Throughout my life I have seen fads come and go. To this day I still own my pogs and slammers for example. And that’s how most fads are- short lived popularity followed by near universal obscurity or extinction. Just ask yourself, how many times have you seen or heard of Gangnam Style since the Harlem Shake got popular? Catch any images of Planking on Instagram lately? And does anyone still play Angry Birds?
Fads come and go. It’s what they are supposed to do. And the typical catalyst to their demise is another fad. Sure we all have a long list of fads we would like to see go away, and most of them probably will. But there is one in particular at the top of my list that unfortunately shows no sign of dying any time soon. I’m talking about social media marketing.
(image from RVTechSolutions.com)
The buzzword of all buzzwords right now is social. How are you utilizing social channels? What is your social marketing strategy? Do you have a social media plan? Any of this sound familiar?
I have a confession. I fell for the social media marketing scam a while ago. Let me tell you about my experience.
We had just secured a client that was pretty new and quite small but in a large and competitive industry. They had successfully protected an exclusive patent that gave them a really good advantage in the market, and they asked us to help them with their online marketing efforts. We agreed to do search advertising, SEO and social media marketing. Running their search based ads was easy enough. Managing an SEO campaign was something we knew how to do. But the social media marketing we planned to outsource, so we did just that.
At first I was very impressed. This client had two brands of the same product, one for adults and one for babies. The company we hired ran a giveaway on the baby brand Facebook page and took them from 50 to nearly 600 likes in two weeks. They posted one thing there each day as well. The adult brand showed similar growth. There was a Twitter account for both as well that tweeted the same posts from Facebook. Everything looked good so I was excited.
Then something unexpected happened. The client wanted to know their ROI from their social media marketing. I was a little bummed to see posts like this about the difficulty in measuring ROI. But I went to work anyway and did my best to find what I could. But I was shocked by the results.
In spite of a combined 3,000 Facebook likes and 2,000 Twitter followers, in analytics I showed exactly ZERO visitors referred from both Facebook and Twitter to either site. I couldn’t believe it. Not a single visitor? What about the power of social I kept hearing about?
(image from SocialMaximizer.com)
I was simultaneously surprised and disappointed. When I talked to the company we had hired about their service, they assured us we would get more Facebook likes and Twitter followers. I suddenly realized the absolute worthless nature of what they and so many others do. Because the ROI on social media marketing is so difficult to determine, companies like this show you numbers they can determine, like views of your Facebook page, new likes or new followers. But what does any of it do for you? A whole lot of nothing.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are social media marketing companies out there that do a fantastic job. There are in house people doing wonderful things for their companies (shout out to @EN_Bell). But I happen to personally know of websites and brands who seemingly have great social media marketing campaigns going on but are failing badly. For example, take a brand that got over 450,000 unique visitors in the last 30 days. That’s pretty impressive. Guess how many came from Facebook? 450, and that is in spite of nearly 35,000 likes. And from Twitter? Not a single visitor and that’s with over 2,500 followers. Only 200 visitors came from their blog.
So what gives? Is social media marketing completely ineffective? Don’t hate me for saying this, but for all intents and purposes…yes, yes it is.
There are two things you have to understand about that statement. First, social media marketing can be done correctly and it can be done incorrectly. Second, the cost of doing it correctly as opposed to incorrectly is enormous. For this reason, social media marketing is almost completely worthless to 90% of every brand or company with a website.
How can I make such an outrageous statement? Because look at what goes into doing social media marketing correctly. It’s no small task. So listen up if you own a website: starting a blog, making a Facebook page and creating a Twitter account are fine things to do, but they do not constitute a social media marketing strategy that is going to accomplish anything. Again, I’ve been there. Zero visitors referred. Doing social media marketing correctly requires an enormous investment of time, people and resources. And even then, the vast majority of the people you are going to reach are existing customers. It’s really, really, really hard to get new customers from social media marketing.
Then what is it good for? Social media marketing is a great way to strengthen customer loyalty, improve customer service and enhance your branding efforts. What is it not good for? Finding and converting new customers. I know what you are thinking: “But Dan, Company ABC or Brand XYZ got this many or that many new customers from their social media marketing campaign! You’re just a cotton headed ninny muggins!” Sure, I tell you a general rule, it’s in your nature to immediately find the exceptions to the rule. I get it. And feel free to go on thinking social media is the way to acquire new customers. Good luck with that.
Let’s look at another example. Groupon used to be a really big deal. Google tried to buy them for $6 billion. Yup, billion with a b. I’m not sure which is crazier, Google offering that much or Groupon turning it down. Either way, they had a simple business model. Pay us a fee, give us an offer we can give our users for 24 hours and we’ll get a bunch of people into your business with that offer. It worked just as advertised. But there was a problem. Sales for most of Groupon’s advertisers were going down! It’s because the loyal customers who were going to go already were just waiting for the Groupon offer so they could go at a discount. Turns out they weren’t attracting any new customers for the most part, just discounting their product or service for those who were going to buy it anyway. Oops.
Now I know what you are thinking: “But Dan, Company XYZ got a bunch of new customers from Groupon! You’re just a cotton headed ninny muggins!” First of all, stop calling me that. Second of all, I know, exceptions to every rule. I get it. Just because Rockefeller got rich by getting oil out of the ground, doesn’t mean you should go invest in a pick and a shovel and start excavating your backyard. While something can work, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Social media marketing can be effective…if you are a big brand and can invest what is necessary to make it effective for you.
But if you are looking to effectively get new customers, please, for the love of all that is sacred in this world, stop the social media marketing. Stop hailing it as the next big thing. Stop acting like someone is nuts for not doing it. Stop paying “experts” for their ebooks, webinars, advice or whatever on how to be successful. You won’t be. Just accept it. The amount of time and money you would have to put into getting just one new customer from your social media marketing efforts could have been used in at least 113 more efficient ways.
Ever see pictures of old movie stars from way back in the day? What did they all have in common? There was almost always a cigarette in their lips. Why? Because it was new, it was hip, it was cool. Everyone had to do it. But after several decades, what did we figure out? Oh, right, cigarettes are incredibly unhealthy and can cause a myriad of health problems. Oddly, this has not deterred millions of Americans who still insist on smoking, but I digress.
Social media marketing is the same way. It’s new, it’s hip, and it’s cool. Everyone wants to do it. Sure it won’t give you lung cancer (that we know of). But there’s a similar letdown of sorts. At some point you will realize it isn’t doing anything for you.
If you are in the insurance business, you probably know that buying leads is a great way to get new customers. You know your conversion rates, cost per acquisition, all that good stuff. It works for you. So would you go tell Starbucks the way to get more people in the door is to buy leads? Amazon makes millions from their affiliate program. Should every online retailer have an affiliate program? Why would anyone think social media marketing is different from everything else? For some it can work, for others it won’t.
This is why the fad needs to die. Yes, social media is very popular. Anyone who uses the Internet has some kind of profile on at least one social site. But traditional advertising wisdom does not apply here. When everyone listened to the radio, it made sense to advertise on the radio. When everyone read the newspaper, it made sense to advertise in the newspaper. When everyone watched TV, it made sense to advertise on TV. And now everyone is on some social medium or another. Doesn’t it make sense to advertise on social media?
No, it doesn’t. Marketing via social media is a lot more involved than creating an ad and showing it to people so they know who you are. And again, social media marketing is one of the least efficient ways to get new customers I know of. If you are going to do it right, you are going to use social media to strengthen customer loyalty, improve customer service and enhance your branding efforts. And that requires dedication, time, talent and resources.
So please, PLEASE, can we let the social media marketing fad die off now? Can we collectively ignore the social media “gurus” online? Can we recognize it doesn’t and can’t work for most companies? That would be just dandy. Now that we got that out of the way, next we need to figure out how to get the cat meme fad to die.