The seven dumbest sins of social media

Read Marketing Week editor Mark Choueke’s response to Ritson here

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It’s relatively low cost

Not really. First it’s amazing what brands are now paying many of the newly created social media agencies. And even when the costs are relatively low, most brands aren’t comparing the costs of engaging in social media with the opportunity cost of spending that money elsewhere on less cool media options. If you have opted for a social media budget that is going to be allocated exclusively on Twitter and Facebook, you are not budgeting or planning your marketing properly.

Yes, but look at the ROI you get

You are almost certainly not able to prove the return on your investment in social media. That’s not my view, that’s the opinion of many social media experts.

Most marketers now have first-hand experience of sitting through an impressive presentation on a brand’s new Twitter or Facebook strategy only for it to end prematurely with pretty pictures and some audience data but no actual evidence of how this actually drives business fundamentals. Too many marketers have forgotten that if you cannot demonstrate ROI you should not be committing your organisation’s money to it. To do so makes you incompetent at best and potentially liable to accusations of malpractice at worst.

Social media is about more than ROI - it’s about conversations/dialogue/community*

Wrong! It’s about making money for your company. Last week, Tesco’s new group digital marketing officer Matt Atkinson announced he wants digital marketing to “enrich and add value to the customer journey”. What he should have said is how he can use it to sell more tea bags and panty liners.

As Pepsi’s recent disastrous results have demonstrated, when you forget you are in the business of selling cans of pop and start spending your cash on building communities and supporting causes you get crushed by your red and white competition.
*Delete as appropriate

What about all the successful case studies of social media impact?

First off let’s not confuse the incredible impact that social media is having for interpersonal and celebrity communications. But when you look at the evidence of social media success with brands alone, the case studies start to dwindle. There are still some impressive examples, such as Expedia, but as Columbia University’s Duncan Watts points out: “There is an enormous tendency for marketers to only notice successful case studies of social media and forget the huge number that fail completely.”

Social media is a new platform that changes all the old rules

Oh no it isn’t. It’s certainly an interesting new option for a small number of brands, but it’s been hugely oversold. And when the facts don’t stand up to examination, its exponents have created new arguments based on nonsensical facts.

To demonstrate this point, take a look at Barry Bridge’s impassioned response at the bottom of last week’s Marketing Week article on social media’s lack of ROI in which he introduces an entirely new form of ROI called “reverse ROI”. Absolute and total nonsense.

You are missing the role of social media as a source of consumer insight

Again total bollocks. Would you trust a research method that excluded 90% of the population? I’d say that was entirely unreliable data and yet that is the proportion who don’t use Twitter in the UK. Maybe you can use social media for some half-decent qualitative insights into a small minority of the market but you can get these insights without actually engaging in social media yourself. Three focus groups would be cheaper and more insightful.

If it’s so pointless, why are so many big brands doing it?

Most brands do social media because most other brands are doing it and, as we know, anything new and cool is usually irresistible to marketing managers under 40 (who are naive) and over 40 (who are paranoid at looking out of touch).

The problem also stems from the media who cover the launch of new apps and social media campaigns like they are life changing moments in marketing strategy. But then don’t cover the entirely piss-poor results that 95% of them achieve. Next week’s column will illustrate the point by looking at the five most piss-poor social media campaigns.

Really. I mean it.

Readers' comments (32)

  • The myth that social media is a free resource we should all be using has been promulgated by those with the largest investment stake, which in itself illustrates that viral marketing does in fact work as brands flock to join the ‘free’ web 2.0 platforms. So many adverts have suddenly appeared incorporating the Twitter/Facebook logo in the panic to ensure that 'their brand' is not missing out. However, social media certainly uses one expensive resource – people’s time.

    The points you raise are certainly valid in the case of Pepsi v Cola, but if you look at the Lynx marketing strategy of combining social media intelligently to target its 15-24 year old audience, then it can be extremely successful. They use an interactive approach, Facebook, X-box Live and Youtube with links to and from their website, which is exactly how their audience enjoy engaging with the brand. Lynx have switched the vast majority of their marketing budget into film pushed out through various channels, including TV, as this is what holds their audience’s attention and has proven successful– in sales!

    You can easily measure how many are ‘engaging with’ or just viewing your media if you utilize social media – can the same be said of expensive poster campaigns, which have a short shelf life? An effective viral and its parodies can continue indefinitely. Dove is a classic example of this.

    Every organisation has differing needs – social media can be a prominent, minor or non-existent element when considering the organisation’s marketing and communication mix. As with every strategy careful thought should go into the planning and execution with regular reviews and adjustments made. This process certainly hasn’t changed in the 30 years I’ve been in the business.

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  • I think social media definitely has a role to play in consumer insights. It shouldn't be used as a standalone method but can provide valuable qualitative insights. Taking Facebook as an example, some brands have upwards of 100,000 followers, regularly reacting to extensions, innovations and new campaigns. Loyal customers form the basis of brand equity, so the views of these Facebook brand communities should be important to marketers. Of course to generalise the findings of research using online brand communities it’s necessary to use traditional methods too. If brands are already using focus groups and other methods you might ask whats the point of conducting research online. But marketers who ignore social media as a source of consumer insights are missing out on thousands of qualitative responses to their brand’s actions, as well as consumer generated content and innovation ideas.

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  • "Most brands do social media because most other brands are doing it"

    This pretty much sums everything up about social media. Regardless of whether people have social interest in your brand/industry ( game developers and such, as well as TV networks are the ones who have it right I think. ), it seems to become a Facebook page/Twitter account anyway.

    They are both free ways to get yourselves in the faces of potential consumers. It certainly isn't something to plough all efforts into, but it certainly isn't to be looked over either.

    Not sure what you mean about not being able to prove ROI either, as if you're on Facebook/twitter, you have a website, and with that website, Analytics should be connected..... Or am I missing something? Of course it won't track all ( offline sales ), but it gives you a decent indication of where things are going.

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  • Sigh... digital schmigital....it's all just Another Big Revenue Stream for agencies. Surely y'all know that by now.

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  • Re: this week's article - absolutely love it, love it, love it!!!

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  • I'm curious Mark how you can write an article like this yet on www.brandtrack.com you encourage visitors to follow you on facebook and twitter? Is this because you have discovered the value in social media that you so blatently argued in your article that does not exist? If you have Mark please, share it with us won't you?


    I usually find your column interesting and enjoy your fresh perspectives however this week I'm afraid you've let yourself down. Your arguement is self indulgent and entirely opinion based.

    I'd also like to point out that your personal website looks like something from the 90's and given that you so often talk about best practice and condemn others for half assing you really have taken the biscuit with that. It adds no credibility to your self proclaimed status as a master marketer and begs the question, how much can you truly say that you're a true marketer, a master of the mix?

    Poor. Very poor Mark

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  • Your own definition of social media seems to amount to "the twitterz and facebooks"
    Social is v important for organic Search - a 'grown up' commercial channel if ever there was.
    It is also important for ecommerce, reviews and conversion.
    You have not considered how social media features e.g. on Facebook that help enhance advertising effectiveness and also increases sales and conversion (see analytics). Tesco clothing actually did a good financially rewarding Facebook campaign too (if memory serves).
    Social's not a magic bullet, and I'm not saying it is but your article is off.

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  • To me social media as a interactive marketing communication tool, can have a great advantage in influencing learning, teaching, expression of commitment and observation of brand loyalty among consumers.

    Social media can be successful in branding, provided that you put your name in front of your customers.

    Conventional wisdom indicates that social media is designed for long-term engagement, for marketing and branding.
    In other words, social media is just another customer engagement tool. However, engaging community involvement is difficult to achieve through traditional marketing methods.

    Long time ago, marketers used to listen to customers via focus group and other control situation to measure marketing messages and even adjusted them as needed. Today, social media provides a great opportunity for marketers to listen, engage and interact with customers in different way, but the days of controlling the messages are gone.

    All in all, ROI remains a key concern for businsses as a management guru Peter Drucker used to say: If you can't Measure you can't manage, but there are some social media metric tools with which you can measure something.

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  • Working in public sector communications the opportunities to use social media alongside other communication methods can provide benefits and certainly prove its value. The point that any organisation cannot control or avoid being referred to is important to consider as part of any social media strategy. The cost of repairing your reputation, or catching up with a conversation you should have been included in and monitoring may seem a basic point to make, but its valid (albeit it challenging). ROI is clearly a challenge, but I'd argue conversations, dialogue and community are important for any business.

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  • It's all very well having Facebook and Twitter but marketers need to know how to utulize them.

    Half these brands and companies have profiles but rarely use them. Just like the article says, it's about " marketing managers under 40 (who are naive) and over 40 (who are paranoid at looking out of touch).

    Unless this changes forget about ROI or shiny new platforms to work with, managers, get your finger out and do your jobs properly!!

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