Social Media: What Are You Waiting For?

I think my email box might be even more fascinating than my Twitter feed right now. Every day there is a new article declaring a post-apocalyptic social media landscape.

"No ROI in Social Media Marketing," "Is Social Media Marketing Worth It?" and "Marketers Can't Gauge ROI on Social Media." Any minute I expect to see, "Zombies Attack Twitter, Proving That Social Media Is Dead."

A MarketingSherpa, LLC study, titled "2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report," found that 20% of U.S. agencies and consultancies thought social media marketing was producing measureable ROI. However, 64% said they thought it would do so eventually. If only 20% think social media has any value, why do 64% think it will eventually? What do they think will change the landscape? More importantly, why are we even still having this conversation?

I want you to imagine that you are the COO of a large company. The CEO walks into your office and says, "Can you estimate the ROI we get from each employee having a telephone on his or her desk?" You would pick up said telephone and dial for the white coats. Yet, that is what is happening across the world and in almost every company-we are asking executives to calculate the value of a real-time, powerful communications tool.

While I'm not an accountant or in corporate finance, I do think social media has major implications for any company. Social media is incredibly important to your brand and identity for the following three reasons:

Your content is back in high school. This past summer, Google, in its infinite wisdom, decided that social sharing is what influences the value of your content. Known as Google Panda, seven major changes to Google's algorithm changed the value and rank of millions of pages on the web. In short, Google Panda is to search engine optimization marketers as SARS was to public health officials--they came thisclose to catastrophe.

The implication of Google Panda is that if your content is shared, traded, and treated as an asset by your consumers, then your content is valuable. Therefore, Google will send users your way by ranking your content toward the top of the first results page.

Your engagement on different social media channels is a measure of how your content is performing in cyberspace. If you're not using those channels, then your content's findability score is rapidly eroding. No business can afford that.

Marketing and customer service are beginning to merge. In almost all of my conversations with my digital strategy/marketing colleagues, there is a growing awareness that we are not trained to perform many of the things we need to do. Marketing professionals within companies that monitor social media channels are speaking directly with consumers and acting in customer service roles, an area in which they are not trained.

In forward-thinking companies, customer service representatives should staff social media channels as well. In fact, they should collaborate with marketing to determine what types of content to create-no one understands what's happening on the front lines better than customer service reps. Previously, that information trickled up in edited reports to senior management, but now it's available through a quick tweet or a scan of comments on a blog.

You can listen as well as you hear. Social media has always been about talking. But it also gives marketers the unique vantage point of being able to observe before they enter into a conversation or to do damage control.

For example, when Netflix, Inc. launched Qwikster, its new, separate DVD mail-order program, the outcry was deafening. Consumers clearly didn't want the price hikes or the separate memberships. While the final fallout has yet to be understood, Netflix found out very quickly how outraged its customer base felt, and it was able to make amends. Much of that conversation happened through social media outlets.

Social media gives companies the ability to know what's happening much faster than ever before. These tools give your company the ability to place fingers directly over the pulse of your brand in real time. How could you not want to be a part of that incredibly important conversation?

So I'll ask you again: What are you waiting for? Social media isn't going away. The longer you wait, the more out of touch you risk looking. And no amount of ROI can help you recover from losing touch with your customers.