Search vs. Social Media Smackdown, Round 2

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job with a popular travel search engine. The VP of Marketing was looking for an experienced online marketer to manage the company’s SEO/SEM programs—which, for a bonafide genius like me, is child’s play. In my cover letter, I told him upfront that I wasn’t interested in a search-only marketing position. In my characteristically brilliant way, I explained that my talents would be wasted on a search-only marketing strategy and that I had infinitely more valuable capabilities to offer.

Whether he never read my letter or simply found my insubordination irresistible, I’ll never know… the point is, he invited me for an interview.

Once in his office, he asked me about my experience with SEO/SEM as a marketing tool.

“Feh,” I said. “Search is dead to me.”

As the color drained from his face and his fists clenched in his lap, I dove into an impassioned monologue about why an online marketing strategy that leads with SEO/SEM was doomed to fail:

“It’s too narrow, too tedious, and frankly, it’s too 2006.”

I proceeded to tell him that to achieve his company’s lofty goal of becoming the #2 travel search engine in the world (first of all, who sets their sites on becoming #2?), they’d need to broaden their focus to include all that Web 2.0 has made possible—and all that Web 3.0 promises:

Sophisticated search + User-generated content + Social networking + Contextual/demographic/behavioral targeting + Portable personalization = Genuinely relevant content that I trust in whatever media format I prefer.

Simply put, SEO/SEM just ain’t gonna cut it.

He didn’t throw me out of his office… but I could tell he wanted to.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand why Mr. Fancy Pants is so attached to his beloved Search. It comes down to one word: Measurability. As a direct response medium, Search is tough to beat. Experienced search marketers know they wield a lot of power in their SEO/SEM campaigns; they can deliver top-line metrics to their CMO or their CEO or whatever yo-yo is in charge. They can control their CPA and their ROI (had enough acronyms yet?) and make adjustments both large and small with the ease of a keystroke. And though it’s getting harder to produce big, fat results very quickly or without a big investment up-front (search ain’t the new kid on the block anymore!), Search is still King with many online marketers.

And dinosaurs once roamed the earth. So what? Change happens. It’s happening right now.

“Search is a unique proposition — this is why Google is Google and many Googlers are rich. However, search does not exist in a vacuum any more than television or direct mail does. A search engine is no longer the exclusive point of entry to the Internet for many people. Social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook have become portals to a huge number of Web users. If the goal of the marketer is to reach the most potential customers online, thereby maximizing return on investment as a whole, it is critical to engage users throughout their online journey which, as we all become more sophisticated Web users, is increasingly not always begun at a search engine.” —excerpted from The Challenges of Measuring The Performance Of Emerging Media For A Search-Centric Advertiser by Nancy Adzentoivich, Friday, Nov 9, 2007

Here, here!

But don’t just take Nancy’s word for it, or mine for that matter… look at some of the data:

  • WOM ranks highest in driving consumers’ purchase decisions—above TV, Internet, print, and radio [source: BIGResearch, simultaneous media usage study, 2005]
  • Americans engage in 3.5 billion(!) brand-related conversations every day [source: Keller Fay Group]
  • Two-thirds of marketing/communications professionals are planning to increase their investment in conversational marketing within the next twelve months; 57% project that in five years they will be spending more on conversational marketing than traditional marketing [source: TWI Surveys, Inc.]
  • A whopping 96% of 9-17 year olds are connecting to a social network at least once a week [source: Alloy Media & Marketing]

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the next big wave is coming… and fast. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening… or you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps and learn how to take the reigns.

[Or you can see how many overused metaphors you can string together into one meaningless sentence…]

If you’re still quaking in your boots at the thought of exploring the Brave New World of social media, allow me to assuage your fears about its measurability: You can, in fact, measure the impact of your efforts. Here are just a few of the possible metrics you might plug into your neat little dashboard:

  • Number of uniques
  • Returning vs. new users
  • Referring traffic
  • Google Page Rank
  • Technorati authority
  • Time spent on site
  • Page views
  • Conversation index (ratio of blog posts to blog comments)
  • Tone of conversation, comments, posts
  • Speed or velocity of spread, viral

(above list excerpted from Kami Huse’s enlightening presentation on Measuring Social Media)

There’s also the soon-to-be-well-known Net Promoter Score, ideally-suited for measuring social media campaign efficacy:

NPS = % of Promoters – % of Detractors.

It’s not a pure ROI calculation, but it gets to the root of whether a customer/reader/community member would recommend you—or not—as a percentage of the total activity on your social media platform.

So to those of you who—like Mr. Fancy Pants—fear social media because you think you can’t measure it, I say, Feh! You most certainly can. The only reason why there’s so much squabbling over the measurability of social media campaigns (vs. that of SEO/SEM) is that most of you boneheads are still struggling to understand what the heck social media is let alone how it can help your brand.

Whiny, frightened Brand X says, “But what if they write something bad about me?”

Yeah, what if? Sticks and stones may break your bones…

Or in other words, get over it. They will write something bad about you, because you can’t possibly please everybody. And you’re not perfect. Put on your big girl panties, then get educated about how to make social media work for you.

As for measurability: it ain’t rocket science:

Set your objectives. Pick the metric(s) you feel are most relevant to those objectives. Benchmark against yourself (and/or your competitors) over time. Measure. Analyze results. Repeat!

The Genius will now take your comments…