Is it just me or is social media still hard to do? Maybe you’re the exception, but most marketers we talk to continue to struggle with how to move the dial with social media, let alone generate a positive ROI. But why is that, since social media has been around for years?

Social media keeps getting harder

Turns out that one reason many of us haven’t cracked the code is because doing social media keeps getting harder. Why? Because each new stage of social media brings more challenges to the ones you may already be wrestling with. To see what we mean, let’s take a quick look at the three stages of social media (so far) as we’ve come to think about them.

Stage 1: How do I use social media?

For any marketer new to social media, your first challenge is understanding what social media is, why you need to participate, and how to actually use social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Simply put, the challenge is to learn the rules, techniques, and interactions necessary to be successful using these social media platforms. And even if you’re a social media veteran, you’re still discovering new social platforms that need to be considered and conquered (i.e., Google+. Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram).

Stage 2: How does my company manage and scale social?

In this stage, you’re now thinking about social media in the context of your organization. How does my company “join the conversation”? What are people saying about our brand? How can we manage all our social media interactions? Now you need to evaluate social media solutions like Radian6, Hootsuite, and Buddy Media that have come along to help marketers with the challenge of implementing and managing social media at scale. This stage clearly has different questions and challenges than those in stage one. Not to mention, if you don’t have a firm grasp on how and why to use social media then you run a high risk of failure in this stage.

Stage 3: Where’s the social media ROI?

It was fun while it lasted but CFO’s are now asking (demanding): Where’s the ROI from all our social media spending? This question is being asked with an eye towards cutting costs, reallocating budgets, and deciding which social media efforts are worth the continued investment. This means that you (and your boss) now have to be hyper-aware of the time, dollars, and results associated with all your social media efforts. To add insult to injury, it doesn’t even matter where you and your marketing organization are on the social media learning curve. You’ll still need to generate a positive ROI as quickly as you can or face the consequences (sorry!).

With that in mind, here are 3 things you can do to start navigating these stages and get on the path of positive social media ROI:

Understand which social media stage you’re at

Sure, you may talk a good game but are you (secretly) a social media newbie? Then it’s all about coming up to speed on the most relevant social media platforms. For example, B2B marketers should spend less time figuring out Facebook and more time learning the ropes of LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogging. There are lots of good white papers, guides, and SlideShare presentations to help you!

Determine which questions you’re trying to answer

If you’re looking at social media through the lens of your company or organization, then it’s really about how to manage and implement social media at scale. This starts with figuring out which social networks your company is going to participate in (based on your target audience) and which (if any) third-party social media solutions you need to use. Agencies and social media consultants can provide a good perspective and insights here.

Set the right goals and objectives

Whether you’re coming up to speed on social media or you manage it for your company, you need to set goals and objectives that result in real business value such as: impressions, website visits, clicks, and sales. Or said another way, don’t prioritize hard-to-value metrics such as number of fans and followers, brand mentions, brand sentiment, or Klout score. Remember, your CFO is watching. ; )

Need help setting appropriate social media goals? Check out our blog post:
How to Set Social Media Goals