each person to consider it not as a single campaign, a Facebook sweepstakes for instance, but instead to consider the question in light of a company launching a true social effort based on content, engagement and the principles of inbound marketing.
So, how long do the leading digital thought leaders think it should take before your new social effort begins to show results?
Drumroll please....... well, on average... about six months.
While the answers varied, the concensus was that IF, and that's in CAPS for a reason folks, you're "following best practices" then you should begin to see some kind of trackable results within the first six months.
Social Media Best Practices
Everyone polled felt that the question was difficult to answer because the answer was dependent on the output of the company. If the company was "doing it right" then six months was a fair average. So what did they mean by doing it right?
First, you have to invest in a solid strategy. That means spending the time (and money in some cases) to engage in a social media marketing planning process. All felt this was an important first step and would result in a disciplined, well thought out plan which had a good chance of success.
Second, you have to invest in great content. As Scott Stratten (one of the respondents) is fond of saying, "People don't share Meh." Your customers and prospects just aren't that into you to share everything you put out just because it's yours. If you want them to consume, much less share your content, it can't be Meh. It has to be friggin awesome. It has to entertain, enlighten or make them sit back and say, hmmmmmm now that's interesting. That's what gets shared online.
Third, it's the people stupid. Another point that kept coming up was, "Who is going to be the voice of this brand?" Pretty much everyone agreed that the person behind the Twitter/Facebook/Blog, etc., mattered. A brand could deploy the exact same strategy and set of tactics using two different people and have dramatically different results.
All felt it was imperative for brands to really give a lot of thought to not just WHAT was going to be said by the brand but by WHOM it was going to be said. It matters. The job isn't like normal marketing jobs... you know the ones where if the person leaves you can pretty easily replace them.
Variables That Effect Social Media Results
I'd be remiss if I didn't also point out that we all agreed there was no single answer. Yes, for the most part, we all tended to gravitate toward a six-month marker as a point in time where you should start to see trackable metrics move. These metrics might include, traffic to a blog, email sign-ups, downloads of a piece of promted content, and of course the ever present number of fans and followers on major social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
We all also agreed that some brands might have an easier time of it than others.
Established brands by and large can expect a faster uptake in their social efforts. Likewise, consumer brands were seen as having a bit easier time than B2B brands, especially in niche verticals.
Lifestyle, entertainment and foodie brands were deemed easiser to socialize than say air conditioner repair companies.
The common theme semed to be that brands that were already being talked about offline as well as those brands that existed in conversationally oriented categories (entertainment for instance) would have an easier time launching a social program and should expect to see meaningful results closer to the six-month mark. For brands that may be less well known and/or playing in categories less likely to be the topics of casual conversation (funeral homes for instance)... well, the six-month mark might come and go without meaningful results, but that in and of itself would not necessarily serve as a panic point to say it was time to go back to the drawing board.
I'll finish by saying this... First, thanks to all of my Talking With Tom folks that took the time to respond. And if you're interested in seeing who I'll be talking with in 2012, feel free to subscribe to the feed and I'll send each interview right to your inbox.
Second, if you liked this post, or you're waiting for the answer to the third question -- blueprint, maybe consider subscribing to GET THIS BLOG BY EMAIL so you don't miss any of the goodness and that future post I'm working on re: creating a blueprint for launching social media inside your company.
And in closing, allow me to share with you the unedited answers of some of the fine folks that responded. You'll note that some are quite short, like Scott Stratten's for instance and others are quite elaborate... I'd highly encourage you to check out Liz Strauss' answer -- mind-blowing mathmatics and all '-)
Now if you want to read what everyone had to say, scroll on.... but if you'd rather just tell me how long YOU think it should take...click this link to go to the end of the post where you can drop a comment.
And now, here's what my interviewees had to say
Make It Great Institute
If you have an existing website and you have an opted-in list and you add a blog, you can see results in as little as 90 days. I typically recommend a minimum of 2 posts per week, every week, and 30-60 minutes 3 days a week on Twitter, coupled with 30 minutes 3 days a week on Facebook. Combine that with a bi-weekly newsletter that goes out to existing customers and with you collecting new signups, and you should start seeing some results within 90 days. If you have no blog and/or no list, it could take you up to 180 days of the above content.
3 things to keep in mind:1) Opt in is key. Email addresses you've not gotten permission to send to are not ok to sign up for a newsletter for. Ask for an email address EVERYWHERE you're doing business (online, in your e-mail signatures, at your point of sale, etc.) 2) Articles must be informational in nature, with a call to action at the end of them. 3) 80/15/5 rule: 80% business, 15% personal (or non-business related) and 5% selling.
If our time horizon for seeing real results from producing and engaging in and around great content is not at least six to nine months, we shouldn't do anything at all.
I don't think social media campaigns are a great idea. It's like a word of mouth campaign. We don't dictate what goes "social" or "viral". Conversation isn't a week long campaign.
And you can quote me :)
As long as it takes to establish your audience online, establish a level of trust so they pay attention to you and deliver compelling messages that motivate them to do something you're measuring.
Chief Content Officer, Markeing Profs
Short answer: 5 months, 4 days, 21 hours, 6 minutes, 54 seconds and 148 moments (plus a scootch)
Long answer: Social media and content marketing are a mindset, not a one-and-done campaign. So the "how long" question is a thorny one, because it's difficult to put an actual time-frame on it. But to avoid sounding like the kind of consultant who qualifies everything with "It depends," I'll go out on a very long, skinny, brittle limb and say this:
Commit to producing quality blog content consistently for 6 months. Too long? Fine, 5 months. (That "quality" thing is important, too -- produce stuff that actual suits the needs and tickles the fancies of your prospects and customers; stuff that educates, enlightens, empowers or entertains. Don't just shovel muck into your blog and other social channels.)
If you can't see measurable results in that time frame -- if you haven't found your voice, if you aren't nurturing more leads, if you aren't engaging with more people, if you aren't upselling and servicing more, and if you aren't equally more engaged with your business and having fun -- then I'll refund the thirteen bucks you paid for Content Rules.
CEO - TopRankMarketing.com
Author - OptimizeBook.com | Blog - TopRankBlog.com
Twitter - @leeodden
If copyblogger.com creates a series of videos for a new software product promoted through their blog, community and various social channels, I'd guess the time to ROI is about a day after the first video gets published. Why? Brian and his team already have a great network and their brand is known for great products. A lot of the groundwork has already been laid. A similar timeframe would exist with any other company that has matured in their social media involvement.
A company that doesn't have a network built and decides to start a social media marketing effort will take longer. But I think that timeframe can be shortened with some upfront home work. I recently outlined such a scenario for a small business using a blog and video here:
If your social media marketing effort is a combination of creating customer-focused content and listening for engagement / sales opportunities, the timeframe to see impact could be days or weeks. Seeking out conversations that demonstrate strong interest to buy in combination with being able to point those prospects to engaging social content could be productive pretty quickly. The combination of outreach and relevant, useful content is the key.
If your social media efforts are purely based on creating and promoting content in the hopes that consumers who see it will be inspired to buy, it could take months or more to see a return.
Head of location based marketing WCG
@AaronStrout on Twitter
Realistically, 6 months (and that's just the beginning). Realistically, 12-18 months.
Founder of SOBCon and answering with tongue firmly planted in cheek
The problem lies in the definition of real results from a real social media endeavor. What's the meaning of real? Here's a method that will work as well as any -- if the question is the only information to go on.
Identify a goal fully real-ized without social media. For example, Calculate average number of new customers to purchase a product in one quarter -- using efforts that didn't involve online social media tools.
Let's say 50 Customers and in 1 quarter through the traditional effort. Now engage and track only new social media customers.
* Now let's suppose you engage a "real" social media strategy -- interacting and connecting with those 50 customers online and offline and only tracking new customers that come in through social media venues. (Assume the principal 50 person customer base remains static.)
* And let's suppose that in the next quarter, the new social media plan engages 1.1 additional customers for each of the original 50 as a result of the ever increasing connections and interactions between customers. [Real results may vary.]
What would be the results after one year?
The formula for predicting growth would look something like this:
FCT = OC (1 + r)Q
Final Customer Total = Original Customers (1+ rate of new customers)1Quarter
At the end of the first quarter, rather than 100 or 50 + 50, you would have 105 -- the original 50 plus 55 more. 105 = 50 (1 + 1.1)1
At the end of the second quarter, rather than 150 or 50 + 100, you would have 220 -- the original 50 plus 170 more.
220 = 50 (1 + 1.1)2
At the end of the first year, rather than 250 or 50 + 200, you would have 972 -- the original 50 plus 922 more.
972 = 50 (1 + 1.1)4
At the end of the first year, rather than 650 or 50 + 600, you would have 367,791 -- the original 50 plus 367,741 more.
367,791 = 50 (1 + 1.1)12
There are so many assumptions in the model -- the heart of human behavior is more colorful than a hard, fast answer.
What's a real customer? What's true service? How much time does it take to do a great job?
Mike D. Merrill
Director of Marketing, ReachLocal
So many variables in that question but a well coordinated social media campaign should see results in under two months from my experience. Results could be measurable web visits, a web form submission or an actual phone call. Much of this depends on the actual type of business. I'll also say this is true for companies new to social media and blogging. Well written SEO blog posts optimized for local search will often drive the quickest results for professional services businesses.
First, we need to know how many needles you have to move.
Second, we need to know if you have ACCESS to all the needles.
For example, if the end goal is for the blog to generate product sales, the path might look like this:
1 - Read blog
2 - Leave blog and go to website to get more information on product
3 - Download whitepaper on site
4 - Signup for a product demo
5 - Purchase product
First, notice only the 1st step in that path happens on the blog. Everything else is dependent on the website's content on converting the referral traffic from the blog, into a sale. So really, the best you can hope for here is that the blog sends qualified leads.
Second, you need to make sure that the team in charge of the blog also has access to the website's analytics. Because they need to be able to see what's happening with the traffic that their blog is sending to the website. For example, if that referral traffic isn't converting, they need to be able to figure out at what point the visitor is leaving the sales funnel. If the referral traffic is going to the website and immediately leaving, that could mean that the blog isn't sending qualified leads there, or it could mean that the blog is, but the landing page they are arriving at on the website isn't converting them.
And we still haven't addressed the type of product, the intended audience, the price, etc. It's really tough to give a one-size-fits-all answer to 'how long', because there's so many variables. I think it's easier to talk about how to shorten the amount of time it takes to see results, and that starts by aggressively tracking each point in the sales funnel and identifying how traffic is converting at each level and if it is moving to the next.
Connection Agent & President, Impactiviti
I don't believe I can possibly answer this question, because it all depends on the specifics.
"how long should it take to see real results of THIS social media campaign?" - that's the only question a consultant/agency can possibly try to answer.
While I'd hope that any campaign should show noticeable results within 6 months, I hate to encourage short-term thinking based on generalities...
Vice President of Digital Strategy, Allen & Gerritsen
The simplest answer is: as long as you say it will take. A good social media strategy builds in from the beginning realistic timelines for what results are expected when.
The longer answer? In the short-term, you should see short-term "alignment" results right away (3 months or less): people liking, following, reading, visiting. The "activation" phase, where people move from simply aligning themselves with you to actually doing something about it can take as little as three months to as much as over a year, depending on sales cycles and levels of pre-campaign awareness and comprehension. The ultimate goal, "advocacy," can happen immediately for your current fans and advocates, but the conversion of a new contact to an active and sustained supporter of you in online spaces takes 1-3 years at least.
And from my Twitter call out of the same question... my fellow Tourism Geek.....
In my experience, it takes about 6 months to see some real traction i.e. lifting web traffic, seeing rise in sales etc.
So, now that you've heard from me and a ton of really smart folks... what do you think? I'm waiting.....
How long do YOU think it should take for a new social initiative to start to show results?