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5 Reasons CMOs Can No Longer Own Social Media

For many organizations, it’s not even a question: Marketers own social strategy. Always have, always will. After all, if social media serves primarily as a promotional and communications channel, who else would run it?

Our new research reveals it’s time to rethink this assumption. Hootsuite partnered with the analyst and research firm Altimeter Group to conduct a study of the quantitative value that social offers modern organizations. We surveyed 2,162 marketers and conducted in-depth interviews with executives at large enterprise companies. We asked them all the questions you’d expect about social tactics and strategies and results. Then we went one step further: we evaluated each respondent using our Social Maturity Assessment, a tool that studies how organizations use social media and benchmarks how they compare to others in their industry. This methodology delivered robust data on how mature organizations use social media compared to their less-mature counterparts.

The result: Five lessons for CMOs on how to make your organization more mature and how that will improve your business.

Download the full Social Transformation Report to find out how 2,162 marketers are using social media in their organizations in the wake of COVID-19.

1. If you only use social media for marketing, you’ve already fallen behind.

Yes, social media can serve as a promotional and communications channel. In fact, it’s a damned fine one: More than 80% of organizations say social helps them reach prospective customers more efficiently than other channels. Little wonder nearly every marketing team uses social media and nearly two-thirds of PR and communications teams do — far more than other parts of the organization.

But while less-mature organizations use social just for marketing and communications, mature organizations push social media out into other parts of its business.

For instance, mature organizations are more than twice as likely as their less-mature peers to say their customer service staff uses social media. Customer care teams tell us that social intelligence helps them serve customers better, and that the speed of social media

Mature organizations are also about twice as likely to report using social media for recruiting and human resources. Why? HR teams tell us using social increases candidate diversity, improves new-hire retention, and reduces recruiting costs.

It doesn’t stop there. Mature organizations are more likely to empower their sales teams with social tools — and say this strategy drives down cost per acquisition. They’re also more likely to use social media for product development. Mature organizations understand that social media can help a wide range of departments achieve their goals.

What CMOs should do: Actively push social initiatives beyond your own team. Start by empowering your customer service and human resources departments. Next, help your sales and R&D teams launch social programs. The further you push social media into your organization, the more it will help you succeed.

2. Social’s power remains relationships, not scale.

It’s tempting to associate social platforms with pure scale. After all, nearly 3 billion people use Facebook every month. More than a billion use Instagram monthly, and hundreds of millions more use Twitter and Pinterest and Snapchat.

With audiences that large, it’s no surprise many organizations think of social media as a broadcast medium. Remember, most marketers’ first social initiatives included blog posts and Facebook updates: You did the talking, your audience mostly just listened. (Even today, in the face of declining organic reach, every top brand posts to social at least some of the time.)

As social marketing matured, most organizations expanded their focus to another kind of broadcasting: Paid social advertising. In total, US marketers will spend more than $40 billion on social ads this year. Facebook alone will collect almost one-quarter of all US online ad revenue.

But mature social organizations never lost sight of social media’s core value: It’s all about relationships. That’s why mature organizations are many times more likely than their less-mature counterparts to listen to social conversations about their brands and then to engage in those conversations. In fact, mature organizations tell us they still prefer to engage in social conversations than to run social ads. The result: The vast majority of mature organizations say that social has helped them build strong relationships that have benefited their business. By comparison, fewer than half of less-mature organizations can make this claim.

What CMOs should do: Refocus your social priorities from marketing posts and paid ads to relationships and engagement. Of course you should try to get your organization’s message to as much of your audience as possible. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing the point. So make sure your social team puts its resources into replying to and interacting with fans, and not just into pumping out promotional posts.

3. Social can help you reach and engage more audiences than just your customers.

Who does your organization target with its social programs? If you’re like most CMOs, you think of “social media” as your public Twitter account or your Facebook ad buy. And those big social platforms don’t hide who they expect you to focus on: Facebook’s how-to guide for businesses is headlined “Connect to the customers you’re looking for.” So it’s no wonder the vast majority of organizations tell us they use social media to target customers.

Only about half the organizations we surveyed said they’ve expanded their social programs beyond customers to reach their broader communities. But look deeper, and you’ll realize that most mature social organizations do exactly that.

Mature organizations understand social’s power to reach and engage employees — whether through employee-targeted social profiles, employee advocacy programs, or even internal social platforms. These brands report significant improvements in internal metrics like employee engagement and the efficiency with which employees collaborate. Perhaps surprisingly, they also tell us that employee-facing social programs provide external benefits like greater organic reach for brand messages and improved sales lead quality.

Employees aren’t the only other kind of audience you can target. Two-thirds of mature organizations say that social media has had a positive impact on how they find, retain, and build relationships with external partners. And mature organizations are also much more likely than their peers to use social media specifically to reach shareholders.

What CMOs should do: Don’t just use social to engage customers; focus on other stakeholders, too. Consider what your employees, partners and suppliers, and shareholders are looking for — either in general, or from your organization in particular. Then design the social strategies and tactics to reach those audiences and meet their needs.

4. When you increase your social maturity, you increase your business impact.

Facebook turns 17 years old in 2021; Twitter turns 15 not long after. It can be tempting to see these social platforms as troublesome teens — constantly testing our limits and failing to clean their rooms.

But for many customers, social media defines your brand. If you’re like most organizations, more people follow you on social platforms than visit your website or enter your stores. There’s a good chance you have more social fans than email subscribers. That’s why more people find inspiration for their purchases on social media than anywhere else.

So if you think your brand can benefit from social media, you’re right. Nearly every mature social organization tells us that social media has improved key brand health metrics like brand relevance and positive brand sentiment. Overall, mature organizations are 1.4 times more likely than their less-mature counterparts to say that social media differentiates their brands.

What you might not expect: When you invest wisely in social, you’ll see benefits beyond just social channels. For instance, 75% of mature organizations say that their social marketing programs actually help them improve the efficiency of paid search, TV, and other ad channels.

Better yet, smart social investment can make your organization more resilient to disruption. In fact, more than two-thirds of our survey respondents said that using social media helped them prepare to respond to the impact COVID-19 had on their business. Mature organizations, of course, were most prepared: Many report that both their customer relationships and brand sentiment have actually improved, rather than deteriorated, during the pandemic.

What CMOs should do: Sponsor your organization’s social programs with both dollars and actions. Mature social programs don’t only drive isolated business goals, they benefit your entire business. But that kind of maturity requires real investment. Little wonder that mature social organizations are five times more likely than their peers to say their social programs have an executive sponsor.

5. A broad social strategy can lead your digital transformation.

If 2020 has made anything clear, it’s this: Digital transformation can’t wait. In the past year, digital interactions with organizations have gone from simply being customers’ preference to in many cases being their only option. That’s why organizations that have embraced customers’ digital behaviors are thriving.

The good news: Social media programs can help your organization thrive in a time of digital transformation. Social media brings customer voices and behaviors to the forefront — and so provides the ideal starting point for any digital culture shift. Mature organizations also say their use of employee-facing social media has accelerated this shift in culture.

Even better, mature organizations say the steering committees and working groups they built to manage social programs have also taught employees to collaborate efficiently. Social media provides the road map for broader digital transformation. That’s why more than two-thirds of mature organizations agree their social initiatives have prepared their companies for digital transformation.

What CMOs should do: Lean on social frameworks to lead your organization’s digital transformation. If you’re a mature social organization, you’ve already built the steering committees, sparked the employee collaboration, and created the culture shift your digital transformation project will depend on. Turn to those same structures to align your organization around digital customer behaviors, and your digital transformation will be on its way.

How mature is your social organization?

Our social maturity assessment is a benchmark of over 1,000 enterprise organizations in 12 industries and covers every aspect of how organizations use social to create business value, including attribution practices, use of social data in customer journey mapping, integration of social data into CRM systems, employee advocacy, paid media and influencer strategies, and workforce education programs.

To complete an assessment of your own organization’s social maturity, start here.

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