How to Properly Evaluate Social Channels for Your Brand

2015-09-18-1442587076-4945350-boidockphoto2.jpgBy Stephen Boidock, Director of Social Media, Drumroll

Social channels change daily. New opportunities emerge and as a marketer, you are constantly evaluating new avenues to tell your brand story. Often times these decisions happen in the middle of a year, long after budgets have already been locked - meaning your existing staff and resources must also support new initiatives. Before you get started, consider these factors to help you prioritize your efforts and properly determine if the social channel in question is right for your brand.

Establish Focus with Program Goals
The first question you should ask yourself before making any marketing decisions (even beyond social) is, "What am I ultimately trying to achieve?" As cliché as that sounds, it's one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of a program. The social space is filled with shiny new toys that are great to show off at cocktail parties. But when those conversations start to influence your business strategy, it could be bad news for your brand. If you're a marketer, you've probably heard someone say, "My daughter showed me this cool app and I think it could be interesting for our brand to consider." By first determining your program goals, you'll save a ridiculous amount of time by avoiding wild goose chases before they start. It will help you focus your time on channels that align with your end game and ultimately produce the greatest results.

Ensure Channel Audience Alignment
Great, so you've found a channel that aligns to your program's goals. Only problem is that the primary demographic of the channel is tween girls and you run a corporate accounting firm. Just because a channel is making headlines, doesn't mean that your target audience exists there. This is one of the primary reasons brands find themselves disappointed by the lack of engagement after entering a popular channel. What's dangerous about this scenario is that it often creates misleading results. You might have the perfect content strategy or the right brand voice, but if it's falling on the wrong eyes and ears, it might cause you to incorrectly rethink your approach. The truth is, even perfect brand experiences will struggle against the wrong audiences, so thoroughly evaluating channel demographics prior to commitment will save you a number of headaches down the road.

Be Aware of Channel Maturity Implications
As with many things in life, practice makes perfect. The same can be said about new social platforms. While the urge to be the first brand on a channel might outweigh common sense, new channels often take months (and in some cases, years) to settle into their comfort zones. Until then, expect frequent changes in business direction and feature evolutions that most likely nullify some of your earlier efforts. Remember when Google+ launched and you felt pressured to be a part of the next big thing? How's that working out for you now? Channels allow brands to tell stories in different ways, but at the end of the day, it is better to wait for a channel to come into its own before spending limited resources on something that won't be relevant in 2 months. Unless you're a major brand with an unlimited budget that can afford to throw away money on an emerging platform, it's smarter to spend the early months observing before engaging. See how users are enjoying the channel. Pay attention to the channel's leadership team to get an idea of where they want to take it in the future. This may buy you enough time internally to get a better sense of the benefits and help you make a more educated decision.

Acknowledge ROI Obstacles
In order to know this, you first have to understand your program goals, but beyond that, understanding the specific KPIs you'll be held to will help you quantify ROI. The main difference between goals and ROI is money. One of your goals might be to increase channel engagement by 20%, but that can be achieved by getting more people to retweet your content. While that's a welcome result, it doesn't guarantee revenue or returned money into your program. And no matter what your boss tells you about engagement being the primary focus, at some point you'll find yourself in a room with people who do care about budgets and hard core results. You don't want to be the person who only has Facebook Likes to show for the $2 million budget you were given. Successful marketers find a way to connect their efforts to transactions. Even if it's not a direct 1:1, consider attribution models or other associated actions that tie back to dollars. All this to say, most new channels are more focused on preserving the user experience versus generating brand revenue. If you find yourself jumping into too many new social spaces, you could be setting yourself up for a rude awakening come budgetary "judgment day".

Remember that it's ok that you're not on a given channel. Most of the time, having solid arguments for or against maintaining a presence is what will protect you down the road from criticism, inefficiencies and wasted budgets.