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?
Seeing the resurgence of quizzes as a publishing/sharing/marketing device, has me nostalgic for the old days. When I, along with a merry band of awesome friends, product people, content writers, and developers built a min-quiz empire.
I always thought (and still do) that the brand marketing potential (from a branded content standpoint) with quizzes is huge. It hits all of the right notes at once, for users, publishers, and brands.
BuzzFeed’s marketing team also has access to the quiz template as a platform that brands could possibly take advantage of — think “Where should you go on a road trip?” sponsored by Hertz. Says BuzzFeed spokesperson Catherine Bartosevich: “You can expect lots of sponsored quizzes in your Facebook and Twitter feeds soon.”
It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on. We were doing these types of integrations back in the MySpace days, using quizzes as brand vehicles for clients like ABC, MTV, and Kohls (shown below), and had some good success.
So if anyone out there needs someone to be their sherpa guide when it comes to creating branded quiz content, give me a shout. I know this space inside and out.
It’s been a little more than a week now since Facebook released Timeline for brands at their FMC event. This new brand page format was a terribly kept secret leading up to the event, and was more or less a quick gloss-over on the way to a multi-hour romancing of what can be most neatly summed up as “MOAR ADS” once the event itself finally arrived.
Nevertheless, social media strategists and marketers went (and continue to go) berserk over this page restyling. Even saying things like this:
It’s as if dozens of little corporate museums just launched on Facebook. (from AdAge)
Now while that may technically be true, the problem is that these “little corporate museums” are likely to be about as popular as actual corporate museums. Which is to say, not very popular at all.
As a creative type at heart, I am not immune to being in love with the possibilities of what Timeline presents, and I have no doubt that some brands will find really neat ways to leverage this format. However, as the cynical and jaded northeast pragmatist that I am, I can’t help but feel like…well, like the general public just won’t care about this in the long run.
The two main issues that I immediately see here are:
- Social media creation and consumption is still firmly entrenched in the present. Twitter feeds whiz by, Facebook newsfeeds update at a dizzying speed, and while every app on my phone may be recording what I’ve done (past tense), I only care about pushing the buttons and telling the world while I’m doing it (present tense). Rarely do I go back in digital time to re-live my OWN past, let alone the past of a corporation. Certainly Timeline aims to change this (as do apps like Timehop, which I admittedly love), but as shared experiences in the present tense continue to proliferate at a breakneck pace, one has to doubt if users will also have the desire to dig into corporate histories with any regularity.
- The newsfeed still rules. When users consume content on Facebook, they are overwhelmingly doing so through their newsfeeds. And this is especially true when consuming content from “Liked” brands. Facebook Brand pages are rarely visited by fans more than once or twice on average, and being a user myself (and having watched/studied lots of other user behavior), I question whether or not those couple of visits will be spent scrolling through a deep timeline of corporate past and/or giving a shit about what that past contains.
“Coke sponsored the 1928 Olympic Games? That’s great and all…but are there any coupons here?”.
Coca-Cola is actually a nice proxy for the “who cares?” theory. They are the most popular brand page on Facebook with over 40mm fans, and a brand with a storied corporate past. Also one of the launch brands for Timeline, so they’ve got the benefit of a first-mover’s advantage here as well. Scroll down to their two oldest Timeline posts, and there is a sum total of 384 actions on them (comments + likes). That’s a 0.00096% “engagement rate” if you’re scoring at home. And again, this from the biggest brand, with one of the most famous histories of all.
There is a great scene in an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry is complaining that his dentist has converted to Judaism, just for access to the jokes. And when asked if this offends him as a Jew, Jerry quickly responds “no, it offends me as a comedian”.
Pinterest similarly, doesn’t offend me as a user. It offends me as a strategist.
As Adam Kmiec said in his Digiday talk (and I’m paraphrasing slightly here…), have we all lost our minds?
Pinterest is growing like a weed, and apparently it also drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, and Youtube combined. Which by the way, doesn’t strike me as much of a feat. When you compare a site like Pinterest (whose structure and design is meant to drive traffic) with two networks that are not at all about driving traffic (YouTube and LinkedIn), and one that’s barely off the ground (Google+), it doesn’t seem that impressive.
But hey, who am I to rain on the parade? We’re just trying to get some twitter clicks here, amirite? READING the article, or god forbid questioning the soundbite is for SUCKAS!
So Pinterest is awesome for users. It totally is, and I get that. As soon as I introduced her to Pinterest, my girlfriend was hooked. And she is one of millions that fell into the same level of instant love with the platform.
However, we digital strategy types are losing our minds. We are losing our minds because we want so badly to weasel our way in there with brand messaging and contests and engagement. We want so badly to crack the code, and figure out how to leverage this platform for our brands. We want to have something new to talk about and sell and be experts on. God damn it, we need it. It’s our lifeblood.
To this end, and rather unsurprisingly so, smart men and women…good and respected digital strategy types, are being reduced to starry-eyed school girls fawning over the latest pop star. They’re creating pages, haphazardly throwing up images, and wedging “Pin It” buttons next to any piece of website content they have, all while mumbling words like “engagement” and “re-pin”.
Demographics, user-behaviors, fit with the brand, and general sensibilities be-damned. There is a hot new social network in town, and we’re getting on it. Giddyup.
Now to be fair, this is not to say that there isn’t fantastic potential for those whose brand align well with the Pinterest freight-train. CustomMade, where I am an advisor has gotten great results from pushing content into the system. And for eCommerce, food, art, and other similar sites/brands, Pinterest can be killer.
My problem isn’t with Pinterest specifically. My problem is with what Pinterest has revealed to be a rather sad truth; that we’ve become desperate as strategists, and that this desperation has caused us to lose our minds somewhere along the way. We aren’t thinking anymore, we’re just doing. We’re chasing our tails and each other, jumping on whatever pops up in Mashable as the next big thing.
Sometimes being a good strategist means saying “no” to a new platform if it doesn’t fit your client’s path. But at the very least, being a good strategist always means asking “why?” (and answering), before diving in headlong.
And lastly, if you don’t believe that it’s a monkey-see, monkey-do world out there in the social space, just remember that this hot new platform called Pinterest, has been around since mid-2010.