Optimism regarding social media’s business potential remains high.

In 2012, organizations are projected to spend $2.1 billion – a 33% increase over last year – on social media marketing services and technology to perform the following tasks:

  • scan social media streams to identify and connect with influencers
  • share content with friends and followers
  • respond to complaints and questions; and,
  • analyze mentions, trends and sentiment.

The logic driving most of this investment goes something like this:

If we share interesting content with people who follow us and like us (especially influencers and superfans), then those people will share our content with their friends.  Eventually, word of mouth will drive traffic, leads and sales for our business.

This has been the prevailing go-to-market model for social media during the past few years.

So how’s that working?  The facts tell us that sales and earnings generated from social media marketing haven’t grown anywhere close to the rate that Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have embedded themselves into our society.   Click-through rates on social ads remain pathetically low, ROI is difficult to measure, and bottom-line benefits remain trivial for the organizations that are able to measure it.

Maybe this is because we’re still early in this journey.  Or maybe it’s because…

We’re doing it wrong.

One reason for weak results may be that too many companies still treat social media as an advertising or a PR channel, rather than using it for what it really is – a place where people share opinions and personal desires, discuss their problems and ask questions.

The truth is that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are places where people love to talk about their needs.  But most people don’t want to talk about your company or your products.  Many never will.  As others have said before, a different engagement model may be needed to see real benefits.

Of course, the observation that people like to talk about their needs in social media is not news.  Nevertheless, it represents a huge opportunity for marketers who can step up to the challenge of detecting and meeting those needs with useful, problem-solving content.

Just find a need and meet it.

Think about this for a second:  if you could mine social media for needs you can meet with your content, would it change the way you invest and engage in social media?  Would this be a more natural way to engage with your market than, say, broadcasting content to followers or buying social ads?   Would you feel comfortable offering assistance to people in need, even if they don’t follow you?  If you do this already, are you satisfied with your results?

The act of proactively finding all the needs you can meet and meeting them with your content is a simple process we call, outreach marketing.   Our new platform, NeedTagger, was built to enable outreach marketing in social media for leading brands and lead generators.  To accomplish this we are applying a number of new language analysis technologies and proprietary methods to get at the true meaning of conversational language and relate it to your business and to the content you share online.

We believe that social media was designed for this type of marketing.

Outreach, not Spam

You might be saying right now that “outreach marketing” sounds a lot like spamming people who don’t follow you online.   But we aren’t talking about spam (we have an anti-spam policy).   To clarify what we mean, consider the following examples of how your content could be used to meet common human needs right now, delivering bottom line results for your business:

Outreach marketing isn’t about sending affiliate offers or compensating people to forward your ad.   It’s just the simple business tactic of finding a person who is discussing a need you can meet; then, offering to meet his/her need with your content and expertise in a respectful, nuanced way that only you know how to do.   Before social media, this was the way every business grew: finding someone in need and solving their problems, one customer at a time.

The big difference today is that we have something called social media that makes it possible for us to locate people in need & to share our content with them in a much more efficient way.  It also allows us to track the results of our outreach activity.  And there happen to be a billion people using it.  So, it matters.

Like we said, outreach marketing represents a huge untapped opportunity for almost any business – but only if you are able to detect human needs related to the content and assistance you can provide, and you can respond before they’ve lost interest.

Needs are not Keywords.

Apparently, identifying needs and meeting them is NOT what most companies will spend their $2.1 billion on this year, because the vast majority of them are filtering social media streams for keywords.  By keywords, we mean they are searching social media posts for mentions of the names of the brands and products in their market and for simple statements like “I need a mortgage”.    They don’t really have a choice, because almost every social media monitoring system (SMMS) today filters social media streams by keywords, not needs.

This is unfortunate, because…

Social Media isn’t a Search Engine.

The second big problem with how we use social media today is caused by our reliance on simple phrases and keywords to filter human conversations.  Due to this, marketers cannot access the large number of human needs they could meet.

This problem is easy to understand.  Think about it:  people don’t “query” social media with “keywords” to get “results”;  instead, they talk with each other using a rich conversational language that is more nuanced and context-sensitive than the simple keyword phrases a person types into Google.

To illustrate this, consider that there are millions of implied needs being discussed every day in social media today that don’t mention a product or a brand.  For example, consider the tweet,

“I just tore a ligament in my knee”

This post represents a marketing opportunity for a medical facility or a doctor to step in and offer assistance.  Injury-related messages like this are posted hundreds of thousands of times every day on Twitter (we’ve measured it).

Unfortunately, if a medical professional is searching Twitter for posts containing keywords like “MRI” or the name of their facility, then they will miss this need because it doesn’t mention any of those terms.  In fact, none of the keyword combinations in this statement are a great indicator for a medical procedure lead.

Yet it is clear that the author of this post may soon need a medical procedure (or two).

To detect a need like this, you have to understand and model the way people talk about injuries in social media and relate it back to the the content you can offer this person (in this case, it may be a blog article about the various ways to treat a torn ligament).  Detecting needs that can be met with your content is the technical problem that NeedTagger solves for your organization.

NeedTagger is Outreach Marketing for social media.

NeedTagger is a simple software-as-a-service tool that takes a piece of your content, finds the human needs your content can meet, and makes it easy for you to engage with those people in real time – and timing is important.

You might think of NeedTagger as your personal “language expert” who creates high quality filters for you, so you don’t have to be a language expert yourself.   NeedTagger is also a neat way to organize & track social media campaigns around the specific pieces of content that drive results for your business.

We use advanced natural language processing technologies and a campaign-optimized architecture to parse the language of social media and relate it to your content – but you don’t need to know anything about the technology to use NeedTagger.  We also pay to access Twitter’s full fire hose, so our service can access everything posted in real time.

Our process is content-driven.   A NeedTagger campaign starts with a piece of content that you’ve created for your target market.   We scan the content and create a filter that detects human needs expressed in social media that can be met by your content.   Then, we make it easy for you to view a stream of those needs in real time and to share your content with people in need in a variety of ways; or, you can follow them.  NeedTagger tracks all of your outreach behavior and the results it generates.  As you assist people using NeedTagger, our platform learns what works for your campaign and adjusts your filter accordingly.

Ideal customers are leading brands in B2B and B2C segments where content marketing is important for generating leads and developing customer relationships.  In addition, pure lead generators who are looking at social media might want to give NeedTagger a try.  Sorry, but spammers and black hats are not welcome.

Outstanding Results (so far)

We’ve been testing NeedTagger in private beta for several months now, and the results speak for themselves.   Outreach marketing offers several advantages over the social marketing approach used by most companies, including:

  • Expand your reach:  find and reach everyone in need with your content, whether or not they already follow you.   Expand your addressable audience by 10X or more.
  • Extreme engagement:  NeedTagger clients typically see 5-20% click-through rates on links shared via NeedTagger outreach campaigns.
  • Measure the ROI of your content:  drive traffic to your site by solving real problems for real people.   Track every click and action on the content you shared (on a per-outreach-message basis).
  • Awesome value:  On a cost-per-click, cost-per-engagement and cost-per-follower basis, outreach marketing beats most other forms of social media marketing for value.

NeedTagger is currently in private beta with several clients (on Twitter).   Our platform is scheduled for public release soon.  Follow this blog for more details and screenshots – we plan to trickle this stuff out over the next few weeks (in much shorter posts!).

Want to learn more?  Then leave your email on our signup page and we’ll keep you informed.