I’ve been asking the following question of my peers (as well as myself lately), and getting some really interesting answers - if any answers at all.
If you are responsible for allocating marketing budgets for a brand (any brand really), how do you justify spending a dollar on social media over some other channel (print, tv, pr, content, etc.)?
Or, even more directly:
Why bother spending any time or money on social media?
And for clarity, I’m talking about the earned, organic, content-calendar, community manager, lets-build-conversation, engagement stuff here. The things that require man-hours, software, creatives, listening systems and the like. Not buying ads on social platforms (that’s just advertising).
Unsurprisingly, these questions, when asked directly, seem to cause some rambling panicked responses, and momentary crises of identity amongst my social media practitioner friends.
Because deep down, they, like me, realize that the charade is over. That the once grand promise of social media as a beautiful brand engagement tool, has gone generally unfulfilled.
It’s a tough realization, and I’ve taken no small amount of angry shit from my colleagues in pushing these questions. In part, because there’s this sense that if you’re in the game, you’re in the game.
We’re all in this together. The agencies sell the platforms, the platforms sell the engagement, the other agency sells the measurement (which always says “it’s working!”), and we all get paid. By the time anyone starts asking questions, it’s too late because no one in this industry stays anywhere for more than a year or two and we’ve all moved onto new jobs.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
But that hyperbolic collusion rhetoric aside, there are some real, honest questions about the efficacy of social media and value of investing in the building of “brand communities”.
The biggest problem that we can’t just sweep under the rug, is that broadly speaking, the average person gives zero shits about your brand at all, let alone connecting with it. In social media or otherwise.
We’re trying desperately to force a selfish narrative (that people want to engage with brands), when in fact the exact opposite is true.
People far smarter than I, have put this more eloquently than I ever could, so here are some quotes on the topic that I love.
First, from Seth Godin.
Start by understanding that no one cares about (the brand). People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.
Next, from one of my favorite pieces of content, ever.
Our challenge is that people are not paying attention. Our challenge is that people really don’t care. Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, but overcoming indifference.
So then, why are we spending so much money trying to make social media work, when the audience doesn’t care, and the efforts lag so far behind other mediums in terms of driving business growth?
Seems like your time and money is still better spent on the classics - paid search and email. It may be un-sexy, but it’s hard to argue.
“But brands that set smart social goals, are making it work!” you say.
I’d say that this is a false construct peddled by those who benefit from the idea that social media works and is necessary. Meaning, we’re creating arbitrary social media goals to justify what we’ve already decided wewant to do, versus allowing broader business goals to lead us into the proper channels with the proper investment. Which often times, won’t be social. When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
“But we’re getting great engagement on our content!” you argue.
The question isn’t whether or not people will engage with puppies and babies and click bait on Facebook (they will). The question is, what impact do those engagements really have on your brand and business? Again, we’re feeding into a false-construct of our own making. We decided that engagement = success, and then we figured out how to game the system so that we get engagement. But despite all of that engagement, social falls flat (and hard) when it comes to actually moving the needle where it matters.
“But Facebook fans of XYZ brand spend twice as much than non-fans!” you plead.
This has always been a favorite of mine. Aside from the fact that the “data” here is dubious (“much of the data thus far has been anecdotal”), this argument is also a wonderful case of the confirmation bias approach that the industry takes to justify its existence. Is it also possible for instance, that heavy spenders are more likely to become fans? I know that’s an inconvenient possibility, but it is a possibility, yes? I fully expect select parts of this J.Crew story to be used ad infinitum in social media presentations henceforth.
I could go on, and talk about the myriad other arguments that I hear in support of social media, but my point is a fairly direct and simple one:
If you are an individual who is responsible for deciding where to spend your marketing resources (time and money), you need to ask your agency and your team why you should bother with social media at all. And you are owed good, honest answers to that question.
I met with someone last week, a marketing director for a near 100 year old financial institution that catered to immigrant families and the local community. She was concerned that they were “behind”, because they didn’t have a robust social media presence. As the discussion went on, we all agreed that they’re not losing customers because of their social media absence, and they’re not likely to grow the business based on their social media presence.
But prior to our chat, she’d seen a parade of agencies talking about big digital ecosystems, and the need to “engage” with their customers in social, as if not doing so made her a marketing pariah.
Of course each of these recommendations came without any consideration as to how doing these things would help her business - or even if at the most basic, whether or not these were the right channels for her to focus her limited time and resources on.
They were selling her what they had, not what she needed.
So I’d ask again (as I did in that meeting), why bother?
Two quick thoughts on social media for this Monday morning.
First, we need to stop checking boxes, and start thinking a bit more. Or maybe it’s that we need to start thinking a bit less. Not quite sure.
Either way, I see far too much social media “strategy” that goes like this, and it needs to stop.
- List out all of the “current” social media platforms that we an think of (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc).
- Try and find/make things to put into each bucket.
We need to cut that shit out.
Instead, start with an idea, a goal, or a desired outcome that you want your brand and messaging to have when someone encounters it. Now go out and make things that drive towards that outcome. You’ll figure out which channels/platforms to use, and which to ignore.
Second thought, is that we need to consider social media as being bottom-up as much as top-down. Maybe even more.
What I mean by that is this:
Top-down is explicitly driven by the brand and pushes the user to do something. Think contests and calls-to-action, that sort of thing. Brand tells user what to do, when to do it, and where to do it. If you rely on this method, there’s a good chance that you and your brand are inherently uninteresting.
Bottom-down is creating awesome products and experiences, that have talk-value naturally built in. Your brand becomes social because people want to talk about it, not because they’re part of some Pavlovian Facebook experiment. Strong, confident, secure brands and strategists love this approach and do it well.