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I’m working with a company in the B2B space that has an interesting but very common website case:

  • They have an old, basic and static site
  • It has very weak SEO
  • They’re paying significant amounts of money for Google Adwords each month to get them page ranked
  • They’re not tracking anything

Luckily, they want this to change.  In conjunction with a website design overhaul, we’re going to completely up-end this model and flip it on it’s head (or side, or whatever).

One of the main topics of conversation has been the issue of Google Adwords - do we use them or not.  My answer is no, not right now.  A few further thoughts to that end [Disclaimer - I had a quick call with the team at HubSpot, as I would like to use their product in this process, and some of these thoughts stem from a conversation I had with Vas]:

  • Firstly, there is nothing in place right now to determine the effects of their Adwords: they don’t know who’s clicking, what they’re clicking on, if they’re qualified leads, etc.  All they know is that they’re the first (sponsored) link that shows up on Google for one of the keywords.
  • There was little research done to choose those keywords, and it was based loosely on product lines.  The list also hasn’t been updated in many years.
  • They have little to no effective SEO built into their site, which hasn’t been changed in over five years.

Essentially, they’ve put Adwords in place and let it run.

They’re simply paying the meter to reserve a parking spot, and hope they don’t have a cop come around and write them a ticket or tow the car away. Because that’s what would happen the minute they stopped paying the meter if they’d relied on their existing website.  The Adwords are only giving them short-term benefits while they’re still paying.

What we’re working towards is building their own parking lot where they won’t have to worry about paying the meter: An architecturally strong website, with sophisticated SEO, continually updated content, metrics in place to determine how people are accessing and using the site, and developing more paths for people to get there.

Does that mean we nix Google Adwords?  For now, yes. There doesn’t seem to be much point in using them if they don’t know what they’re bringing to the table. It’s sort of like parking in the first available spot before you know if it’s close to your lunch meeting near City Hall (”It’s around here somewhere,” he said.).  There might be spots closer.  Heck, City Hall could have it’s own free parking lot.

But only for now. Once we’ve gone through the process of developing a much stronger foundation - our website, and once we understand the best keywords to use (though, ideally, we’ve keyword-maximized the site so well that it can stand alone)….once we’ve really built something with a long-term future…..only then should Adwords be used to supplement these efforts. We’re building their own parking lot that they can park in on most days, and telling them where the best spot to pay for is next time they have lunch near City Hall….

(Note, this piece assumes that an organization has created a strategic plan for using social media, rather than having someone in a cube in the back office posting to a blog once a week).

I got into an interesting discussion in the comments section of a post about social media success over on B2B Voices with Mark W Schaefer, wherein I came to the conclusion that we were both basically saying the same thing, but looking at the process differently.

It really emphasized the importance of segmenting your overall Program in order to accurately identify success - or failure. This could be your business program, your marketing program, your sales program… in this case it’s the program that you’ve decided to supplement with social media.

It goes without saying that you should be setting measurable goals for your Program, and that they should all point towards money, whether it’s in a corporate setting or a non-profit setting or what have you. The dough may come in different forms, but let’s be honest, without it, you really don’t exist. However, the ability to bring in this money more often than not does not rest on one single mechanism, it rests on many.

All of this may seem blatantly obvious when I say it, but it really surprises me how many times I hear that social media is a failure because it didn’t sell something, or how many times people expect that a Twitter following is directly related to ROI.

The conversation should go more like this:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  Additionally, the number of sales that resulted from our website increased by 30%.  We can draw the conclusion that our Twitter program is bringing in valuable traffic to our website, which has always had a great conversion rate.”

Or, perhaps more telling:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  However, the number of sales that resulted from our website didn’t change.  Either our Social Media Program is not bringing in valuable website traffic, or our website is not structured in a way to convert viewers to customers.”

This conversation is entirely dependent on the goals you’ve set out for your Social Media Program, and then how they are linked to your other programs.  The process looks like this:

  1. Identify overall Program Goals
  2. Identify Components that will go into this Program to achieve those goals
  3. Determine the goals of each separate Component and how each of those goals is connect to your overall Program Goals.

So, if our social media program brought in more qualified leaders to our website (Component Goal), which was restructured to funnel any traffic to a new sales team (Component Goal), who would then convert them to users (Component Goal), we profit (Program Goal).  If one of these fails, it doesn’t mean all of them are failures.

Of course, if you set up your social media program to get direct sales, and that’s not happening, then yes, social media is a failure.  But just because your sales are not increasing when you start using social media doesn’t categorically mean that your Social Media Program is a failure.  If you haven’t touched your website in 5 years and you were never getting sales from it, and you’re hoping to increase website traffic with social media, your problem is probably not social media, it’s your website.

A couple of scenarios to consider:

Social Media Success + Sales Team Success = Program Success

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Failure IF the website was in place to convert viewers to buyers

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Success IF the website was in place to actually convert without the website (therefore you’re really running two separate programs)

Social Media Success + Customer Service Success = Program Success (this is an implicit one that addresses the Lifetime Value of the Customer, and assuming that with happier customers, you will get continual long-term share-of-wallet from them)

Social Media Failure + Sales Team Success = Program Failure IF social media was meant to bring increased leads to the Sales Team

Social Media Success + Product Failure = Program Failure (more accurately, this would be Business Failure, since nothing can support a lousy product)

I could go on with various scenarios, but I’ll stop….

The focus here is on the Component level and the fact that, far too often, people draw too-direct a connection between a Social Media Program (which, at first glance, can seem quite qualitative) and money coming in the door.  By highlighting a series of connections, you’ll be much better equipped to account for success, measure for it, and build an effective overall Program that is illustrated in stages, rather than “If I build a Facebook, when should I expect to see money in the door.”

This is why it’s so important to think strategically about what a social media program really means for your company, and how it fits into a Program that has been well thought out, and is well-measured.  Don’t go out and hire social media guru and expect him to move mountains unless you plan on allowing them access to your overall business processes and make darn sure that he is capable of making the above links and laying out effective goals that support your Program.

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