Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 19, 201312:16 PM

The Failure Of Social Media

Social Media doesn't work for the vast majority of small businesses.

That was the main message in the USA Today article titled, Study: Social media a bust for small businesses, published on April 17th, 2013. From the news item: "About 61% of small businesses don't see any return on investment on their social-media activities, according to a survey released Tuesday from Manta, a social network for small businesses. Yet, almost 50% say they've increased their time spent on social media, and only 7% have decreased their time. What businesses are trying to get out of social media: 36% said their goal was to acquire and engage new customers, 19% said to gain leads and referrals, and 17% said to boost awareness. Facebook was most cited as the hardest to maintain social-media platform, according to the survey." There is a big lesson in this data...

What you want from social media may be very different from what it is.

There are a lot of things that I would like advertising to do. I'd like it to result in more sales, a better quality of customer, more brand loyalty and - if at all possible - I'd like it to cure cancer. There needs to be a much stronger education and alignment when it comes to media (social media, traditional media or whatever) and expectations. The education phase will help businesses (of all kind) better understand what the channels can actually do to augment their sales, marketing and communications. Once the business understands the capabilities, they can best define how these media properties can help them achieve their business goals (or how to best align marketing with the overall business strategy). Once that hard work is done, a plan needs to be hatched about measurement, metrics and results. Typically this will include work like:

  1. Fix a budget. How much money are you willing to spend against your marketing and communications. Too many small businesses (and medium and large businesses) will often come back with, "I don't know what will it cost?" this is not an acceptable answer. It may not be easy to define a budget (work is never easy), but as the business owner, only you can decide how much you are willing to venture in the marketing realm.
  2. Commit to time served. This used to be a simpler process. Brands could run a small campaign or do something around the holiday season. Social media is much more about opening a line of communication (like having a phone number or physical address). This is basic and elementary, but too many brands expect immediate results and don't commit to it in the same way that they have committed to things like their overall vision and goals for the business. When people ask me how much time they should commit to social media, I often ask them about how much time they are willing to commit to the overall success of their business? Why? Social media shouldn't be another activity in business, it should be a part of how the business flows.
  3. Defining the target market. This is way less about demographics and psychographics and much more about where your best customers gather. Where do they learn, read, grow and share. What excited them, how do they connect with brands and why do they connect with brands? When you can understand where the consumer "lives" online, you can better how understand how to best serve them.
  4. Understand the media channels. Once you have defined where they live, what are these environments and how can you best use them to better connect? "They're on Facebook, so how do I sell to them on Facebook?," is the worst strategic place to start. Instead, ask yourself this: "if they're on Facebook and, on average, they are connected to about 200 people, how can I create value or connections there that would engender my brand to be a part of their very close knit group?"
  5. Identifying the lifetime value of a customer. What is a customer worth? Not an impression, not if they buy once, but the full lifetime value. It's somewhat disheartening to see how few brand professionals actually know the true value of a lifetime customer. One question: if you don't know how much they're worth, how can you figure out what is worth it to acquire them? Complaining that social media doesn't work is a simple cop out.
  6. Lock in a cost per acquisition. Once you have defined a lifetime value dollar to that customer, what are you willing to pay to acquire a customer? Again, marketing goals may be best achieved by using something like Google AdWords over Twitter, but until you have done the hard work of figuring out the math, saying that social media doesn't work is like saying that radio doesn't work or that TV doesn't work. It may, simply, not be working because you're not working to make it truly work.
  7. Create a balanced diet. paid earned and owned. Social media is not unlike other, more traditional, channels in that when it is done well, the paid media can also leverage channels where earned and owned media happens. Paid, earned and owned media are not one-in-the-same. A brochure is not the same as a coupon or promoting that discount on Facebook. Both of the media channels may work in terms of being able to accept the same marketing message, but they don't work the same in terms of how consumers engage, connect and build trust within them.
  8. Execute plans against the diet. Opening up a Facebook page and then being disappointed because nobody is buying from you is not the fault of social media (or Facebook). Once you have defined what you're looking to do in terms of paid, earned and owned media, build a holistic marketing strategy around how you are going to execute against it. Being in social media because a competitor is in social media may be the right impetus to get you motivated, but it's not going to do anything to the economic value of the company unless you get extremely strategic and vigilant in planning what you're going to do, how you're going to do it, what type of voice you're going to use and how you're going to measure it all. 
  9. Start the creative process. Creative isn't just a splashy ad campaign. Creative is the heart and soul of how you various messages come to life. It is the tone, look, feel, voice and consistency of how you execute against the strategy. Great creative concepts can certainly make or break a campaign, so too can great creativity in how you use social media. Quick stunts or a long-term commitment to blogging are creative acts. Just setting up an account and hoping something happens isn't creative at all. Most brands fail in social media because they are homogenous and boring. Understanding what your creative platform is will be critical to finding any modicum of success.
  10. Build a network. Don't hunt for customers... try to build a tribe (hat tip to Seth Godin). The attitude of "I built a page and no one is following," can easily be rebuked by asking these brands: how many people do you follow, how active are you in their platforms and how much value are you adding to them? As with any community, you get out what you put in. And, in the early days, you have to give a lot before you get to receive. Social media plays on the community side of the equation.
  11. Test and iterate. Analytics, measurement, testing little things, learning and optimizing from them are the bane of most marketers. We live in a new world, and it's a constant surprise to see some of the world's biggest brands (and some of the smarter, nimbler ones too) think that the social media model is the same as traditional media (set it and forget it). This is live, it is real-time, it is not (just) push and it involves nuances and dynamics that businesses have yet to understand and effectively flex.

Don't kid yourself, social media works. In fact, all media works... you just have to do the hard work of figuring out how to make it work for you. There are no silver bullets.

By Mitch Joel