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.
I need to hire a Sr. Social Media Strategist for my team at Hill Holliday. The full job description is here. If you bother and take some time to read it, you’ll see that it says the expected things. Like how you need to be a self-starter, and good communicator and all that boilerplate stuff. It’s all true of course, but it just doesn’t do a very good job of articulating what it’s like to work on the team, doing the job every day. So I thought I’d write this bit up to add some more color to what this role is all about.
First, what I’m looking for.
I want someone smart. Clever smart. Someone that doesn’t just regurgitate headlines from Mashable, and speak in talking points and stats. You need to be quick thinking, and able to answer curveball questions from clients and co-workers with confidence and accuracy. You also need to be comfortable saying things like “I don't know, but I think xyz, and here’s why”.
The point is, you should have opinions. We’re ultimately in the opinions business, so you should definitely have some. Just make sure they’re well informed opinions, and flexible opinions when it turns out that you’re actually wrong. Which will happen. You’ll be wrong a lot, so be cool with that too. It’s really ok.
Be a devour-er of information and a really good writer. These things usually go hand in hand. Meaning that someone who consumes a lot of information on a regular basis is also generally pretty good at articulating his or her thoughts when the time comes. You’d be amazed how much writing you’ll need to do, and how important it is that you’re able to express ideas clearly. You won’t always be there to present the slide or document that you created, so your ideas frequently need to speak for themselves.
Know a little bit about a lot of things. Be curious. When I made that Mashable remark earlier, it wasn’t because I think Mashable is shit. It’s because I see too many “social media strategists” consuming the same information, in the same echo-chamber, all day long. That sort of thing simply doesn’t make you better. Social media is easy. Thinking and applying thought towards a useful or meaningful end, is hard. In my opinion, the more broad your set of interests, the more you learn to think, and the stronger you get as a strategist. Social media or otherwise.
To riff a bit more on the above bit, I also look for someone with a really varied set of skills. I love utility players, and I consider myself to be one. Someone that’s dabbled in lots of different digital/marketing/strategy disciplines is really attractive to me. The world isn’t carved up into neat little siloes of expertise anymore, so anyone that can speak a little tech, a little creative, a little media, and a little analytics is going to go places in this industry. The more social-media-adjacent skills you have, the better.
The last three things I am looking for, are most important of all. Be passionate, hard working, and just a good person to be around.
Passionate – You’d think this goes without saying. It doesn’t. If you come work with us, you should love what you do, and it should show. We love what we do, and it shows. We want more people like that.
Hard-working – This isn’t a 9-5 gig. I’d love to avoid the “work hard and play hard LOL!” cliché here, but I can’t. It’s what we do. We pour ourselves into our work, but we also know when to let loose and have a good time. Often times those things really overlap. But the internet doesn’t close on nights and weekends, so know coming in, that this is an always-on sort of role.
A good person to be around – While we’re tossing clichés about with total abandon, let me just say that our team…hell, our whole agency, is a family. We’re going to spend A LOT of time together, so we need to get on well with one another. We don’t want any jerks. So if you’re a jerk (and it’s ok if you are, the world needs jerks), this gig isn’t for you.
Now, a bit about the team you’d work with.
I couldn’t have picked a better crew to work with (or maybe they picked me, I can’t remember). You’ve got Mike, Brad, Noah, Folu, Kelsey, Ryan, Mazy, Chris and Jess. I’d describe them all in more detail, but trust me, they’re great. Just look at their Twitter feeds to get a sense of what they’re all about.
One of the reasons that I know they’re great, is despite the fact that we all spend ~60 hours each week together at work, you’ll often find us hanging out together after work, and on weekends. By choice.
And by the way, that’s just the immediate team. There’s like 500 other people in the building too, and they’re all terrific.
And the client you’d work on.
You’d have a great client. They’re smart, tough, and ambitious. They have great resources to get things done, and they truly value us as strategic partners. I can get into more specifics in person.
Lastly, the work itself. Here’s what that’s like.
I sometimes joke with others that my job is to make slide decks, because…well…we make a lot of slide decks. Clever, eh? But while that’s true, the slide decks we make are generally just the tangible output of our thinking, which is what we get to spend most of our time doing (thinking about stuff). And I say “get to”, because I think that’s actually the best part of being a strategist. Our job is to think about things, form opinions on what we’ve thought about, and then turn those thoughts into some output that you can see, touch, and feel. An actionable strategy, a campaign, a piece of content, a tool, or some other creative thing.
Sometimes this thinking is a solitary exercise (researching, reading, etc), sometimes it’s a group discussion or casual chat with your co-workers, and other times it’s more of the on-the-spot variety in the context of a client meeting.
Speaking of meetings, there are plenty of those. It’s just a reality of any big organization with lots of moving parts – meetings are sometimes required to get things moving forward. But I promise, I personally do what I can to minimize the need for meetings, unless they are absolutely necessary.
As far as your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, this is where the job description actually delivers fairly well in terms of its accuracy. Broadly speaking, you’ll work closely with me (and the rest of the team) to create and execute strategies and campaigns that meet our client’s goals in the digital/social space. You’ll be responsible for briefing creative, tech and other teams within the agency, continually working to keep programs on strategy, and ensuring that the what we put forth, is aligned with the brand’s goals and KPIs. In short, it’s our job to create the inputs, and guide the outputs, so the results are strong.
You’ll also help to guide, manage and mentor the junior members of the team, and keep the rest of the agency departments smart, and thinking about how and where social media can be used to our advantage.
So now what? Well, if you’re interested in working with me, get in touch. Email is best, and even without me posting my work email address here, you should be able to figure it out. Hell, three dozen vendors seem to crack the code each day.
Don’t just send me a resume though. Tell me a bit about who you are, and what makes you the right person for the role.
Talk to you soon.
I think a lot about what ‘media’ means, and what it will come to mean in the future. I don’t have the answers of course, but I do have some theories, and an extraordinary desire to think of ways in which my clients can spend their media dollars in the new world, that don’t rely exclusively on the old tricks (banners, static print inserts, etc).
Something I do know though, is that the old ways aren’t dying, they’re dead. Any brand or agency that is looking at media only in terms of dollars poured into a fixed digital square, and then counting the number of impressions that come out the other end, isn’t properly exploring the full range of opportunities that exist.
The responsibility of deciding how communications dollars are spent can no longer be the sole domain of the traditional media departments. The way brands communicate and people consume, is just no longer linear and fixed - no matter how many dollars people continue to pour into existing systems and spaces hoping that it is.
B. Bonin Bough had a thoughtful piece in AdAge today, and this particular passage stuck out for me:
It starts with seeing media as investment, not just inventory, with a focus on increasing overall ROI. By tracking how every touchpoint contributes to a growing communication mix across channels, including paid, owned and earned, we can better equip ourselves to deliver media at the most effective points in the consumer journey. We’re asking ourselves: Where do we have the most disruptive opportunities and how should we leverage them?
I love the idea of media as investment and not as inventory.
Media is content. Media is design. Media is experience. Media is your retail space and media is your product. Media is how you see, touch, smell and feel the brand, as much as it is how you hear its message.
'Media’ opportunities exist within every single possible touch between people and your brand, and not just within the pages of a magazine, or the 300x250 boxes on a website.
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.
Remember Diaspora? That was going to be the hottest.
Can I Instagram my yFrog photos and cross-post them to Twitpic and Tumblr?
Spotify kills Pandora kills iTunes, and then Google Music kills everyone.
As someone that works professionally in the world of social media strategy, it seems near impossible to stay on top of the newest and the hottest and the XYZ killers of the moment. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the average user.
While we nerderati love being early adopters and pronouncing 10 minute old products dead, while we gush over the new hotness, the average user largely ignores these apps and sites as they come and go.
The stuff that we argue about and use obsessively but temporarily, the regular Joe or Jane likely never even noticed.
I don’t know that it’s a perfect way to think about it, but I try and look at all new apps and social platforms through the same lens. I try and ask the same question…
Does this app give me something that I’m not already getting from somewhere else? And if this app DOES give me something that I already get from somewhere else, is it materially better at delivering that experience to me?
If the answer is no to either of these, it’s highly likely that the rank and file consumers out there, won’t likely give a flying Shazam about your product.
Of course there have to be SOME winners. SOME stuff has to stick. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare and others were all once just a line of code and a dream for some ambitious and wide-eyed entrepreneurs.
But that said, the aforementioned apps all did something relatively novel (YouTube), or did something in a materially better way than the competition (Facebook).