Social Media – Oversold and Undervalued

Debra Ellis President, Wilson & Ellis Consulting

Posted on August 29th 2011


Social media is oversold as a marketing channel and undervalued as a customer connection. Sales by conversation are an illusion created by people more focused on building personal brands than exploring and developing a new channel. The new media gurus adopted a “sell and destroy” strategy that effectively promoted networking as the only future of marketing and blamed failed attempts by others on insufficient awesomeness.

Creative valuations of marketing campaigns are part of the sell strategy. Traditional success metrics like sales, customer acquisition, and return on investment are replaced with followers, fans, likes, retweets, and comments. Creating viral content that generates buzz replaces increasing revenue and profitability as marketing goals. To the uninitiated, this shift seems ludicrous, but it has become the social media standard.

Questioning this standard activates the destroy part of the strategy. Anyone daring to ask for data proving that social media works is belittled for being clueless. Questions about how to create successful campaigns receive answers like “Be awesome and it will happen” or “Remarkable content creates remarkable success.”

While acting more like snake oil salesman than thought leaders, self-appointed social media experts missed the real value of social networking – customers connecting with companies.

Instead of focusing on building relationships one customer at a time, the emphasis has been on acquiring fans, followers, likes, and plus ones. This strategy worked to create an illusion of success because it provides a comparative view. Someone who has tens of thousands of connections appears more successful than those who haven’t broken a thousand.

The appearance of success has created an environment where the objective is to create a mega-network without concern for quality. Creating a viral campaign takes priority over generating a return on investment. Somewhere along the line the channel that promised better one-to-one relationships has morphed into a mass market.

Despite the hype surrounding viral campaigns, search, advertising, and direct traffic overwhelmingly generate more and better quality website visits than tweets, posts, and shares.

It’s time to accept that the promise of conversations generating significant revenue is a fallacy and move on to activities that consistently deliver a return on investment. Resources are too limited to invest in activities that don’t increase revenue or reduce costs.

Your customers are online. Where, when, and how they participate is a mystery to be solved. They may want to participate in your company’s community. They may want to be left alone until they need service. Or, they may want nothing to do with your business. It’s the marketing team’s job to solve the mystery, establish the communities, and create content. Interacting with customers belongs to the customer service team. They know products, services, and how to make buyers happy better than anyone in the company.

Social networks provide a new way to connect with customers. Using it successfully requires trial and error experimentation to find the best way for your company to connect with the people that matter. A community filled with customers is an extension of your marketing database and an opportunity to turn transactions into relationships. This is where social media is grossly undervalued. Customer retention increases profitability better than any other activity.

It is a shame that one of the best channels for connecting with customers is being ignored by companies because self serving individuals oversold the value of viral marketing. Social media isn’t a way generate sales by reaching millions of people with a tweet or a post. It’s much better than that. It’s a way to get to know your customers one at a time.


Debra Ellis

President, Wilson & Ellis Consulting

Debra Ellis is a business consultant, author, and speaker. She specializes in showing companies how to improve customer acquisition and retention using integrated marketing and service strategies. Her latest marketing guide, 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing, is a practical resource for marketers seeking better results with minimal investment. Her engineering background provides statistical insight to finding actionable data that can be used to grow companies and reduce costs.

She is recognized as an expert in marketing from direct mail to social media, customer behavior, and strategic planning. Her expertise is often tapped by media sources including: The New York Times, CNN/’s Small Business Makeovers, Target Marketing, Multichannel Merchant, and MarketingProfs.

Her marketing guides include 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing, Social Media 4 Direct Marketers, and Marketing to the Customer Lifecycle.

Debra loves the art and science of multichannel marketing. She is a student and teacher of the methods that transform shoppers into buyers and buyers into lifelong customers. In 1995, she founded Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in creating strategies that make channels and departments work together to optimize the customer experience. Since then, she has worked with over a hundred distinguished clients such as Costco, Edmund Scientifics, Jacuzzi, Ross-Simons Jewelry, and The Body Shop.

Prior to founding her firm, Debra was instrumental in the record growth of Ballard Designs, Inc. while serving as Chief Operating Officer. Today, she uses her experience and expertise to show executives how to successfully navigate marketing channels and integrate activities to profitably grow their business. Her practical approach maximizes the return on investment.

She can be reached via email at She blogs at

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Posted on August 29th 2011 at 10:01PM

Folks forget - it's social not sales. Social Media is often pedalled as the silver bullet, but it can't fix broken business models. Customer loyalty, brand identity, and customer service are all valuable outcomes from social media. Numbers of followers do not equate to profit, far better to have a small number of engaged and loyal followers than large number of "team follow back" types.
Also, social media doesn't suit all business types and can be a huge drain on resources.
Love this article, couldn't agree more Debra.  ~ Helen

Posted on August 30th 2011 at 6:29PM

Thank you Helen. Well said.

Posted on August 30th 2011 at 2:13AM
Connecting with customers has always been the end game. Viral marketing provides one avenue for that connection, but you are right. I would rather have 100 fans that I know well than have 10000 that I've never met. Great article.
Posted on August 30th 2011 at 6:28PM

Thank you Ryan.

Posted on August 30th 2011 at 5:45AM

Well done Debra. The industry needs more people telling it like it is.

I also believe that not all businesses benefit equally from social media and identified two main factors that drive social media success – brand frequency (the frequency with which your customers interact with your brand) and brand resonance (how much love they have for your brand). You can see the blog post I did on it here -

  • Social media is not a quick win 
  • Social media is not cheap
  • If you have a limited budget and driving traffic to your website is your primary objective then SEO and SEM are better options.

Thanks again for honesty.


Posted on August 30th 2011 at 6:28PM

Hi Patrick,

Thank you. I agree with your three points completely.

Posted on September 1st 2011 at 10:11PM
Great post. I agree social media definitely isn't about the number of followers, friends etc that you have, but the quality. There's a sel professed guru in my area that has a large number of followers that when a new co-op space opened I asked if he was going to sign (cheapest plan is under $50), he said he'd have to make more money. This blew me away, but as I thought about it I realized he spends so much time tweeting, facebooking, blogging that I don't know how he would have time for clients. But he has created the illusion of success.
Posted on September 2nd 2011 at 2:10AM

Great post  - Finally I am seeing "twin souls" out there predicating real marketing instead of hype. I can't tell you how happy and hopeful your post have made me.