Social marketing – the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The survey published last week by Forrester and GSI Commerce seems to have put the cat among the social networking pigeons.  Now that our great new toy is proven to contribute no more than 2% to sales, all manner of doubts over the effectiveness of social marketing are finally being voiced.  Is the next big thing turning out to have been The Emperor’s New Clothes?

I’ve just spent the best part of a year creating a business unit that relied partly on social media, but throughout I found I was resisting pressure from my client to make social media the main strand of the strategy.  I’m sure that I am not alone in this experience.  After all, there are a lot of bright young things in consultancies with really funky names whose livelihood depends on them convincing folks that social marketing is all a business needs these days.  While common sense would tell you that many of the claims made for social don’t add up, it has seemed for a while that the momentum of the social media movement intimidated doubters into silence.  What Forrester has done is given these reluctant doubters license to tell it as they saw it all along.

Actually, I’m a believer in social media, but I’m a believer in all media so that’s no big deal.  What I don’t belive is that any medium is a panacea.  Social media like any other only work as an element of a bigger formula and, like all the other tools in our box, have to be managed.  In fact, if you want to get the best out of social media, you’ll find that they are actually quite labour intensive, so you should approach with caution.

You’ll also note that I have been trying to avoid referring to social media as “it”.  Social media come in many guises, so it’s definitely a case of “them” and its unlikely you’ll need them all.  The trick is to choose those that work for you and incorporate them with things like trad advertising, DM, PR, search, promotions, buzz, roaching and anything else that makes sense and play around with the formula until you find the mix that delivers the biggest return on the smallest investment.

For example FaceBook, may not be particularly effective in a BtoC strategy, but, if you are looking for a BtoB tool its going to be even less of a bargain.  After all, it makes no sense to try to strike up a business conversation with someone in a purely social forum, that’s not why they are there.  Forrster’s analysis tells us that on-line advertising and SEO are far more effective, but SEO only makes sense if a worthwhile number of prospects are using a manageable number of search terms.  In a recent project of mine there were dozens of search terms and key-words being used, each so infrequently that even if we could have resourced the SEO required to handle them all, it wouldn’t have produced a viable result.

The resourcing conundrum strikes again when a BtoC marketer hits social marketing pay-dirt.  I was recently involved with a restaurant chain that simply couldn’t manage a fraction of their mentions on Twitter and Face Book.  This meant that the numbers used to justify their social marketing strategy in the first place were meaningless. Marketing #101 – don’t invest in creating opportunities (and therefore expectations) that you can’t respond to.  Not only is it wasteful and therefore inefficient, but it pisses people off!

There’s no doubt that like many other business tools that have emerged over the years, Social Marketing has been over-hyped.  This is partly because some of the people doing the hyping don’t really understand it, or in fact marketing generally.  Social is a great idea and the tools that it embraces all undoubtedly have their uses, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take them all on board.  In fact, it may not be for you at all and it certainly isn’t a panacea.  Like any other medium, social will only work as a part of an integrated marketing strategy.

What Forrester have done is introduce a much-needed and timely element of realism to the situation.  Now we all have license to question the social media evangelists and I am sure social marketing will find its place among the many other tools that skilled and experienced marketers can combine into effective, integrated strategies.


4 responses to “Social marketing – the Emperor’s New Clothes?

  1. Could not agree more on your point of view. However, there are few other caveats to consider. First, Social Media appears to be particularly suitable for certain types of business where there is far more consumer engagement – for instance, baby food, organic foods, pro-consumer cameras and audio equipment and other businesses like that where the old forums are now being replaced almost entirely by Facebook conversations. Is this having an impact on the bottom line – depends on what metrics you use to measure.

    Our own experience has been a 25% growth in a recessionary market (2010) where conversions coming from social media conversations – Facebook, Twitter, other blogs that interestingly picked up by following the product in Twitter etc – contributing more than 60% of that growth.

    As you had said, what is most important is that engagement. If you cannot engage in the conversation, and it is certainly labour intensive, your whole strategy will badly backfire. There are some tools that are now available that makes it easier to manage these conversations, still, you do need a dedicated team to respond quickly and more importantly, correctly, to consumer concerns.

    You need to have a changed mind set – your communications perimeter has now moved. All your conversations are now quite public – for example, one of our clients had an efficient call centre where two people handled about 120 calls and emails a day. They were able to cope because most often the answers could be scripted. Today, on FaceBook, they will not be able to handle that volume, every answer has to be individual – because these conversations are very public.

    The Forrester report was done in collaboration with GSI Commerce <a href="; . This leads to some questions on its impartiality – GSI Commerce provides email and SEO services – the report indicates a 60 % engagement through these!….

  2. Phil, Hope all is good with you. Wondering where the link is for the Forrester report. It sounds like it contains what I have been thinking for a while now. I advertise on Facebook and Google and LinkedIn and the only thing that works is Google PPC for us. I can spend hundreds a day and get results on Google. I have suspected for a while-Social Marketing- that it is all smoke and mirrors but would love to be able to back it up with some hard facts that this report seems to contain.

  3. Hi Howard. Thanks for pointing out that I missed the link off the post. I’ve fixed that now.

    Actually, I belive that social works very well if used correctly. The project that you know I was working on in Newbury, if it goes ahead, plans to leverge its potential as a part of an integrated strategy that included PR and publicity among other things. I am not sure that it couldn’t be made to work for you.

    My point with this post however was to highlight the over-hype and over-expectation that as surrounded the idea of social marketing until now and to point out that there are a lot of people who didn’t have the courage of their instincts, but now feel empowered to speak out.

  4. Facebook turns photos of new products into sales for my retail store customers.. especially female clothing. If you do it right then you’ll generate foot traffic and repeat customers!

    I love to read the report and find the holes.. no way its data is correct. Perhaps they look at all FB pages classified as business.. but what they should look at is all business that actually use the facebook page to promote their business!

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