AMABostonLogo I had the pleasure last week of attending the American Marketing Association’s annual CMO Roundtable. It was a good panel of folks speaking, including the CMOs of Zipcar, Currensee and Forrester. Plus, I got to see my former client, Amy Quigley, who is now president of the AMA Boston Chapter.

There were about 100 attendees from different parts of the marketing mix, but the focus of discussion seemed to center on one area: social media.

The moderator – Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls – led us through a discussion about budgets, investment areas, social media channels and top challenges for CMOs this year. 

As the panelists talked about where their budgets will be focused in 2011, Forrester’s Dwight Griesman weighed in that his budget will be split evenly between traditional and social PR. Currensee’s Michelle Heath reiterated the importance of PR and social media for awareness but also talked about how to create loyal advocates for the brand since referrals are so important in financial services. Zipcar’s Rob Weisberg said that, since 35 percent of Zipcar’s members come from referrals, there’s more focus on guerilla marketing in the form of street teams as well as digital marketing.

When asked about new areas of investment, the panelists responded with equal emphasis around the importance of social media and mobile. Heath, who remarked that social media has always been a focus for Currensee, said that the company is shifting some of its budget dollars in 2011 to events. “Talking to people is the original social media,” she said. We agree that a combination of online and offline channels make sense. In fact, our client at Aprimo did a survey which similarly showed that events still ranked highest in terms of the best ways for marketers to engage in conversations.

A question was posed from the audience about social media metrics and the panelists discussed different approaches to measurement – from Google analytics to Facebook Insights. It was also mentioned how important the human element is in analyzing social media. “Most tools don’t do a good job of showing disposition,” said Weisberg. I was also pleased to see how much weight the executives at Zipcar put into social media as an engagement tool. Weisberg noted that he distributes Facebook and Twitter comments to the senior leadership team several times a day. Heath added, “I rely on social media to stay current on what customers are doing. I think of it not only as an engagement tool, but also as a service channel.”

New channels for engagement were discussed as well.  Heath brought up Quora, which we’re starting to monitor here at Greenough for questions related to our clients. Interestingly, of about 100 people in the audience, only about five raised their hands when asked if they use this channel. Heath said the jury is still out on whether Quora is useful or not. The folks at Mashable tend to agree that, while useful, Quora is not currently set up to rival other networks. A recent article, “Why Quora Will Never Be as Big as Twitter,” calls it a “valuable service with a focused appeal.” What do you think?

The panel closed with a question around the panelists’ biggest challenges. It became clear that their challenges are similar to what we’re seeing from most CMOs – how to best allocate resources and pick among many good ideas. In a joint survey with Argyle Executive Forum’s CMO Leadership Community, Aprimo found that 28 percent of marketers feel the biggest challenge is doing more with less. Heath confirmed this for her own organization. “It’s like caviar wishes on a filet of fish budget,” she remarked.

We would love to hear your thoughts. As a marketer, what’s your priority for 2011 and what hurdles do you expect along the way?

Contributed by Stacey L. Mann. Follow her at @sliedermanmann