The Truth About Social Media Marketing
Bob Hoffman is an old media curmudgeon. He still believes in TV and earns his living making ads. He rails against newfangled media like Facebook and Twitter, while he taunts social media advocates.
In many ways, Bob is very much one those dinosaurs we hear so much about: committed to traditional media, suspicious of new technology and unwavering in his faith that great ads build great businesses. The irony is that he is also a true social media superstar.
He has a lively Facebook fan page, over 7000 followers on Twitter and his Ad Contrarian blog is one of the most popular, informative and entertaining in the industry. He recently addressed this paradox in a post and, more than any social media guru ever could, he outlined the true value social media along with it’s very real problems.
Social Media Doesn’t Work Well On It’s Own
Take a look at the top brands on Facebook and it’s hard not to be amazed. Some have tens of millions of fans. Wow! Who needs expensive TV ads when you can reach a mass audience for free? Just put up a page and let the profits roll in. Right?
Not exactly. One salient fact is that most of the top social brands continue to invest heavily in traditional media. Coke is near the top with almost 50 million followers, McDonalds has about 20 million. Some, like MTV and Disney are media properties themselves. The route to social media success, it seems, runs through traditional media.
Even the exceptions, like YouTube and Starbucks, are instructive. They obviously didn’t grow into megabrands using Facebook and Twitter, but rather use social media to capitalize on brand equity they have already built.
When Google starting getting serious competition, they started running TV ads. When there’s a product launch, a sale or just about any other occasion where you need to reach a mass audience quickly and effectively, there’s still no substitute for paid media.
It’s a Long Hard Slog
Another thing that Hoffman points out is that there is no instant success in social media. He’s spent five years building up his social media presence, writing several blog posts per week, responding to (often hostile) comments and religiously updating his Twitter and Facebook feeds.
My experience has been pretty much the same. Although LinkedIn groups were helpful in the beginning, Facebook and Twitter were almost useless for the first year. It took awhile to build a following and learn how to cultivate it before I saw any benefits that would justify the effort.
Another problem with social media is that marketers tend to be lousy publishers. For all the lip service about creating compelling content, idle talk and buzzwords do not make it so. As I’ve explained before, publishing is a skill that must be learned. That takes effort. There’s more to writing than typing.
Influentials Are a Sham
Although Hoffman didn’t mention it, probably the biggest social media red herring is the influentials myth. Supposedly, there are a group of mysterious people out there that hold all the cards. Tap into them and they will carry your message to the masses, or so some would have us believe.
That doesn’t mean that influence doesn’t exist. It surely does. Oprah Winfrey is very influential as are doctors when it comes to health issues, clergy for spiritual issues and so on. However, there’s nothing mysterious about them. Marketers have long employed celebrity endorsements, trade marketing and community outreach where appropriate.
There are also methods of targeting influence, such as social network analysis, but they are highly network specific and too computationally intensive to be useful for mass audiences at the moment. There is a shortcut called the friendship paradox, which can be effective in a limited context, but it bears no resemblance to what the social media gurus talk about.
What’s really important is finding people who are receptive to your message and will want to spread it. So “mommy bloggers” are important because they care about certain topics, doctors because they are professionally involved in health issues and celebrities because they are famous for something in particular.
Brands are not built by influential people, but by influential ideas.
The Rich Get Richer
In the final analysis, social media is a lousy way to build a brand. You are merely inserting yourself into a cacophonous sea of garbled voices and are very unlikely to stand out. Marketers like to complain about the clutter in traditional media, but in social media it’s exponentially worse.
So why use social media at all? The reason is that it is an extremely powerful vehicle for empowering advocacy and we know from resources like net promoter score that advocacy is extremely important for brand health and profitability. Social media, if done right, can capitalize on brand equity that has already been built up.
And that’s the real truth about social media marketing. It’s a vitally important facet of an overall effort, but no replacement for sound marketing principles. Anybody who tells you different is either a fool, a charlatan or both.