A common struggle for agencies is determining how to prove ROI on social media, particularly when the brand doesn’t rely on online sales.

To learn from one of the best, we interviewed Jess O’Brien, Social Media Manager at Overdrive Interactive, to learn how she approaches demonstrating the value of social media marketing and manages the needs of multiple clients.


Do you find clients have realistic expectations when first starting with social media?

Jess: Most of our clients come to us knowing that they need to be on social, but they aren’t sure how business goals translate into social goals. Typically, they’re not coming in saying they want to get to 10K followers in the first month. Most of them have a limited understanding of social, so you’re more likely to hear: Why do we need followers? Why is it important for us to be in this space?

Companies know social is important, but it’s up to us to help show them the value.

Most companies we talk to aren’t sure where to start. Before we start discussing strategy with a new client, we do lots of research on their industry and their competitors:

  • Who is in the same space and also successful on social?
  • What are their numbers and engagement like?
  • What influencers are engaged in this space?

Showcasing this information is a great way to start the conversation. Of course, expectations are also dependant on budget. Some of our clients rely entirely on organic whereas other can afford to spend $30K a month on paid.

Once you give them a clear picture of their potential audience, budget, and discuss expected reach, it becomes much easier to set realistic expectations.

What are some misconceptions about social media you hear often? How do you go about educating clients?

Jess: There’s a healthy amount of skepticism out there, and companies are generally risk averse. There is still the idea among many companies that being on social is superficial, or that social is only for certain types of organizations – that is what we’re fighting against. The best thing you can do to convince someone is to go to them with case studies and stats and be honest about the limitations of social.

You can’t go to a company who has a small audience and tell them they’ll have millions of followers. That’s not important to them. What’s important is reaching their audience, and getting their audience to know about them and engage with them.

How do you build rapport and trust with new clients?

Jess: Sharing case studies and statistics help establish you as an expert and let people know that this isn’t your first rodeo. Mostly, you need to listen to them and make a note of their pain points:

  • What are their concerns as a business?
  • What are their needs?
  • How do they define success?
  • What is their overall top-line goal?

You need to show that you care about the company and are educated about them and their market. You don’t want to go to a hand sanitizer company with ideas that would work better for a food company.

A good marketing plan is built on the core values of a company. You’re not just their agency. You’re their partner. You need to develop their strategic plan from the ground up. We do this for all of our clients regardless of size. Some businesses come to us with nothing, not even a logo, whereas some are long-standing businesses with an already established brand presence and values looking to evolve.

Every client has a unique footprint, and by showing we understand their industry and their values we earn their trust. This is how you become successful, understanding their needs allows you to build a program that is unique to them.

How do you choose the right social platforms to prioritize on with your clients?

Jess: In essence: Be industry specific, audience specific, content specific.

There are pros to marketing on every social platform – some say Google Plus is not important, yet there are active circles on there that could be where part of your audience lives.

Of course, everyone thinks of the big four: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You need the right content for the right platform for the right audience. YouTube is great for video, but it may make sense to develop a mix of uploading to YouTube or native to Facebook and Twitter. And of course you now also have live video, which makes all the algorithms happy.

Some platforms simply won’t make sense for a client. Pinterest is not a platform that works for every company. It all goes back to social goals and what their company is about, and the type of content that is going to push the needle.

What metrics do you use to prove engagement when a client is just starting out with social? How do you show them value?

Jess: Overall, we place the most important on shares, because that’s going to extend your reach exponentially. That’s not always going to be your first primary engagement metric, especially in the beginning. First, you need to build trust and find your audience.

I describe it as a digging process, particularly when just starting out. You first need to build a list:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Who will you actively reach out to?
  • Who are the influencers in your space?

It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re digging like that, but you need to be honest with your clients – there’s a foundation to be laid before you see growth. We’ll work with a client to develop consistency in their social media and engage with their audience online, but building those relationships takes time.

They say it takes 3-6 months to see any real growth, and get social off the ground – a lot of what will keep you and your client motivated is watching your competitors in the social space. You are showing your client who is in the exact same industry with the same potential audience doing content that is engaging and getting them shares, likes, and building a community. This translates into clicks for them and showcases success with digital.

When a client comes to you, this exercise will show them why and emphasize the value of early social wins – you show it before you grow it. By then working with that client to build a following, engage, running social contests, and getting mentions across the web, you’ll earn their excitement as they see their social potential growing.

How do you structure your reports? How do your clients like to see results presented?

Jess: The first step is to revisit the social goal for the month or quarter, or an objective that will stay the same throughout. Earning sales is one goal, but so is brand building and exposure.

Then, show success using big green arrows. Pull out what’s working best and highlight that. Even the smallest success and beginnings of growth can really excite your client. Be honest when things are not working out. It is not necessarily a failure, but a chance to course correct.

Also, we like to show our clients the most engaging post per platform per month, conducting an analysis of why it was so successful, comparing it back to your conversation about social goals. Then we work with them to revisit the list of social goals for the following months and pick out the ones that are resonating the most with them.

For example, we have a client that is local and sells globally but wants to engage the local community, so we’ll recommend and build content around that. As this is a primary and very specific goal, you can focus on whether or not those kind of posts are performing well, and how they might be made better. Month-over-month you can show what is performing well, and use that to help inform what types of content to keep putting out for an audience.

As for sales, it is sometimes hard to link social to sales performance, particularly for retailers who don’t sell products online. We will always highlight referral traffic to a site through social, pixel or tracking, or bit.ly links, to show how social is driving people to a site to take an action.

Social is just one piece of any marketing plan, and can’t be viewed in a bubble. It’s always important to highlight how it is working with the rest of a client’s overall success as a brand.

What if things are growing, but not at the rate you expected? How do you keep your clients excited?

Jess: Honesty first and coming back with a plan on what actions will be taken. Approach them prepared: here’s what we’re thinking, here’s what we found out, here’s your stats compared to last year. If you can show even small improvement then it’s not doom and gloom, and certainly better than shrugging your shoulders.

There will be times where brands can take a hit online, whether because of bad press or because they alienate their audience by going off-brand or being too salesy. When your whole strategy relies on maintaining and growing a loyal community, these setbacks can be difficult.

If you are honest with your client and take a hard look at what might be causing setbacks, you can generally find a way to get back on track. Post different types of content, or even less content with more budget. Get back to your core message. Once your growth starts scaling up again your clients will be thankful for your honesty and ability to adapt.

How often do your clients want to collaborate with you on the type of content you write? How do you best work with your clients?

Jess: Really depends on the type of client. We work with clients in a multitude of ways – some clients do all the content and social posting and I just help them define their strategy. I give them recommendations and swoop in to modify messaging when it’s needed – basically a silent protector of the brand.

One of my clients will keep an eye on the channels and only get in touch with me if he has a question about something. Then we have a lot of clients that due to compliance issues, they have to see and give feedback to everything.

Most clients aren’t coming and saying that they want to spend a lot of time at the table with you. They come to you because they know they need help with content. You only want to take on clients that respect your process and your work. We always try to factor that into deciding which clients to work with. They’re our clients because we’re good at what we do, and they consider us a good agency.

Last question, Jess: Once you have a strong community, how do you help nurture that audience into customers for your client?

Jess: For an example, we work with this one premium cracker company – community building is our main focus with them for social. Since they are mostly focused on organic growth, their traction is slower, but the number of wins we earn with different audiences certainly translates to brand awareness and brand advocacy.

For their audience, we seek out non-GMO, healthy eaters who care about quality food. We do a lot of tweeting of recipes that we know will interest our audience and thank the writers, starting a conversation. When someone tweets I can’t go on your feed before lunch because it makes me so hungry, we RT and engage. Community, community, community.

We promote brand advocacy by finding influencers and sending them product samples, and they will typically write very positive reviews. It’s really all about showing the individual touch of caring. People take the time to engage with the brand, they want the brand to engage back.

Social media is so much about customer service and community. With organic posting, if you win people over by constantly engaging with them, then they will start sharing your stuff. Then you have them reaching out to their friends saying, this brand is so funny on Twitter, you should follow them! That’s something we won for no money.

At the end of the day, if you have a product people want and can do a good job engaging with them online, sales and conversions will come!

Jess O’Brien does social and video for Overdrive Interactive.

Overdrive Interactive is an integrated digital marketing agency that helps companies make real connections with their target audiences via search, social, and other online media through the use of SEO, social media, along with paid and organic strategies.

Join #OrcaChat every Tuesday from 1 – 2pm EST on Twitter. Learn valuable tips and tricks from Jess and other industry experts in the agency and social media world.

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