Social Media Hierarchy of Needs - Best Practices for ROI Success

Updated: March 31, 2011

From our social media ROI studies, analyzing the investment, popularity, practices and results of social media marketing for the Fortune 500, and select small / medium companies, a key indicator to social media ROI success was level of engagement.

Engagement, the ability to attract and dialogue with followers, advocates and readers, created a foundation to attract and dialogue new prospects, improve existing customer loyalty and provide a platform for collaborative innovation. These engagements eventually led to incremental sales / revenue opportunities, improved loyalty and retention, collaborative innovation, cost savings and more.... the quantified return on investment (ROI) from social marketing efforts.

The research sought to discover the "secret sauce" for engagement success, and found that marketers who implemented a layered, hierarchical set of engagement best practices, including Content, Campaigns, Monitoring and Collaboration, achieved superior ROI results.

Much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, each successive layer of these practices, relied on a solid foundation of prior levels for success. Jump to a higher level without having a proper foundation and the strategy collapses.

The Social Media Hierarchy of Needs(tm) is the term we have applied to these best practices, and the tiers consist of the following:

Tier 1: Content - If you don't have anything important to say, or information of value to deliver, you won't achieve engagement with users, therefore, we found that the foundation of any social media campaign is a good content marketing strategy and deliverables. Content that is most effective today included discounts, special offers, giveaways, recommendations / advice, webinars, videos, white papers, articles designed to deliver value, new ideas, credibility, personalization and entertainment.

Tier 2: Campaigns - Users won't know that the content exists without campaigns, a promotional "push" of messages via the social media channels. This typically included promotion of the content via tweeting, updating status, posting discussions and links, contests and sweepstakes.

Tier 3: Monitoring - Above the campaigns, monitoring by marketing and sales professionals is required to actively listen to the user community to respond to direct questions, and for campaign and content effectiveness, advocacy and customer intelligence, trends, competitive intelligence, incidents / issues.

Tier 4: Collaboration - interacting with the user base is a key differentiating element to the most successful social media campaigns. This includes promoting and participating in collaborative discussions and engaging users in collaborative product reviews, shared designs and innovation.

The Social Media Engagement Hierarchy of Needs requires that certain foundational elements be in place before driving successful user engagement at higher levels.

Along with the hierarchical tiers, the research indicated two key additional supporting best practices, highlighting the importance of:

  • Measurement of social media metrics, benefits and success, in particular tracking of engagement, influence and trends as well as success metrics such as benefits and ROI
  • Integration of information, such as passing of lead information to lead nurturing systems and existing customer dialogue to CRM solutions, and processes integration, such as centralizing and coordinating social media marketing governance and resources.
Let us examine each tier in the Social Media Hierarchy of Needs and best practices in more detail:
Tier 1: Content

In our research, we found that one of the best ways to generate higher levels of social media engagement is to have a great content marketing strategy as the foundation, and intimately tied to your social media efforts. The best efforts had content initiatives aligned with the buying lifecycle, and promotional campaigns and interaction to provide these key decision-making tools at each stage, driving more than twice the advantage over those social media efforts with low content marketing leverage.

Integrated with social media marketing, these five content marketing strategies have been found to drive higher level-of-engagement:

More than ever, buyers are doing more of their own research online, actively seeking new problem solving ideas and thought leaders for guidance and advice. To help buyers recognize needs, savvy social media marketers are leveraging content that illuminates market trends, highlights issues others are successfully addressing, and provides tangible ideas on how to solve problems. The more independent the content, the more credible it is. Similarly, the more timely the information, the more popular it is. Here are a few ideas on how to connect with early-stage buyers:

  • Market opportunity research
  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • Thought leadership videos
  • Article highlights
  • Thought-provoking blogs
  • Interactive diagnostic assessment tools

In the face of two economic downturns over the past decade, buyers have fundamentally and permanently changed. They seek solutions that can help them "do more with less," deliver fast payback, provide high ROI and realize superior value versus other solutions. We have termed this condition Frugalnomics, the demand for quantified bottom-line impact and superior value from every investment, and even as the economy recovers, research indicates that this trend will continue.

Offering exclusive contests, discounts and deals are popular ways to connect with buyers who seek a "bargain" from every purchase. But price is not all that matters, so marketing can help economic-focused buyers discover the best solution by using social media to promote and deliver content that validates potential benefits, such as:

  • Value-proposition-focused white papers
  • Webinars
  • Success stories
  • Interactive ROI and total cost of ownership (TCO) tools

Many frugal B2B buyers are engaging sales later than ever, relying on a company's digital profile to connect, engage and evaluate whether to make that purchase, or move on to the next provider. With today's Internet fueled purchase decisions, trust must be gained through your digital profile, versus the traditional method of looking a salesperson in the eyes. Making a personal connection with followers, fans and connections is vital, and content with a personal feel (versus corporate veneer) tends to be the most popular. Some examples include:

  • Independent reviews
  • Video testimonials
  • Success stories and case studies

Content marketing in the social domain isn't just about broadcasting, but about creating a collaborative dialogue with your followers, fans and connections, a term we call interactive narrowcasting. Here are the keys to personalization success:

  • Monitoring activity to determine who needs additional and personalized information and responses
  • Actively engaging the user base with follow-on responses, advice, posts and questions
  • Responding to and collaborating with participants on a timely, personal basis
  • Delivering competitive intelligence information proactively, yet credibly, to those seeking information about a particular solution or brand.
The marketers that appear most successful in generating engagements are leveraging the right content at the right time, and making the content more personal to create a dialogue with prospects to move the buying cycle forward, and with existing customers to deepen relationships and drive loyalty

Everyone needs a laugh now and then, and entertaining content is playing a larger role than ever in attracting attention and driving popularity. Entertaining yet thought-provoking videos, animations and cartoons are being used to great effect to gain followers, fans and connections.

The right content leveraged via social media channels is proven to drive more engagements and improve company popularity twice over those that fail to leverage content. Content aligned with the buying cycle and targeted towards ideas, value, credibility, personalization and entertainment show the greatest success at driving engagement.

And although engagement is no guarantee for return on social media investment, presence and reach is still a key element for ultimate bottom-line impact and ROI success. After all, engagement, there is no chance for social media ROI success. And without leveraging content there is little chance for social media engagement.

Tier 2: Campaigns
Campaigns involve coordinated communications to connect to and engage new prospects or existing customers via social media channels. Some campaign examples can include:

  • Facebook fan contests to attract new fans
  • Scheduled tweets to promote a webinar
  • Research summary tweets to promote white papers
  • Syndication of a blog post to LinkedIn Groups to gain new connections and spur discussions

The most successful campaigns:

  • Drive interaction (give and take) vs. pure promotion (push)
  • Are more credible, often involving the voice of advocates, experts and/ or third party validation
  • Provide unique value to users, such as delivering special offers, exclusive events, or important content

Tier 3: Monitoring
Monitoring involves users actively listening to social media channels to gain and engage additional prospects or customers.

The monitoring can include:

  • Answering questions or queries about the company or products
  • Assuring that campaigns are achieving the expected goals, driving the right responses, reactions and results
  • Gaining additional followers, connections and fans by tracking advocates and advocate reach
  • Monitoring for positive sentiment and use for promotion to gain additional followers
  • Providing support when incidents / issues occur, and negative sentiment is reported, to help mitigate these issues and limit risks
  • Listening for competitive mentions or requests, engaging users who might be considering competitive solutions
  • Providing feedback to fine tune campaigns and content to meet user needs.

Tier 4: Collaboration
Collaboration involves creating and participating in a dialogue with prospects and customers. As opposed to the "push" oriented focus of traditional campaigns or the "pull" orientation of monitoring, collaboration is an interactive dialogue with followers, connections and fans for mutual benefit. With so many resources available beyond employees, the most innovative companies are driving ideas, innovative improvements, and partnerships via dialogue with the social media community - a term we call Collaborative Innovation.

Collaborative Innovation is engaging with prospects and customers via social media to provide interactive ideas, reviews, feedback and input around:

  • Product Improvements, termed "Social Sigma" by Forrester, such as market opportunity, features and benefits, design, pricing and more
  • Marketing Improvements, such as slogan testing, campaign and promotional ideas
  • Business Development, such as advice on go-to-market, channel or strategic partners
  • Advisory Advice, such as seeking and gathering advice on operational improvements, and suppliers
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