Social Media Curves

While on a call with members of The Community Roundtable recently, I spoke about the concept of social media curves, or social media arcs. This is something I encourage my clients to consider as they embark on their first social media forays, or revamp an existing social media presence. It requires a shift in thinking that encourages patience – something in short supply in this always-on world.

What I mean by a social media curve is the time frame from when you first start to create and nurture your social media efforts and when you see your first success. In working with clients in all industries, the time frames I tend to see average out to 3 month and 6 month curves of time. This is strictly “anecdata”, as they say, based on the work I’ve done – I’d love to see the information compiled from others in the industry to see if this curve holds true across the board.

We’ve already covered the need for businesses, filmmakers, musicians, artists, etc. to have purposeful engagement on social media platforms. We’ve covered the need for being human, balancing personal and professional and other basics. So now that you’ve been in the social media trenches for a while and established your basic identity, presence and reason for being there (or re-established, if you are repairing a poorly done campaign or repopulating a social media ghost town), what comes next?

Once you’ve laid a foundation, it’s time to work from goals on the front end and set appropriate expectations on the back end. Map out what you hope to achieve through social media, then break it down into reasonable, bite sized goals. Each of these goals will become part of a social media curve. Prioritize the goals, then associate them with concrete offline benchmarks (after all, the “ROI” of social media is not an arbitrary number of followers or fans, but actual offline results: sales, referrals, leads, foot traffic, event attendance, restaurant bookings, collaborators on projects, better customer service, etc).

What do I mean by appropriate expectations? This is really where the social media curve idea comes in. Depending on the size of your goal, and how long and how well you’ve been maintaining your social identity and engagement, you will see results on a social media curve. A shallow response, followed by an arc of positive results and more attention and engagement from others, tapering off and becoming steady as the weeks go by. This means that for a small goal, you should see measurable and steady results after about 3 months, and for a larger goal, expect 6 months. (And keep in mind that “I want more business” is not a goal, it’s a hope – and hope is not a business model. A goal would be “I want to increase restaurant bookings by x% a week”)

Many are disappointed that the results are not immediate, since the internet seems to move so quickly. If you have built an outstanding (and I do mean outstanding as in extraordinary, fully engaged, interesting, interested, helpful and aware) social presence and have the social leverage that comes from that, you can achieve a slightly faster response, but too many think outstanding presence means numbers on a page. It does not. Take Chris Brogan for example. People do not listen to Chris because he has a gazillion followers, great hair and a huge blog following. People listen to Chris because he listens to them, and has spent years being helpful, aware, interesting, interested, and otherwise fully engaged. In the beginning of his social media curve, he could not have released Trust Agents and gotten it to reach the sales levels it did simply by using his social leverage to let people know he had a book out. At this point in his curve, he can (and did), and he can do it much more quickly than the average person, thanks to years of time and investment in his social media “family”.

For the average person or business online, however – expect 3 – 6 months before you see real results. Take your time and really cultivate your own social media family. Measure your success by how your offline goals are met, not by whether you have as much of a following as someone else. And above all else, slow down and handle your online presence with care.

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  • Great post Leslie. As a member of a fairly new start up myself I can definitely attest to the 3 to 6 month rule for any social media success. We actually just got our first unsolicited lead and conversion from our website (http://www.firsttracksmarketing.com) just the other day which puts us right around 6 months for the “real” success mark for our social media efforts. What many clients don't like hearing is that social media programs require time and effort to make them work. Building digital equity these days is an upward battle, but if your willing to be real, put the time in, and get into it you can definitely plan on seeing some real success within 6 months.

  • RachelHappe

    Hi Leslie –

    First thank you for sharing your wealth of information, suggestions, and resources with members of The Community Roundtable. Your idea of social media curves is really critical for people to effectively set expectations – both for themselves and other stakeholders so that companies can, in fact, understand that they cannot measure success in weeks.

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  • I always have such a blast on your calls. I'll have to think of another topic so we can do it again. I'm always pleased to know I delivered valuable info, also.

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  • What a terrific post! Thank you!

  • What a terrific post! Thank you!

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