By Itai Elizur

To say that social media has exploded over the past few years would perhaps be the understatement of the decade.

After all, Facebook now sits with over one billion daily active users; meanwhile, ecommerce stores are reaping the benefits of their social followers. With approximately 56% of social media audiences engaging with brands and 31% of online shoppers browsing products, there’s certainly money to be made for businesses with a savvy social footprint.

Yet despite the insistence for brands to beef up their social presence and increase their marketing budgets via the social network, an elephant in the room remains.

There’s a Difference Between Followers and Legitimate Leads

Let’s cut to the chase. Social followers do not always equal dollars and cents.

Also, turning your social following into to legitimate leads who are actually willing to spend doesn’t happen overnight.

Then again, for many brands it isn’t happening at all.

Social media is treated as a must-do for modern marketers; however, many brands still struggle to see a positive ROI for their efforts.

Just because you’ve amassed a following of thousands doesn’t mean that those followers will pay the bills. Consider the following, for starters:

  • Your social media presence is not your website: you do not own the platform and therefore you are tied to its rules and regulation
  • There’s an extra layer of resistance between your followers and what you’re selling (think: social followers are not equal to targeted traffic)
  • The time associated with building your following could mean that you’re missing out on marketing elsewhere (which could ultimately be hurting your ROI)

Stop Chasing Followers and Attract Leads Instead

Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with building your social presence, its much more prudent for brands to attract leads versus chase followers. After all, followers represent a vanity metric unless they’re actually spending.

Harsh? Perhaps.

The fact remains that followers won’t keep the lights on. Getting the most out of social media requires modern brands to treat it as part of a sales funnel versus a money-making machine in and of itself.

Think of your followers as being at the tip of your funnel. How are you going to get them push them through the next steps (think: social media —> website —> opt-in —> email list —> checkout counter)?

How to Build Leads from Social Media

The ultimate goal of any social media marketing campaign should be to take the enthusiasm of your followers and transfer it to your site in the form of warm traffic. Doing this doesn’t have to be rocket science: marketers simply need to target their content accordingly.

Marketers have come up with tons of creative strategies for turning social followers into leads. The staples of each strategy? Get users off of social, onto your website and eventually into your list.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to turning followers into traffic, consider the following as the bare minimum:

  • Invitations to check out your compelling on-site content (sharing blog posts, for example)
  • Creating content tailored for your followers (think: a lead magnet offer that’s exclusive to Twitter or Facebook)
  • Exclusive deals and promotion offers (coupon codes, for example) to provide value to your followers and entice them to visit your site

Nurturing leads and having conversations with your followers via social certainly isn’t a waste of time. However, you’re leaving money on the table if you aren’t inviting them to see what you’re offering on-site and through your emails.

The Importance of Opt-Ins vs. Followers

The secret to turning your followers into leads isn’t a secret at all: you need them to opt-in to your list.

Email marketing generally crushes social media in terms of engagement and conversions. While you can sell to your social followers, you’re inevitably missing out potential revenue if you aren’t automating your marketing via email.

Remember: it’s never too late to start building your list. If you’ve been sleeping on automation, fear not. Whether or not you already have a significant social following, encouraging opt-ins to build your list is easier than you might be led to believe.

There’s a reason why lead generation widgets are still all-the-rage. The following can be sprinkled throughout your site to pull traffic into your list:

  • Opt-in forms for lead magnet offers such as free e-books or digital courses sprinkled throughout your site and content
  • Exit-pops and clickable links that serve as alternatives to traditional squeeze pages
  • Headers and sidebar forms, which can serve as a flashy CTA to remind your traffic to sign up for your mailing list

By providing incentives for your visitors to opt-in, you turn them into actual leads instead of pesky bounced traffic that doesn’t spend a time.

Finally, Don’t Ignore the Numbers

The final and perhaps most overlooked aspect of assessing followers versus leads is your analytics.

Through a robust email marketing platform, you can nurture your subscribers and follow their every move. By understanding which emails perform the best, you can hone your marketing strategy accordingly. For example, consider the following metrics:

  • What content is performing best via social in terms clicks, conversions and opt-ins
  • Which offers and CTAs resonate the most with your leads
  • Where your leads are being lost (for example, GetResponse allows marketers to closely track user behavior and pinpoint weaknesses within their email funnels)

On the flip side, social analytics often offer little in terms of qualifying leads versus someone who’s just stumbled on your Facebook page. For this reason, opt-ins are invaluable versus faceless followers that don’t actually engage with your products or services.

All in all, getting to know your list via email will only work to increase your social and email marketing ROI. The data behind your list not only influences your content but also can help detect any weak points in your sales strategy.

The Bottom Line

Finding a positive ROI from social media doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Instead, target your social followers and do everything in your power to turn them into subscribers. The more you focus your efforts on building your list, the more likely you are to create lifetime customers versus temporary traffic.

 Itai Elizur is the COO at Inbound Junction, a content marketing agency specializing in helping startups and business increase their online visibility.