Nearly all the ‘marketing theory’ I read these days is boring, regurgitated fluff, written so that social media marketers have something to push out and impress clients, or make us thing they know what they are talking about. Most of it is self serving, pointless guff. Why? Because social media strategies focus on measures that don’t required sustained relationships, nor any frank assessment of the relationship between the company and the product. The consequence is a failure to build the brand and make sales, and instead build ‘success’ that may be superficially impressive but doesn’t result in any noticeable short or long term benefit.
Social media has an application for a wide variety of companies, but should not be seen as a sure-fire requirement for every business, nor be executed as though there is a single pathway to a single goal.
Why Social Media Marketing Fails
Goals don’t align with business strategy.
I have had clients ask why their social media strategy is failing to build ‘likes’ to their satisfaction, when the reality is that they were selling widgets, or not supporting their social media with proactive brand awareness tactics. Most people simply don’t care about the company that makes the nails they will use on the weekend, and certainly don’t need educating on the benefits of nails and how to hammer them in. Trying to build a relationship with your customers for a commodity product that competes only at price point is a stunning waste of time. The social media budget would be better spent advertising discounted prices or simply be saved to ensure lower retail price points. Likewise, expecting people to follow a company they have not heard of (and then expecting the few new followers gained to become instant brand advocated that take a personal responsibility for finding you new fans) is simply unrealistic. In this case, social media is a secondary goal, we need to instead find a wat to tell people about who we are, then back that up with an engaging social media presence. For small business, this might be something incredibly traditional and cost effective list a flyer run or a billboard, for larger firms it might be an advertising campaign. Either way, people just will not find you until they have heard of you in most instances, and brand advocated take a significant amount of time, dollars and effort to earn.
In both cases, Social media is a secondary strategy, and ‘likes’ is not a fair measure of marketing success. It is a worthwhile activity if it can be executed cheaply, but the focus should probably be on using social media differently, or employing alternative marketing tactics.
Measures are incorrect.
Social Media is great for brand building and consequently suit consumer products better than other types of businesses. Measuring the spread of brand recognition is not a function of ‘likes’ on facebook – it promises no more than the deepening your ability to tell people about your product and its benefits – Brand building. Companies need to remember they are largely preaching to the converted when speaking to facebook followers. Very few people follow a consumer brand they are not already aware of, so likes can drive engagement, but less so, market penetration or sales. If your goal is to spread the word, social may not be your best bet, especially as consumers grow weary of saturation.
If the goal you set for social media is to grow the audience, secondary strategies and measures need to be put in place, in the form of offers and promotions. While a fan may share the post of a new small business in town, the odds are greatly increased if that small business offers a special coupon discount for a limited time to facebook fans. Likewise, a competition via facebook may also have viral potential. In both cases, the measure of success should be coupon redemption rates or competition entries, with fan growth being a secondary measure, unless the competition is specifically set up to achieve that goal.
Either way, a small business hoping to grow from 100 followers to 6000 is missing the point. It is better and more desirable to generate 100 new customers than 5900 new likes, though that achievement is worthwhile too, provided it is backed up with continuous, beneficial information that helps the potential customer.
Brand building doesn’t necessarily mean sales short term (nor brand recognition).
Social Media Marketing can be incredibly useful in helping connect customers and brands. It can inform, engage and entertain. Social media Marketing can also push product, rave about great deals, demand action – thereby destroying brand credibility, relationships and lead engagement. I am sure most people understand this, yet too many brands fail to understand that a fan IS a customer (not necessarily a paying customer, but certainly a potential customer and should be treated as such) and like a department store clerk riding your coat tails, nothing loses a potential sale faster than intrusive, self-promoting social media strategies.
If this is true (it is!) then our expectation of social media needs to shift significantly. Fan growth, connections and follows are important, but perhaps there are better measures of success. Unlikes is a good example. An unlike on Facebook is a person making a special effort to remove you from their lives. It is fair to say, they are not leaving because they love you. Perhaps the goal therefore should be to ensure unlikes never exceed 1% or new likes (depends on your business of course) and by using that measure, focus on what you can share with your fans that will actually contribute to their lives. Do pithy little motivation really improve the image your brand is making, or is it the equivalent of tired, dreary landscape posters in your office? To me it spells an entire lack of thought, and a thoughtlessness for your fans time.
Success is measured by leads, not likes
Many businesses have a product or service that may not produce a high volume of sales but instead requires attention to be focused on making a small number of clients exceedingly happy with often big-ticket purchases. Why then would that same company aim to have a high volume of likes, connections or follows? As with my earlier points, ensure that there is a clear connection between how customers are found, engaged and converted. Rather than a focus on a high volume of (undoubtedly useful) tips and tricks, motivations, and other content being created to ‘engage and build brand advocates’ your focus should instead be on slowly but surely connecting with REAL potential customers on business networks, and individually speaking about how you may help their business. It won’t give you a big shiny number under your banner on Facebook, but it will result in more qualified leads.
Customer demographics misalign with marketing targets. – If you are selling high-ticket b2b items, is Facebook or twitter really going to generate interest, or is it simply going to cheapen the brand? Like TV, demographics should drive all online marketing decisions, including the analysis of the benefits of social vs say PPC or other paid online advertising, PR, paid speaking or interviews and so on. To read more about B2B social marketing, read this article, which discusses the use of influencing tactics as brand building strategy designed for long term benefits.
Most businesses know the way that they have traditionally found new clients – word of mouth, advertising, promotions, coupons, brand building and brand recognition, dial for dollars, networking or door-to-door. They know what works and what doesn’t, they know what their customers look like. If there isn’t a clear connection between traditional marketing and sales and social media strategies, then it is time to re-think how social media can best serve your business.