Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled "Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype". The article goes on to say that brands and agencies are altering their social media strategies to focus on "real business objectives." This is just one example of a growing narrative about marketers' frustrations with social marketing.
Our view: it's about damn time.
The single biggest obstacle that we see in the market right now is the distortion caused by people with bad data and misinformed approaches to success. Of course social media usage for brands needs to focus on real business objectives. The fact that this even needs to be said is perhaps testament to the ability of hype to distort something valuable well beyond what is defensible or sustainable.
So if you're going to discount the hype, what's left?
The key is using data to systematically help brands, agencies, and publishers reach the huge audiences on social platforms. I suggest that you consider these three points in thinking about your approach to social marketing:
1. You can't simply buy your way into any conversation.
Consumers have worked hard to curate their social streams. They have done the work on whom to follow, and what they want to see. If you're going to try to insert your message into someone's feed, but you have no context as to whether or not you'll be successful, then you are part of the problem. With considerably more than a billion participants on social networks, the people you want to reach-who also want you to reach them-are out there.
You can use contextual clues found in the data to be considerate, and to find consumers when they want to be found. Blurting out your message simply because you have money to throw behind your brand message isn't creating a good user experience, and isn't helping you. And you are doing something even worse than wasting money: you are investing in future resistance to your message by teaching people you are frequently off-topic and inconsiderate of the social value of your messaging.
2. Demographic targeting alone will not get you the results you want.
You can have the right demographic targets and still be wrong. This is one of the more common problems we see in companies' approach to social marketing. The social feed isn't banner advertising where there's an implied agreement as to which part of the screen is the reader's and which is the advertiser's. In the social feed you are effectively borrowing peoples' time, and as such, you must be mindful of their context in order to get their attention. Demographic or geographic modeling alone in a social setting can feel discourteous, cold and forced. If a subgroup of users are engaged with content about a funeral, for instance, a message about sports cars is not likely to resonate-even if all the demographics are correct.
If they aren't interested in what you have to say, your audience won't engage with you, no matter how accurate your demographic research. There are signals out there that can inform what people are interacting with. You ignore those signals at your peril.
3. Influencer marketing is often a flawed strategy.
By tailoring your message to a perceived elite tier of "influencers", you are targeting (aka, restricting) your message to a subset of users in the hope that their engagement will then get you greater distribution.
Instead, it makes more sense to create quality messaging directly for the audience you want to reach-especially the audience who found you because they wanted to connect with you. You can then use the broad reach of social to find other, similarly interested users.
Don't start with influencers and then try to create a relevant message. Instead, start with a relevant message, and use that to create influencers.
Social media marketing truly can be effective. People are frustrated because the standard of practice has largely been to ignore the data; to use the social channel in ways which are inherently discourteous and not very social; and to rely on assumptions which can be disproved with a bit of critical thought and analysis.
Social media marketing is not easy, but it is incredibly rewarding when done the right way. The people you'd want to reach are out there and the customers you want to acquire are willing to pay attention at least some of the time. But if you do not respect what and when they're willing to share, consume and talk about, it is nearly impossible to succeed with a social campaign-and any success you have is likely to be the result of luck, and not scalable or repeatable.