Social media is about attracting actions and conversations, not shouting at people.
Social media marketing is what most CMOs have at the top of their list for spending increases this year and next. Indeed, social media holds the promise of wild viral effects, socially infused search results, and virtually infinite possibilities for targeting. But as many marketers dive into using social media, some are learning lessons the hard way; some lessons are costly and others may cause irreversible and permanent damage.
Facebook - Perpetuating the Myth of Reach and Frequency
Doing social media shouldn't mean sticking ads on Facebook. Unfortunately, most of the early adopters ended up doing just that. They are still asking for "reach and frequency" - how many people did we potentially show our ads to - because of their TV advertising mindset. And Facebook is more than happy to take their money, by throwing off several hundred billion impressions per month by displaying up to nine ads per page and charging on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis (see: The Facebook Ad Scam). But as budgets shift from TV advertising to digital and social, the metrics of success must also be updated.
After several quarters of experimenting, advertisers are left scratching their heads and wondering about return on investment (ROI) and business impact. Some big advertisers are realizing that the banner ads simply don't work - General Motors, for example, publicly stated that it is cutting its $10 million of Facebook ad spend and the associated $30 million of agency, content, and creative costs. The "soft metric" called "branding" is just not good enough anymore, especially in light of click-through rates being a "rounding error to zero." Awareness alone is no longer enough to get modern consumers to take action.
Fortunately, there are better ways of "doing" social media marketing that are not only more valuable but also longer lasting. Users are on Facebook to socialize. Most people don't "friend" Lipitor or boring brands on Facebook; they friend their friends. Their conversations aren't media that can be bought or sold. In fact, this kind of media doesn't exist ahead of time like television airtime per a schedule of TV shows. People's conversations happen when they happen. And most advertisers don't have a right to speak to them, yet. It's like a thief breaking into your house at dinnertime and shouting at you to buy their products; or getting so-called influencers to do the shouting for them. Instead, advertisers need to earn the right to speak and be in the conversation with knowledgeable consumers. This takes time and persistent work - like providing something of value, insights, something sharable, etc. Truly understanding your community of fans takes time; but once the relationship is built up it can yield continuous payoff; and these conversations are free.
Groupon - A Quick Fix Leads to a Lifetime of Regret
The exact opposite of persistence and patience is a quick fix called Groupon. Thousands of local businesses rushed headlong into doing Groupons to drive traffic to their restaurants, retail stores, etc., with the promise of repeat business to make up for the "loss leader." As it turns out, actual experience has shown that those repeat visits and purchases never materialized - why would they, when the user just got your product or services for 80 percent off. Some businesses didn't even live to tell about their horror stories - remember the little cupcake store that had to make 20,000 cupcakes at a tremendous loss to fulfill the Groupon campaign. Not many would live to tell their story after something like that.
Instead, how about a free solution? If every restaurant would politely ask their patrons after their meal to write them a Yelp review - good or bad - they would start to accumulate reviews that would be useful in helping the next potential customer make their purchase decision. Modern users are so savvy they will look at the number of reviews, the recency of the review, and whether anyone else thought it was valuable. Or how about having patrons "check in" on Foursquare with pictures of the food they are enjoying (of course, all of this depends on the food and service being solid or stellar). While these approaches won't drive the hordes of people beating down your door (after all, it isn't as sexy as 80 percent off), they will yield the long-lasting benefit of real advocacy by fellow restaurant-goers, not the advertiser.
Pinterest - Just Because Everyone Else Is Doing It Doesn't Mean You Should Too
The latest shiny object that all advertising "moths" are chasing is Pinterest. It has been widely cited in the media as the "fastest growing social network in history" and tagged with irresponsible claims like "the top social referrer." While accurate, the key term is "social referrer" - it is comparing Pinterest with Facebook and Twitter. And in certain instances like magazines it is the top traffic driver among social networks. But when compared with all referrers actually driving traffic, including Google search, it is a mere 1/50th - not terribly large (see: The Myth of Pinterest). There are certain instances where Pinterest is brilliant - visually driven sites and products like home decor, design, furnishings, etc.; food and beverage; and fashion. Pinterest was also great when a handful of curators carefully selected a small number of beautiful items - thus simplifying the decision-making process for other users. Now with practically every image from the Pottery Barn catalog posted to Pinterest, the value of curation is lost and the user must choose from 15 sofas just like they would in the catalog.
Instead, how about a free solution? If images on a website are properly named and even tagged with proper "alt text" then search engines can find them. Google images can bring them up in search results and even comingle them with results on the first page. This not only provides a shortcut to page one of Google results; it also provides a longer lasting search engine optimization (SEO) value. Note that Pinterest images are served from Pinterest and the linkbacks are "nofollow"-ed, thus giving no SEO power. So Google image search optimization would yield more direct and longer term benefits than chasing the latest shiny object.
Social media is about attracting actions and conversations, not shouting at people.
The moral of this story is that social media is about slow and consistent relationship building, where trust is earned over time and dialog is cultivated through an exchange of real value.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is the senior digital strategy advisor to CMOs, marketing executives, and global brands. Dr. Fou has over 15 years of Internet strategy consulting experience and is an expert in social media marketing strategy, data/analytics, and consumer insights, with specific knowledge in the consumer packaged goods, financial services/credit cards, food/beverage, retail/apparel, and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors.
He is a frequent panelist, moderator, and keynote speaker at industry conferences. Dr. Fou is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies and at Rutgers University at the Center for Management Development, where he teaches executive courses on digital strategy and integrated marketing.
Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT at the age of 23. He started his career with McKinsey & Company and previously served as SVP, digital strategy lead, McCann/MRM Worldwide and group chief digital officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG). He writes a blog "Rants, Raves about Digital Marketing" and can be found on Twitter at @acfou.
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