It might not be your social media presence that will sink or float your boat, but rather your absence.
By Karla Stephens-Tolstoy (Founder & CEO, Tokii)

Tokii has been in business for more than 18 months now, and we’ve been running a social media campaign since its inception. It didn’t take a rocket scientist on staff to determine we needed to rev up our engines by launching a social media campaign, and we’ve done just that. We’ve focused on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

However, we’ve decided to take a few deep breaths and slow down just long enough to reflect on how Facebook and other social media platforms contribute to our vision as a company, how well social media campaigning actually works for us, and where to take these relationships in the future. We’ve put other, highly successful social media marketing examples out there under the microscope and are taking a deeper look into the current state of the social media world.

We’re focusing our analysis on the following 5 areas.

# 1: Social Media: Quantity Vs. Quality

The social media “lake” is undoubtedly full of fish, but does this mean they’re biting? Recent reports tally over 850 million people using Facebook. Some of the best social media marketing success stories prove what we already (sort of) know: A social media campaign can eventually produce an avalanche of traffic to your brand, but this usually happens by directing a (sometimes painfully slow) trickling stream to your product.

With very few exceptions, social media marketing requires a “grass-roots” effort, and this takes a lot of patience and a lot of energy, simultaneously. That can be hard. In Facebook, for example, this process begins through “Liking.” Being “Liked” through Facebook brings potential traffic from a community that might otherwise not notice Tokii.

Potential traffic, according to theory, will turn into actual traffic; actual traffic will turn into brand-building, and brand-building will eventually turn into profit. Theoretically, yes. Realistically, we know: Just because there are roughly 7 billion people on earth, it doesn’t mean all of them will be eating at your sandwich stand.

Add to this mathematical dilemma the quality factor. There are plenty of ways to increase your “Like” count without doing it the old-fashioned (aka, HARD) way. There are plenty of offshore services that – for a price – will get you all the likes and testimonials and traffic you could ever want. I can say from personal experience it is more trouble than it’s worth. The language barrier is astoundingly bad, the hours in which they participate make no sense to a North American audience, and the most important thing that comes along with attention – engagement – is nowhere to be found.

What no one tells you about social media campaigning is that quality is much more important than quantity. There’s a difference between huge numbers and huge engagement. Is it possible to have both?

#2: How Do you Get People to “Like” You (and once they do, what does that mean?)

First off, being “Liked” on Facebook is an inherent, uphill battle. The cold fact is: 78% of consumers who “Like” anything, like ten or fewer companies. Is it realistic to expect people to “Like” anything in particular? Though most of the Tokii community is on Facebook, only a percentage of them are in the habit of “Liking” companies, and only a percentage of those are going to choose Tokii to “Like.” In a recent study, a social media expert decided to “Like” everything that came his way (regardless of whether he endorsed – or even knew about – the brand he was thumbing up). When the cyber-smoke cleared, he had liked 47 different brands, products, or events. Upon closer examination, he found out only 10 of them actually offered him anything at all in return.

This begs the discussion about incentive. It’s one of the first times in history consumers can ask, “What’s in it for me?” By “Liking” something, they want some association with the brand or there’s an incentive (i.e., contests, bonuses, etc.) to go along with giving a “thumb up.”

Understanding the importance of incentive in the brand-building process, we’ve put a lot of effort into offering just that – incentive. We’ve done this over the last year through rewards, contests, and promotions. We’ve been very excited about them, and they get results in the short term. I can’t help but wonder about the staying power, though. Let’s assume there is staying power. These wonderful incentives get people to “Like” you and – better yet – follow you. Then what? This leads me to my next point of reflection about the social media-centered business model.

#3: Does Engagement Really Equal Financial Performance?

Let’s imagine a social media campaign reaches a small piece of the pie. Keeping it up to date takes a huge investment of time and resources. How can we know if all the trouble and cost is worth it? It is obvious “Likes” alone do not equal revenue. They’re good, and they’re “brand-building,” but you can’t retire on “Likes.”

To muster the courage necessary to leap into social marketing, I suppose the trick is to learn from the people who’re successful. I’ll summarize Bill Lee’s Harvard Business blog and cite a huge example like Ford, who spent one-fourth of their ad budget on social media. They emerged from the recession without a bailout, unlike their competitors. Another example is Gary Vaynerchuk at The Daily Grape, who increased his wine-selling revenues by 1000%, thanks to his web-videos (and some business-friendly regulations). It all means that there are some impressive social media success stories, but they’re usually part of a larger picture.

Ultimately, we don’t have an exact formula for the relationship between consumer engagement and profit. For better or worse, though, we’re told social media “mavens” (a nickname applied to businesses with a huge online presence) grew at about 18% in six months, while those existing without “onliners” are stumbling in the opposite direction. In other words, trying to apply basic math to determine the relationship between “Likers” and revenue is like to trying to hold onto a slippery frog that’s constantly trying to jump. The take away for Tokii is this: It might not be your social media presence that will sink or float your boat, but rather your absence.

Customers and members might not live or die by your status updates, but if you don’t have them, you might as well broadcast to the world how mediocre your outfit is. Ultimately, there’s no way around it. If you’re an online service – as we are, you really have no choice but to have a social media presence. We can’t afford to ignore social media engagement or give it up, but we sure can afford to do it smarter. How do we accomplish that? By examining others’ success stories.

#4: Rome Wasn’t IPO’d in a Day

With only a few exceptions, major social media success stories all take years to build, and the myth that a company can “instantly” go viral is exactly that, a myth.

Some examples:

  • Pinterest Started in 2009 and had to personally beg users to logon. CEO Ben Silberman even offered his cell phone digits to 5,000 people attempting to get traction. They worked with Facebook and were stumped for two years, until suddenly, they weren’t stumped. The hits started coming, doors started opening, and over fifty million in funding flooded in after they’d been named the 16th most visited site in the US.
  • LinkedIn The Professional connection site actually did have an amazing start, boasting 9 million members until the recession sent everybody and their dog over to Facebook to lick their wounds – professional or otherwise. The site floundered, and tore through three CEOs (faster than you can say “MySpace”) before things took a dramatic shift for the better, thanks to a game-changing deal with Twitter, that other up-and-coming social media darling. Now LinkedIn is worth upwards of 1.3 billion, and it’s easier to count the people you know who are on it than people who aren’t.
  • Angry Birds One day you’re a cute little game about smashing piglets with some buzz (but a whole host of other problems) the next you’re a towering behemoth with a merchandizing line that would make Justin Bieber blush. Angry Birds is a huge exception to the rule, using ad sales, game sales, plush toy sales (we could go on, here, but you get the idea).

So, what do these guys all have in common? They’re all successful and they’ve all made it into the stratosphere, and none of them would have made any sense if it wasn’t for the Internet. The question remains: How much of the equation is patience, how much is presence, and how much is blind luck?

#5: Back to the Basics – Respecting your Audience

Advertising has always been, and will continue to be, the white knight of web revenue, but it always feels like it’s living on borrowed time. Advertising, of course, requires the attention span of the viewer – but most viewers hate spam, tending to close ads as quickly as they can, and research says it’s because the advertisement gets in the way. So how do you advertise and retain the attention span and lose the spam? AdKeeper is doing something interesting: letting users “save” an ad they come across until later. Their project started after they commissioned a far-reaching study about how internet ads are viewed by “consumers.”

Here are the full research findings:

  • 61% don’t want to be distracted: “Online banner ads take me away from my current website, or from what I am doing.”
  • 58% say online banner ads are not that relevant to them.
  • 57% are wary of opening something they’ll wish they hadn’t.
  • 57% are afraid of receiving spam from advertisers.
  • 55% are worried about getting a virus.
  • 54% don’t trust most online banner ads they see.
  • 46% worry that pop-ups will take over their screen.
  • 43% say online banner ads don’t seem interesting or engaging.
  • 31% only want to click ads when they’re in the mood or interested in looking at them.
  • 31% are worried that their Internet behavior will be tracked.

What this tells us is that throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks is a good way to waste money. Pop-ups – as they stand – are probably more trouble than they’re worth. (But it’s hard to not to at least be enticed by the immediate attention they grab.) The key ingredient that may necessary to strike this balance is an effective medium through which the viewer’s attention is secured for brief pockets of time.

Comscore conducted a leading study on the benefits of video – demonstrating that quick, little movies are the easiest way to get (and keep!) attention. It’s the most likely format to go viral, and it’s the most familiar thing to traditional televised media that the internet has come up with yet. Finally, they’re very easy to integrate into a social media model. The flip side, unfortunately, is that videos are crazy expensive, and they require a leap of faith – an unknown and upfront investment of money by the maker and time by the viewer. While videos are going to be a part of Tokii’s future, it’s how to integrate them into our social media line-up that is the question.

The hardest part of having a social media presence is having the patience to reap in the fall what is sewn in the spring. Tokii isn’t an organic shampoo that smells really delicious and has amazing after-effects. We can’t bottle our product, and wait for money to come washing over us. We are the world’s first social media site for couples. We exist entirely in cyberspace; as a result, we are developing our own measurements to the model as we go. That can be exciting, but it also comes with risk, pressure and the unequivocal need to have our proverbial “stuff” together. Sure, overnight success stories happen; but not very many, and not very often. As Bright Eyes crooned in a catchy tune a few years back, the majority of us would “rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery.” The rub, as they say, is how to keep the paycheck paying when the product – as in the case of an internet-based ebusiness – is intangible.

While you try to grapple (along with us) the mysteries of the social media marketing model as they evolve, take a look at what we are doing around our social media platforms:

Women 2.0 readers: What does social media mean for your startup? Let us know!

About the guest blogger: Karla Stephens-Tolstoy is the Founder and CEO of Tokii, the first interactive self-help relationship management platform, specifically designed to enrich and strengthen relationships through interactive games, quizzes and trading. Tokii gives couples a private and secure venue to work on their relationship online or via mobile app. Karla is a business and brand maverick, skilled in building startups and brand management teams in North America, Asia and Europe.