Social networks have caused a huge shift in how companies frame and execute their business. The success of Best Buy’s Twelpforce blurred the lines between marketing and customer service, using videos that feature the 1,000+ Best Buy employees on Twitter offering efficient, direct service. Dell’s Outlet on Twitter earned $9 million in sales.

Is there really ROI in the social-media space? Yes, there is.

Yet without expertise, this social business culture can be challenging, perhaps even becoming a time sink rather than a profit center. We’ve contacted the speakers and panelists of SOBCon2010 — a yearly think tank of the top social-media strategists, thought leaders and practitioners — to ask their advice on social-media best practices. Our questions were aimed at how to get the best return on social-media resources in raising awareness and building customer relationships, as well as in direct returns.

Liz Strauss

These interviews appear as part of our upcoming special report,Driving Your Bottom Line.” The first part of the report publishes on Tuesday, March 23, and the second part will be sent out on Thursday, March 25; if you’re not already a SmartBrief on Social Media subscriber, sign up today so you won’t miss them!

Not every social-media task is profitable. Where do you see companies wasting time, money and other resources in their quest to turn social media into sales?

Liz Strauss: Wasting time is in the way people approach business — companies who take on social media without strategy, pick up the wrong tools, talk to the wrong people, invest time broadcasting when they should be listening. The same companies make the same mistakes in other parts of their business.

Wouldn’t you think?

Let’s face it, not every minute of every day in business is profitable. Many more of them help build the business than can be explained by the balance sheet. We all know that. The outstanding leader who takes time for coaching is building future ROI. If we hire well, train and trust our people, value the folks who help us grow, we do well. Social-media tools only make it easier, faster and more efficient.

In a world with so much noise and so little time, that could be the “killer app” difference.

Welcome to the ROI of social media.

Alexandra Levit: The biggest mistake I see companies making is hopping onto the bandwagon of the latest trend just because everyone is talking about it. In fact, if you take the time to examine results from various campaigns, you will see that customer conversion is relatively easy to assess with many social-media techniques and that some will work better for you than others. I also see organizations either investing way too much or too little manpower. You definitely need to have a team focusing on social-media engagement on behalf of the company, but it’s not practical to encourage every employee to be spending hours per day blogging and tweeting. If you have too few people on the task, you will fall behind in your efforts to be responsive to the community, and if you have too many, messages will be diluted and impact will be minimized — not to mention the fact that your people won’t be as productive doing the work they were hired to do.

Chris Garrett: The biggest waste of budget I see is when companies are engaging people to do everything for them, even down to “ghost tweeting,” rather than building up their own assets and resources. Instead these companies should get advice, coaching and training. You should never outsource your relationships; instead, they should be seen to be really present, while providing an authentic communication of their brand. People want you, rather than a fake impression of engagement. Another key failing is where the company thinks that having warm, fuzzy social-media spokespeople can fix all the problems caused by their tragic lack of customer service and bad product!

Lorelle VanFossen:

  1. Not understanding what it is or how it works or where to find their audience. Twitter isn’t the all-in-one place to find every audience.
  2. Hiring those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
  3. The unwillingness to pay for the expertise that will make them more money. We live in skimpy times, and few are willing to throw money after the experts, and [many are] more willing to waste time and money letting webmasters or their advertising or marketing company tell them how to do it.
  4. Relying on old [thoughts] and old methods. Some work, most don’t. If they think “village” and “community,” instead of numbers, they are on the right track. But numbers still drive our world.

Jonathan Fields: To me, social media really breaks into three critical functions: listening, building and selling. Each one plays a role in the ROI funnel, though only the latter is measurable with any level of intelligence, at least using the kind of metrics I find compelling. So, I’d look at each of your social-media activities and ask, “Does it fall clearly into one of these three categories of time use? And, if so, how?” If you can’t answer these questions, it’s a safe bet that aspect of your strategy needs tuning or pruning.

Drew McLellan: Not every task in any aspect of marketing is always profitable, every time. Why would we expect social media to be any different? And again, I think that depends on how narrowly you define profit. I think the biggest example of companies wasting time, money and resources in the pursuit of sales is the lack of an overarching strategy. They have no idea what success looks like, so how in the world can they recognize it? In many cases, they pull the plug too soon or they decide to take an old-school marketing approach (shout your features and benefits, push product/offer, etc.) and, of course, are ultimately disappointed in the results and decide that social media is a lot of hype.

Terry Starbucker: It’s really a matter of figuring out if social media should even be a sales channel in the first place. A company can use it to KEEP customers, for example, and that activity may ultimately provide a bigger benefit than anything else, especially for service companies. It’s an ultra-competitive world out there, and if customers want to talk to you this way, we better be there to engage them. It’s not an option any longer. In fact, the act of “putting a human face” on a company may be the most profitable thing anybody can do on the social-media platform. That could look like “wasting time” to a lot of outsiders (and economists and accountants, for that matter), but to them I say this: Ignore opportunities for humanity at your peril.

Want more? Be sure to check out Part 1 of the interview!

Contributors:

Image credit, YellowPixel, via Shutterstock

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