While the majority of b2b marketers are now using social media as part of their marketing efforts, they are still exploring how to integrate social with search and measure the results, according to an exclusive study by BtoB and Business.com.
The study, “The Impact of Social Media on Search,” was based on an online survey of 464 b2b marketers conducted July 1-16. The survey was designed to explore how marketers are integrating social media with search marketing and discover what types of measurable impact each channel is having on the other. Among the key findings: More than half of those surveyed list “improving search results” as a top goal for social media marketing.
The survey found that 29% of marketers plan to boost their budgets for social media this year, and 56% plan to provide additional resources for social media.
When asked how much of their online marketing budget will go toward social media this year, 35% said 1% to 5%; 21% said 6% to 10%; 8% said 11% to 15%; 4% said 16% to 20%; and 7% said more than 20%. Thirteen percent said they didn't know how much of their budget would be spent on social media, and 12% said they would not spend anything on social media this year.
Paul Dunay, global managing director-services and social marketing at Avaya Inc., said 15% of his company's online marketing budget will be devoted to social media this year.
“We have moved from an experimenting mode to a maintaining mode,” Dunay said. “I believe that many companies use social media incorrectly. They are constantly asking about ROI, which is an indication to me that they are taking a one-way, let's-communicate-it-out-and-build-a-fan-base type of approach. Our approach is to use social media to support existing customers.”
Dunay said his marketing group uses Facebook, Twitter, blogs, online forums and other social media channels to address customer concerns, provide support, answer questions and build long-term relationships. He said improving search performance is among Avaya's top five goals, but it is not the primary goal.
According to the BtoB/Business.com survey, the top goals for social media marketing are: building brand awareness (cited by 81% of respondents); increasing traffic to a website (77%); generating leads (67%); providing deeper engagement with customers (66%); and improving search results (57%).
The survey asked marketers how they are using social media to improve their search results.
Nearly half (48%) said they are driving inbound links through various social media channels; 45% said they are expanding profiles and social media accounts to increase rankings on major search engines; 40% said they are monitoring social media conversations to influence organic SEO; and 26% said they are monitoring social media conversations to influence keyword purchases.
Also, when asked what the overall impact of social media has been on the search performance of their company's website, 44% said it had been positive, 28% said neutral, 27% said they didn't know, and 1% said negative.
“Social media continues to make huge gains among the myriad of online marketing tools available for integrated campaigns,” said Patricia Neuray, VP-sales and marketing at Business.com, a b2b search engine and online marketing company. “As 44% of the respondents have seen an increase in traffic from search engines since launching their social media efforts, marketers are allocating more budgets to social media tactics and setting specific goals to measure the impact of their social media efforts.”
While marketers are developing new metrics to gauge the results of their social media efforts, 41% of respondents said they are not currently measuring the impact of social media on their company's search performance.
Of those that are, the most common metrics they're using include organic search rankings (37%); number of inbound links (30%); search volume for brand or keyword phrases (23%); and search marketing conversion rates (22%).
In terms of actual results they are seeing from the impact of social media campaigns on search performance, 35% of marketers said they have seen an improvement in organic search rankings; 24% reported an increased in search referrals; and 15% have seen increased click-through rates in paid search campaigns.
“To date, search engine optimization has really been dictated by the volume and quality of inbound links—links have been regarded as the currency of the Web,” said Ryan DeShazer, global practice leader for search at GyroHSR, Cincinnati. “That paradigm has shifted in the last 12-plus months due to the explosion of social media. You always want to write content so compelling that people link to that content. Now, people are sharing those links on social channels.”
One strategy the agency is using with its b2b clients to improve search results is to shift the conversation in social media channels by inserting keywords that specifically relate to a company or brand.
For example, for a client that specializes in virtualization software, GyroHSR started using the phrase “server virtualization” in conversations about database virtualization on social channels such as Twitter and Facebook. (DeShazer declined to name the client.) “As the conversation shifts to "server virtualization,' people will search on Google and will use the term being spoken about in social channels. We have an opportunity to influence what queries users are searching for,” DeShazer said.
The BtoB/Business.com survey also looked at how companies are using search to enhance their social media efforts.
It found that 54% of marketers search for conversations about their company's brand or products on social media channels; 42% perform search engine optimization on their social media content; 37% search for conversations about their competitors on social media channels; and 13% place social media links in paid search ads.
Nearly one-third (30%) of marketers said they are not currently using search to enhance their social media efforts.
The top metrics used to measure social media marketing efforts are: visits to websites (55%); number of fans, followers and “likes” on social media networks (48%); number of mentions about a company or product (35%); and number of retweets (28%). One-quarter of marketers are not currently measuring their social media campaigns.
The most popular social media monitoring tools include Hootsuite (15%), SocialMention (7%), Radian6 (6%) and TweetBurner (6%). More than half (53%) of marketers surveyed said they are not using any social media monitoring tools.
“The challenge with measuring how much activity there is in social is that you don't know if those comments are good, or bad or what they mean,” said Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction Corp., an online marketing agency in San Francisco.
“A lot of these tools have a sentiment analysis piece, but in reality, the sentiment analysis isn't as accurate as we would need for it to be to be meaningful. Semantics are so difficult to measure.”
In other survey findings, 39% of marketers described their company's level of sophistication with search engine optimization as needing improvement; 27% said it was somewhat advanced; 26% said it was adequate. Only 9% said it was very advanced.
Some marketers said they are just beginning to explore the integration of social media and search.
Nicole Lipson, senior marketing manager at Georgia-Pacific Gypsum, which makes products for commercial construction, said, “We are continuing to evaluate and improve our search program, mostly to ensure that important keywords for our business will bring us up to the top of the list. Integrating search with social media is something that we're just beginning to look at, and we are using experts to help us look at that.”
Georgia-Pacific Gypsum uses social media networks such as Flickr and YouTube to post product photos and instructional videos for its target audience of architects, general contractors and distributors, Lipson said.