What If Everything You Know About Social Media Marketing Is Wrong?

AugieRay1
Augie Ray Director - Global Voice of Customer Strategy, American Express

Posted on April 4th 2014

What If Everything You Know About Social Media Marketing Is Wrong?

What if everything you "know" about social media marketing is wrong? What would this mean to your upcoming and current social marketing programs? Better yet, what might it mean to your job?

If you are employed in social media marketing, it is time for a healthy dose of reality followed by some serious soul searching and career planning. Some of you are lucky enough to work in the rare companies that create advocates with great products, service and mission and thus are equipped to leverage social media for marketing gain; most work at companies that have inflated their opportunities in the medium and are floundering with their social media marketing and content strategies.

Here's the way a large number of social media professionals today go about justifying their programs, along with some recent data that may (and should) scare the hell out of you if you work in social media marketing:

    • Consumers welcome brands' social media marketing. Untrue: A recent study by Kentico found that 68% of US consumers “mostly” or “always” ignore brand posts on every social network. A recent study of US college students by Concentric found that "nearly half stated they didn't believe brands should be on social media or they didn't personally follow brands" and "nearly 70% report following three or fewer brand across all social media." A 2013 YouGov survey found that "most social media users feel negatively towards marketing strategies by companies on social media sites, with 35% saying that they often hide companies’ updates if they update too often." And a global research study commissioned by Pitney Bowes recently found that 83% of consumers have had a bad experience with social media marketing.
       
Forrester found consumers have substantially less trust in
companies's social posts than they do of company websites.
    • Consumers find trustworthy the information shared by brands in social media. Untrue: In 2013, an Adobe study found that just 2% of US consumers felt that company social media pages were best for credibility, a figure almost 90% lower than the credibility of company websites or traditional advertising. Forrester's recent data demonstrates that just 15% of US consumers trust the social media posts of brands, half the rate at which consumers trust information on company websites. Likewise, Nielsen recently found that ads on social networks were among the least trusted form of advertising, significantly lower than trust in ads viewed in traditional media.
       
    • Consumers who follow brands are interested prospects, making social an acquisition channel for brands. Untrue: The 2013 Adobe study found that more than half of consumers indicate they like brands because they already purchase from them while just than one in six US consumers indicate they like brands on Facebook because they aspire to buy from those brands. A 2013 YouGov study of UK consumers found that "the followers / likers of companies are most likely to be current customers (33%) whose primary motivation is a desire to get something in return (34%)." Digital consultancy L2 studied nearly 250 prestige brands and found that over four years, less than 0.25% of new customers had been acquired through Facebook and less than .01% from Twitter; this compares to almost 10% for paid search and 7% for email marketing. Moreover, L2 found that "customers acquired via social channels register lower lifetime value than customers acquired via search."
        
    • Every fan and follower has value, because they reflect brand affinity and are a leading indicator of future success.  Untrue: There is no social media sacred cow more hallowed than this, yet this belief remains largely unstudied. I've tackled the issue twice. In 2012, I evaluated the 40 companies with the greatest Facebook fan counts that were both tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and publicly traded. I found a modest negative correlation (-0.3) between Facebook fans and customer satisfaction and no correlation (-0.1) between Facebook fans and stock performance. I repeated a similar evaluation last month, studying the stock performance of the companies with the top 50 brand accounts on Twitter; I found the average performance of these companies was no better than the NASDAQ index and their median performance was significantly below the NASDAQ index.

      This data is supported by plenty of empirical evidence; for example, Lady Gaga's ARTPOP saw disappointing sales despite the fact she heavily promoted the release via her Twitter profile, the fourth most popular profile on the service. Blackberry has collapsed, despite being one of the most popular brands on Twitter with 4 million followers. Dippin' Dots declared bankruptcy mere days after collecting its 5 millionth Facebook fan. And Facebook likes were found to have little to no correlation to election results in the 2010 gubernatorial and House races. I continue to believe that fans earned authentically with the right brand purpose, products and services deliver value, but so many companies have "bought" meaningless fans with deals, discounts, sweepstakes and freebies that there is no correlation to be found between fans/followers and business outcomes.
        
    • Social Media content increases purchase intent. Untrue: While some social media content can deliver sales (see the mention of @DellOutlet in yesterday's post), there is no evidence that the vast majority of brand content leads to any demonstrable increase in purchase behavior. The Kentico study found that 72% “never” or “hardly ever” purchase a product after hearing about it on a social network. A 2013 PwC study found that only 18% purchased a product as a result of information obtained through a social media site. This finding is similar to YouGov's finding that just 13% of all social media users have bought something as a result of reading something on social media sites.

      None of these self-reported data points are very encouraging, but the measured data on social driving purchases is even worse. IBM tracked purchases across 800 retail sites and reported that social media drove just 1% of last year's Black Friday online purchases. Meanwhile, Experian reports that social media sites, despite being the most popular sites on the Web, account for a mere 7.7% of all traffic to retail Websites (and Pinterest drives more traffic than either Facebook or Twitter).    
The sad tale of organic reach on Facebook,
as told by Social@Ogilvy

The time has come to start preparing for a marketing reassessment of the value of social media and earned media. While it was acceptable to experiment and make assumptions five years ago when social media was young, it is no longer tolerable (nor is it wise to your career) to believe and repeat the same tired, unfounded and incorrect notions.

Why do so many marketers believe things about social media marketing that are not supported by the data? In part, it is because an entire social media marketing industry has blossomed in the last seven years, and it is far more lucrative for this army of agencies, consultants, authors and speakers to sell marketers on earned media and content strategies than to acknowledge the woeful data or track record. As Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Also, marketers tend to make the mistake of thinking their own behaviors and that of consumers are alike, but they are not. Exact Target's 2013 study "Marketers from Mars" found that marketers were 50% more likely than consumers to like a brand on Facebook, 400% more likely to follow brands on Twitter, 100% more likely to make a purchase as a result of seeing something on Facebook and 150% more likely to have completed a purchase as a result of a tweet. Marketers have done a better job of selling themselves on the value of social media marketing than they have of selling social media users on the value of their products and services.

Exact Target found that Marketers see substantially more
value in content than do Consumers. 


Not only are marketers' social behaviors vastly different than consumers', they also have much greater confidence in content than do consumers. In the same study, marketers and consumers were asked where their favorite companies should invest more of their marketing time and resources to improve customer loyalty. Marketers were almost 80% more likely to cite content about products and 280% more likely to see content about related topics as a driver of consumer preference.

So, is it time for marketers to dismantle their social teams and abandon their social strategies? I've suggested as much in the past (and I'm hardly alone in this), but I'd like to close this blog post on a (slightly) more positive note. Rather than treating the title of this post--"What if Everything You Know About Social Media Marketing is Wrong?"-- as if it is rhetorical, let's instead answer the question.

The secret to successful social media marketing--and to protecting your job--is not to bury your head in the sand, ignore the data and continue building strategies based on deeply flawed assumptions. Instead, toss out all the faulty suppositions and start from scratch.  The key to success is not to assume that social media is a marketing channel but to assume it isn't. Watch what happens if we take that same list of unsupported beliefs and turn them on their head:

  • Consumers DO NOT welcome brands' social media marketing:  My brand must approach customers and prospects with great respect for their time and intelligence. We should stop posting silly "like this if you're glad it's Friday" and "Happy National Bubble Week" posts and instead provide content and functions that are worthy of people's time and attention.
      
  • Consumers DO NOT find trustworthy the information shared by brands in social media.  We cannot take it as a matter of fact that anything our brand shares will be found credible. Instead of investing so much in content that our brand broadcasts in social media, we should strive to give our customers a greater voice--after all, people believe each other, not brands.
      
  • Consumers who follow brands ARE NOT interested prospects, and social is a WEAK acquisition channel for brands.  My fans and followers are not prospects but are, for the most part, existing customers. Our strategies should not focus on filling the top of the funnel but on loyalty, repurchase and advocacy.
      
  • Every fan and follower DOES NOT have value, and merely having fans IS NOT a leading indicator of future success.  Our brand should not try to collect the largest fan or follower base but should target a smaller set of the right people. Rather than attract people interested in contests and sweepstakes, we should strive to engage with customers interested in our company, its mission and its products and services. A smaller fan base of more valuable consumers trumps a large fan base of disinterested people who hide, ignore or do not see our posts.
      
  • Social Media content DOES NOT increase purchase intent. A funny viral video or clever Vine may accumulate lots of likes, but if it does not drive meaningful consideration or increased purchase intent, then it is worthless marketing. We must stop settling for content that we think keeps our brands "top of mind" and instead work harder to change minds! Even more vital is that we must reconsider our metrics--social media is a relationship medium, not a direct marketing channel. Unless we care to measure results in long-term metrics such as consideration, NPS, preference and the like, we have poor alignment between our marketing investments and objectives.
      
  • Earned media IS NOT a growing way to reach consumers. In the early days of the social era, we all had high hopes for earned media, but just as consumers avoid and ignore ads in other media, so too are they escaping the reach of organic marketing content in social media. Social media marketing requires an investment in paid media, and that means we have to get much better at knowing what content and interactions deliver value (and are worth putting money behind) and what do not. 
Assume this is the attitude of your social
audience, and you may just succeed.
(photo credit: Alicakes* via photopin cc)
Tossing out all the baseless assumptions makes the job of social media marketing much more difficult, but it also forces us to build stronger, better strategies from the ground up. Too many social media marketers have fallen into ruts, and this has resulted in brands vomiting a useless flow of jokey, unmemorable, indistinct and unpersuasive posts and tweets. We have to stop posting content for content's sake and start developing strategies designed to succeed. 
 
The investment in social media marketing has risen over the course of years, and so have the expectations. Either we change how we approach social media strategy, or CMOs will soon change the people responsible for those strategies. 
 
If you assume social media is a marketing channel full of interested consumers hungry for our content and ready to purchase, then any strategy makes sense (and will almost certainly fail.) This is the path to career pain.
 
Social media is not a marketing channel. If you can build social strategies that are designed to triumph despite that fact, then you are on your way to securing your career in social media marketing.

But take heed: The goal of this difficult process should not merely be to determine what your brand's marketing strategies ought to be in social media but if it should even be trying. By starting with clearheaded and factual knowledge about the difficulties, the investments required and the long-term metrics that are best aligned to social media strategies, it may lead you to determine social media is best left to others in the organization.

Whatever your decision, just make sure it is one supported in facts and not naive myths and false promises. Your brand's future and your career depends on it. 
AugieRay1

Augie Ray

Director - Global Voice of Customer Strategy, American Express

For six years, I have researched, analyzed and blogged about Customer Experience (CX), social media marketing, social business and the collaborative (or sharing) economy. I welcome your feedback on my posts here on Social Media Today or my blog at ExperienceTheBlog.com.

My background includes more than 20 years of experience in digital, brand, customer experience and social business. Currently, I am the Director of Global Voice of Customer at a Fortune 100 Financial Services firm. Prior to this:

  • I led social business at USAA, a firm recognized for its innovative use of communities and social customer care within the financial service industry.
  • Consulted and published analysis as a Forrester analyst covering digital marketing and social media in the Bay Area.
  • Led a diverse $9-million agency team with specialties in digital development, digital experiential marketing and community strategy.

I am passionate about monitoring current trends and understanding what they mean to marketing, product development, customer care and other corners of the enterprise. I continue to evaluate how new mobile and social behaviors and technologies are combining to change fundamental attitudes about the way we select, purchase, consume and share products and services. The future will bring a great deal of innovation that offers opportunities to organizations that are agile and willing to cannibalize their own business models (but it will severely challenge those organizations that cannot.)

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