Social media continues to prove itself integral to performance marketing campaigns, with many marketers tapping into platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to track and measure engagement, and ultimately improve campaign performance.

PerformanceIN spoke to Adrian Cockle, industry principal for Hootsuite operating across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) on how marketers can use “social maturity” to improve their ROI and customer experience, while also touching on the upcoming impact of GDPR on social strategies.

First of all, tell us about what you do at Hootsuite?

Adrian Cockle: I am the industry principal for Hootsuite across EMEA and for non-profits globally. For EMEA, I do not have a specific vertical – so I have the opportunity to look at everything holistically and make connections between sectors. For example, I look across different verticals [e.g. financial services, education, retail, government] to analyse behaviours like social selling or social ROI methods, regulatory considerations, then I can provide bespoke expertise and consultancy based on these findings for clients on digital strategy, transformation and campaigns.

Could you explain the term “social maturity” and its impact towards paid social?

AC: Social maturity is a critical benchmark to define how an organisation approaches, deploys and experiments with social media to better engage and communicate with customers, partners, stakeholders and colleagues. Plainly, if a company is socially mature they will excel across social selling, social ROI, social ads, customer experience, and risk management.

Social maturity has a positive impact on companies’ paid social; being socially mature means you understand your business, its vision and the way you need to communicate with your audiences to provide them with information they find valuable. Paid social advertising has seen increased investment as the reach and importance of organic social has declined across social media platforms. Socially mature companies also understand the benefits of paid social, i.e. they are effective at reaching new and existing customers, increasing revenue, and tracking the ROI of all of their social activities.

What advice would you give to marketers to encourage social maturity in order for them to measure and track engagement across social platforms?

AC: Measuring and tracking engagement across social provides businesses with one of the most powerful tools: insight into your audience’s perceptions, conversations, preferences and habits. This allows you to distinguish yourself from your competition as you can create personalised and meaningful moments in your customer’s journey, creating a long-lasting relationship.

If you want to justify the social spend you’ve been assigned, showing the impact social has had on your brand’s perception and ultimately bottom line is critical. Measurement allows you to optimise your campaigns and identify potential gaps in your strategy.

Beyond proving impact, tracking and measuring ROI lets marketers dedicate more time and resources to what’s working, and improve the tactics that aren’t delivering value.

When using paid social, how can socially mature companies achieve success?

AC: The concept of success entirely depends on the organisation’s business goals – one company may be fully focused on brand perception while another is focused on lead generation. The critical thing with any form of marketing or communications work is to understand your company goals and ensure each piece is paying back.

Socially immature companies will treat social media as a separate stream – partially aligned but siloed, not a part of the larger picture. Socially mature companies will understand that social media is an integrated tool that should be used to drive the organisation’s success and growth. They will understand that paid social allows their business to connect with very specific audiences with content that has been tested for free and proven to be effective.

To achieve success on paid social, it is also pivotal for marketers to understand the audience they are reaching and ensure they are joining the conversation, not distracting people from it. People are more receptive to social media ads that provide value and share the qualities of great social media content, including being visual, emotional and sharable.

With GDPR approaching, what can marketers do to prepare and ensure that personal information shared and connected on social media is processed and protected accordingly?

AC: GDPR should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. While it is causing concern across the board, this is a chance to develop a relationship with your customers that is based on trust, value and transparency.

Brands typically approach communications in two distinct ways: product-centric or customer-centric. The former means selling as much as possible without being unduly concerned about who is buying. However, the customer-centric approach hinges around customer lifetime value, which means that long-term relationships and trust — which spark repeat purchases, recommendations, positive reviews, and advocacy — are key. Personalisation is one highly effective way of building long-term relationships and brand trust.

Brands that utilise a bespoke, customer-centric approach will see better customer engagement and this will encourage customers to share more and better data, but critically, brands needs to demonstrate how they will use it, how it will be protected, where the data will sit and how it will be managed. In return for their data, the customer also needs to experience a proper value exchange: getting a better, more personalised customer service and bespoke advice depending where they are in the customer journey.

Once the regulator hands out the first few large and public fines, those businesses who have a solid approach to justifying their use of their customers’ data will have a natural competitive advantage.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for marketers and advertisers when it comes to performance driven social media?

AC: First, social success has often been defined by just one department, it runs as a separate stream and does not fully integrate with business objectives. This means other functions such as HR, sales and internal communications are still operating as silos, not linked to the organisation’s social activity. These silos need to be bridged to ensure the social impact runs across all of their business goals.

Getting the basics rights – you need to walk before you run, for example, integrate social channels with analytics and CRM to track the impact of social more effectively. That’s why there needs to be a much bigger emphasis on training. Social training needs to be tailored and adapted to the right level of people’s needs, ‘one size fits all’ training simply doesn’t work. Specifically, one-to-one bespoke training with the c-suite can often have a drastic effect, not just to help them achieve their strategic goals but also to gain support to create a wider social culture within the organisation.

Fear of doing something wrong, or going against the ethos of the organisation, is holding people back from effective communication, innovation and progress, but, with the right measurement, training and tools in place, companies can rise up the scale of social maturity and start seeing real returns on their objectives.