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Social Media – Oversold and Undervalued


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.

Join The Conversation

  • Zeus's picture
    Sep 1 Posted 4 years ago Zeus

    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.

  • Sep 1 Posted 4 years ago Bryan Coe (not verified) 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.
  • DebraEllis's picture
    Aug 30 Posted 4 years ago DebraEllis

    Thank you Helen. Well said.

  • DebraEllis's picture
    Aug 30 Posted 4 years ago DebraEllis

    Thank you Ryan.

  • DebraEllis's picture
    Aug 30 Posted 4 years ago DebraEllis

    Hi Patrick,

    Thank you. I agree with your three points completely.

  • Aug 30 Posted 4 years ago Patrick Dodd (not verified)

    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.


  • Aug 29 Posted 4 years ago Ryan (not verified) 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.
  • Aug 29 Posted 4 years ago xcelbusiness

    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

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