Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing is dead?

social mediaAugie Ray is right. Social media’s house is on fire. He also says you can start over. I’m not so sure.

Augie (an old friend and colleague of mine) recently published a major blog post about what’s wrong with social media. Here’s the gist of his message:

Grab the fire extinguisher, build a social media bonfire and start from scratch. Do this now, and 2016 can finally be the year your brand meaningfully succeeds in social media. (Augie Ray)

When Charlene Li and I published Groundswell in 2008, social media was new and promising. It was also diverse, with lots of activity in blogs, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (!), ratings and reviews, wikis, YouTube, and elsewhere. It was early days for brand participation; brands in social channels were novel and therefore interesting to consumers. (Our timing was perfect — the book sold like mad.)

As Augie clearly points out, those days are long gone. Here’s a devastating piece of analysis from his post:

Not only is reach falling but social has never succeeded in delivering reliable marketing scale, no matter how many case studies suggest otherwise. Social does not deliver purchasers (accounting for 1% of e-commerce sales, compared to 16% for email and 17% for CPC [cost per click]). Social delivers poor conversions (with a conversion rate of 1.17% compared to 2.04% for search and 2.18% for email). Social fails to deliver trust (with B2B buyers rating social media posts among the least important for establishing credibility and just 15% of consumers trusting social posts by companies or brands.) Nor is Social media a major factor in search engine rankings (placing dead last among the nine major factors affecting SEO [search engine optimization] according to MoZ’s 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors report.)

This is a problem, Augie says, because:

Entire corporate social media strategies are crafted on baseless assumptions that presume brands can reach prospects and customers in social networks, consumers want and trust brand content, all engagement matters, likes are marketing KPIs [key performance indicators] and fans and followers are advocates.

Augie’s analysis is exactly right. Facebook is now central to social media, and by throttling organic reach, Facebook has destroyed brand conversation. But the problem lies equally with the brands themselves. They’re just boring.

Nobody wants to talk about your brand. Nobody wants to interact with your marketing. Any gains you see are illusory. Social media is not a marketing channel. Give up.

I once railed that social media is not media — it’s not simply a place to get attention and then advertise. I was right back then; it had potential. But that no longer applies. Now it is just media. It’s like putting up ad signage at a rock concert. Yeah, lots of people see your ad, but it’s the concert they’re talking about, not you. This is why, as Forrester’s Nate Elliott says, you should hand your social ad budget to media buyers.

Augie says we can rebuild social media again. I think the problem is deeper, it’s that marketing is doing it. (Augie says “reconsider what department should lead your social media efforts,” but that’s too weak. Just take it away from marketing, I say.) From his blog post:

Brands that win in the social era will not be better at storytelling but in using social media to hear, help, educate, encourage, empower, connect and respond to their customers and prospects as individuals.

My problem with this is not the strategy, but the idea that it’s brands that win. You must maintain a presence in social channels to respond to customer questions and complaints. And you can use social to listen to customers and engage with them on product ideas — that is, get their help. But these are not marketing efforts, and they don’t scale. I can’t climb on board with his final upbeat message:

Find ways to get people talking to each other about their real experiences with your company and its offerings. Engage your happy customers and help them to share their experiences; intercept customers at moments of truth to encourage sharing; build P2P [person-to-person] ratings and assistance into every mobile and web experience; connect people to each other in meaningful ways; and more than anything, provide the sorts of product and service experiences people will want to talk about and their friends will find worthy of attention and consideration.

I’m afraid this is the same hopeful crap that got us here in the first place. Augie, you’re burning down the traditional house and replacing it with a post-modern one. I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter what house you build, the neighborhood has gone to shit.

Around 90% of brands are not worth talking about. Coca-cola is not worth talking about. Bank of America is not worth talking about. For lord’s sake, Comcast is not delivering experiences that they want you to talk about. For brands like these, social media is not a marketing channel.

Maybe 5% of brands are worth talking about. Apple and Harley-Davidson, for example, create experiences that generate discussion. Movies generate discussion. If you think this is you, it’s probably not, but you may be one of the few brands for which social media is a marketing channel.

Finally, there are the 5% of brands willing to make the investment in creating useful content. Home Depot is one. So is American Express with its Open community. This is a big and risky investment, but it can generate useful traffic. “Owned media” that’s actually valuable is expensive to build.

Unless you’re one of those brands people love to talk about, or one of those brands willing to make the huge content investment, give it up. Stop wasting your time on marketing through social media.

Followup post: Social media marketing is mostly dead. 

Photo: LukeBam06 via Wikimedia Commons

63 responses to “Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing is dead?

  1. Josh, this post is better than deep meditation. I feel wise and alive, freed from the tyranny of incessant thinking about useless things. I hate the time-suck of social media and love hearing the truth about today.

  2. I am glad that we are in violent agreement until a point when we come into semi-violent disagreement. Before I get to that, let me say that, just like when we worked together at Forrester, you helped to make this blog post better (without knowing it). As I edited the post, I caught myself thinking, “Would Josh say I am equivocating? Am I using a Bullshit word here?” So, thank you for the response and the unconscious editing assist!

    We agree it is time to take social away from marketing–in most companies. That was the point of my conclusion, which you found too weak, but the reason I don’t make a firmer statement on this matter is purposeful. I believe it is POSSIBLE for Marketing to do it right provided it has the right, smart marketing leadership. I’ve seen Marketing get it right (including at places like USAA).

    My argument about social media has never been that social isn’t a channel FOR companies but a change in consumer communication and behaviors happening TO companies. This means business leaders must understand the right metrics their companies can expect from social media (which is why my Social Media ROI report at Forrester took a balanced scorecard approach and not the more typical but vapid media equivalency approach.) If the Marketing Dept expects the right things, it can lead social. That said, I would hardly argue with you that most Marketers do not get it right.

    Secondly, I do not associate the word “brand” with the Marketing Department. Brands are not built with marketing. Brands are built with experiences and when people say the right things about them (offline and online). This means WOM matters. A brand that creates the right experiences that get people talking, finds ways to intercept and empower people to tell their stories at the right moment, connects people to each other when it matters and uses social media for business (customer care, collaboration, cocreation, recruiting, etc.) can, in fact, be a “brand” that succeeds.

    Perhaps brands were created with and by Marketing in the mass media era, but today it takes a village (i.e., the entire organization.) That doesn’t mean that urging brands to do the right thing is hopeful crap–it means it is hard work, done from the top down throughout the organization and is focused not on storytelling and brand posts but on value, relationships, products, services and meaningful engagement.

    My intent with this post was to get Marketing to rethink their idiotic strategies and to stop believing the snake oil salesmen selling them a bill of goods on the power of “brand storytelling.” But if Marketing cannot get this right–and the vast majority will not–then you and I agree: Take it away from Marketing and put social media leadership where it belongs in the organization–in places like Corp Comm/PR and Customer Care.

    1. Tell your final sentence to the nonprofit or small business that has a single marketing person that doubles as public relations and customer care. It doesn’t scale.

      Rather, I’m a fan of what George Colony said many moons ago: combine marketing and IT functions. The progressive firm is already doing this, treating social media not as a channel to promote but as a channel to respond and react and once in a while to “proact” too.

  3. Terrific post!! You are one of the few bloggers who deserves my primary email address … Although every day is a bit much IMHO.

    Marketers ruined social media treating it as cheap advertising. In-bound marketers, thanks to marketing automation platforms such as Hubspot, are extremely close to ruining email. Ninety percent of the content that gets posted in the name of “building a personal brand” and “thought leadership” is crap content. Crap content to build organic SEO is still crap content. Just because I know your name or can “find” you on the Internet doesn’t mean I buy whatever you are peddling. Adding “Dear Lesley” at the top of your unwanted email will do little to inspire me.

    To the marketing bosses pushing your underlings for content calendars and asking “have you sent the email?” – beware how dangerously close you are getting to losing the very audience you intend to cultivate. (I am speaking to you women’s retail marketers). In the flood of social marketing and marketing automation, consumers are getting really good at tuning out all brand messaging sans perhaps the occasional promotion to buy something they really want. Most consumers believe giving you a primary email address is a privilege, don’t abuse it.

    And as stated above, following a brand on a social channel means very little – I may like Southwest Airlines on Facebook and usually fly them several times a year when the occasion demands it. Southwest is an airline that does a lot of things right – respectful email marketing – an opt-in weekly discount flights and a monthly Rapid Rewards e-newsletter. They also offer excellent customer service. Don’t nickle and dime customers. Play straight. Act nice when you have to call them. That’s it. That simple. They don’t have to advertise. They have a customer for life.

    Before you push submit / send, think very carefully – “Is it necessary, worthwhile and valuable?”

  4. When you are writing anything for an audience that will include non-specialists, you ought to spell out once what an abbreviation abbreviated or what a jargon term means. I realize that in this blog the abbreviations (e.g., CPC, KPI) were all within quotes, but it’s still frustrating for a reader–okay, me–to have to go searching to determine what the abbreviation might mean, be left guessing, or forced to move on knowing I don’t understand what you just wrote.

    I suggest inserting the words that have been abbreviated or the meaning of a jargon term immediately after the first instance of the abbreviation and inside square brackets.

  5. Josh and Augie — I’ll be the first to provide the full disclosure that I’m both a social participant (as we all are) and advocate. I still do see many opportunities ahead, but clearly believe that the majority of organizational activity is still around broadcast-based promotions and bait-and-switch content that provides little value or relevance to those they wish to connect with about things.

    The interesting thing is that I don’t think social is the problem — I think it’s more that this is magnifying the overall issues that exist today. We still have companies that believe in saying what they want rather than understanding what their customers and potential customers need. I always find it funny when they say, “Here’s your solution!” … yet they have no clue about the pain points and challenges their customers truly face each day. Your solutions only matter if they address the problems of those they’re intended for in the first place.

    So, the issue is more of a foundation flaw that needs to be corrected … not an inherent failure of social itself. It’s just being carried forward. I’ve worked on marketing and social efforts for both large Fortune 500 companies and startups. We need to better understand how to listen and learn … and then take that **actionable** insight to deliver something that customers can use to make a bigger impact on the bottom lines of their businesses. I’ve always hated the fluffy “marketing checklists” that allow people to say, “Yup, we did this, that and the other thing” when asked by superiors or investors.

    We need to apply social in the same ways we use other channels — whether that be in-person discussions, events, webinars, telephone calls, email or websites. I’m not naive in thinking that we’ll lose all promotional aspects in social, but it sure would be nice to see a more holistic view where all of these pieces come together to offer what people actually need — especially with social being used as a 24/7 feedback loop and focus group. I’m “mature” enough that I remember the days of focus groups, which were often timely and expensive without many true benefits. Social can improve on that and other things, but it’s not a magic bullet and it certainly must get past the shiny object just because a new platform or capability pops up.

    I’m still a believer … but more cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be interesting days ahead. There is so much hype out there about areas like the Internet of Things, but despite the many challenges we need to face there (security, privacy, reliable infrastructure, etc) we are starting to see some of the buzz becoming early realities. Maybe IoT can help improve some of the aforementioned issues. TBD.

    By the way, I did find out about this post via Twitter. For me, social still provides me with an incredible discovery engine and for that I’m still appreciative & hopeful.

    Have a great week — despite the roller-coaster ride of the global economies and stock markets.

    Best,
    Ian

  6. Great to see such an intelligent discussion on this matter – one that we’ve needed to see for some time. A parallel case here is the sad state of content marketing. Once again, it’s a function that was (mis)appropriated by marketing and is difficult to sustain. Why? Because you can’t automate or scale it, and it takes a great deal of commitment – both in time and resources.

    I included this in my weekly newsletter (along with Augie’s piece) – check out a deeper exploration of why content marketing doesn’t work: http://www.forbes.com/sites/miketempleman/2015/08/17/content-marketing-doesnt-work/

    And expect to see this very post in next week’s edition!

  7. I think you are both right…and you are both wrong. The trap you have both fallen into is that you are talking about “brands” as in big, big, monster brands. You are completely ignoring small businesses, especially boutique retail and the food industry. Many of the points you make condemning large brands are exactly why social media has been a successful strategy for small businesses like my two. We are real. We are “mom and pop”. We are genuine people who talk to our customers and engage them with their reviews and posts about our businesses.

    Don’t fall into the trap of assuming the entire echosystem you are discussing revolves around Fortune 150 companies only. There is an entire world of business, and social business, that doesn’t have a marketing, social media, PR department…or department at all. They are small businesses with an iPhone loaded with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest apps and they are talking to their customers at the local level and driving engagements in a real and meaningful way. Not a day goes by a customer at one of our two shops doesn’t tell us they are there because all of their friends on Facebook said they had to come or tell us they follow our Instagram to see what products we have in stock.

    I understand that the big dogs drive the conversation but when you say “brands” don’t ignore the fact that some “brands” are a little shops in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia who can’t afford marketing campaigns so they’re doing it themselves…successfully. So, I mourn for Coca-Cola and their poor 150 person marketing department but we are humming along at Ladyburg.

    1. I’m really glad you brought that up — a great chance for me to clarify. At my previous role at Forrester we dealt almost exclusively with two groups of clients: large corporations and tech vendors. So I pretty much unconsciously do my analysis in terms of large companies.

      I think you are exactly right here. The very forces that make social impractical and inefficient for large companies make them perfect and effective for small businesses. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I myself fall into that category, and I use social as effectively as possible.

      So perhaps the analysis above should have this preface “When it comes to large brands . . . ” I should have allowed room for the effectiveness of the little guys.

      1. And I’m really glad you brought that up, Josh, because it’s exactly how I found your small business.

        My friend Jeffrey shared your post on Facebook, and I clicked through, and I found your work really good. It led me to signing up for your emails and buying one of your books just now. I came through social. I’m staying because I think you’re really going to add value to my life.

    2. I think Fred has an excellent point. The first thing we have to remember is that social media is ubiquitous. That means it is not only (potentially) useful to large enterprises but to small mom-and-pop shops and everyone in between.

      Social media is also a producer and a consumer medium, so it needs to be viewed in that light. Too many of us, myself included, often want to talk without listening. Talking is usually a one-to-many experience, while listening can be both a many-to-one and one-to-one experience. This is also why I think why social media can be so powerful at the local SMB level and why it’s hard (though not impossible) for big brands to handle.

      Finally, and plenty have said this, social media is distributed throughout the enterprise – horizontally, vertically, geographically and any way you can slice and dice an organization. If you don’t believe me, just let me run a web presence audit on your enterprise with Brandle. Sorry for the plug but it’s true. There are so many people across the enterprise trying to find the right channel to communicate to/with their particular customer segment. Unfortunately, too few enterprises have really put into place the policies, procedures, training and infrastructure to empower this army of people (who are often very invested in “the brand” and the business and want to participate). To anyone looking from the outside, if you look close enough, it still looks a bit like a yard sale.

      Finally, the platforms themselves are to blame. The one thing they seem to keep pushing is more friends, more fans, more followers, more likes, etc. Most of it is useless to me. Follower counts are useless KPI’s (though I do like following counts, because it tells me if someone is likely to be a listener or not). Until we get away from trying to grow these practically useless numbers, we’re going to keep chasing the one-to-many story-telling (shouting?) modes which basically cause many customers to tear a deaf ear.

      I strongly believe for an enterprise to truly make an impact with social media, it has to invest in and empower their employees to engage with the customer in one-to-one relationships. If it is to be marketing who leads this, then they have to get away from the “big media” mentality and realize they have a new audience INSIDE the enterprise (even if it is a small mom-and-pop shop). They are no longer just content producers but teachers, too.

  8. Excellent summary of Augie’s own post. My own thinking has come down to the fact that social media is a valuable tool to discover what people say about you NOT what you want to say to people. Marketers don’t think that way so there is the disconnect.
    Even as a customer service tool, it is a better tool to vent anger than get meaningful help.

    Social media has value for the customers of brands, the question is how does a brand best use social media in this context.

  9. Thanks, Augie and Josh, for disrupting my week. I need to have some conversations with clients. Some of them need to do less, some must do more.

    Was glad to see point made by Fred Wellman. There are definitely small (aka mom & pop) brands out there who are thriving with (or due to) their social media efforts. I’m guessing in almost everyone of those cases it’s because of the personality (probably the owner) behind the Page or Profile. The “brand” gets treated more like a person because people know that’s who the business is. (Hoping that makes sense.)

  10. Josh, you had me with you for awhile, though there are thousands of case studies on social media marketing delivering meaningful results to brands, so even with the organic reach issues, it’s dismissing a lot of how social is being used successfully.

    Also, there’s ‘social’ and there’s “Social.” The Share A Coke campaign is “Social.” It’s engineering the packaging in a way to make the brand fit in a world where people are constantly sharing multimedia from their mobile devices – especially content related to them.

    And that brings up the one outright fallacy you share here: “Maybe 5% of brands are worth talking about.” That is the epitome of bullshit. First of all, you can track how brands big and small do on social – totally organically. People actually do reference brands all the time, usually positively. Some research that my previous agency conducted showed that about twenty percent of social posts referenced brands in some way. Brands, if they’re successful enough to become remotely meaningful brands at all (and that includes every since B2C brand on the F500 or any top list you can come up with) are going to have people talking about them. You might not care that someone’s drinking Diet Coke for breakfast or wearing an overpriced t-shirt from Urban Outfitters, but their customers do.

    1. Thanks for a thoughtful response.

      I agree that people talk about brands.

      The question is, can brands get people to talk about their brands in a powerful and useful way? Is it an effective marketing technique?

      I’m dubious. And that’s what I used to sell — strategy to do just that.

      If you put that same money into regular normal ads, would it better served that way?

      I don’t know. But I’m no longer a big believer.

  11. Josh, Augie, you’re right for big brands.

    Social does not work for Brand to People interaction. I think however that you forget small business ( see Fred) but also B2B sales. , lobbying …. any process that is “small scale”.

    Social is excellent to do consultative selling toward a small, very niche target (100’s of people). Sales where you need to build relationship and trust over time.

    Social and marketing may be antinomic. “Marketing” calls for large audience, segments whereas Social enable the fragmentation of the market in micro segments.

    As soon as you attempt social in marketing, you expose yourself to irrelevance (if your granularity is wrong) or scaling issue (can’t do 10000 times the right thing).

    Thanks for the good reading.

  12. The problem with this discussion is a problem of scale and fit. There are a huge range of channels for companies to market through: TV, radio, web, magazine, newspaper, search, facebook, outdoor, twitter, email, instagram, etc., etc. Each is blessed with their own characteristics of reach, attention, targeting, personality, and so on. Each time a new one comes along, someone professes it to be the holy grail of marketing to the detriment of all others. Usually someone with some economic reason to profess that… As in all things, there’s a place for everything, and everything has a place.

    The “problem with social” is that it’s very, very personal. I’m inviting you into my friends group. I’m reaching out to PEOPLE. When a company, especially a Fortune 500 company, posts it is totally incongruous. What am I to think about a tweet from Coca-Cola? It’s not the “company” but it’s rarely a “person” either. Think about it, the few times when a company gets viral attention from some social effort, it’s always when it shows personality — when it’s snarky, or personal, or especially witty. It’s rarely simply “on message”, it’s when it’s just a bit “off message”, just enough to seem human, and non-robotic.

    That’s why social works for small business. Because people see small businesses as their owners or their key employees. You can see the personality of the business in the social contact. But for a Fortune 500, it’s rarely effective, because — like it or not — they are a huge faceless bureaucracy. And trying to pretend they’re not, by being social, never rings true.

  13. We like to tear things down, shit on the latest tactic du hour. It’s like a game of whack a mole. The thing is, every form of business to consumer communication has been labelled “dead” at one or another. And yet, most every communication channel ever invented is still with is.

    Point is, it’s very easy to say TV is dead, social media doesn’t work, Snapchat is where is at. We can’t help ourselves.

    I understand no one here is really saying social is dead. But social combined with content marketing has risen to a level of noise that’s so overbearing, it justices tunes out. When was the last time you saw a “Top 10 ways to XXX. You won’t believe number 6” and actually clicked?

    It’s all just noise now.

    I’m a firm believer that social can be an extraordinary method of customer service. I’ve seen many great examples. I’ve seen some great social focused campaigns. Some work. Some don’t. Like anything, it’s not really the tools and channels that matter, it’s the people managing them that matters. And like everything else in life, there are only a handful of outstanding people who can make things work as they should

  14. The uber-sweet irony of discovering this post via Robert Scobble’s Facebook post, discovering you via this blog post and, soon, most likely become a regular here.

    *All* of this happened because of Facebook, the very same poster-child of social media broken promises…

    You gotta love the mind-bending nuances of social, that is, basically, a complex-system’s emergent property.

      1. Ramiro and Chris have a good point. I did find this VIA Facebook but because someone I trust, Bill Johnston, shared it. In this case, I don’t think it was “social media” so much as “social networking” that brought it to my attention. Knowing Bill, he could have found this via any number of social channels, a news aggregator, or an email subscription.

        Still, I don’t consider companies (or “brands”) to be part of my “social network” as those are generally asymmetrical relationships. Bill and I have a level of reciprocity (i.e. symmetry) in our relationship that builds trust. Until, a company can do the same, I believe social media is going to be a tough medium for many of them.

  15. This makes me crazy-laugh with delight and despair. My career is social media, I am the despicable “social media specialist”. And I have build my own profitable business purely on social media, because that was the only thing I ever knew how to do.

    I still get 16% click-though rates to the contend I put out there.

    BUT everything I did on my own I did completely different that in corporate. Corpos want content calendars, posting everyday, presence on all the new and hip platforms (even if their audience is not there), starting conversation with clients, and most importantly, corporate clients use social media as dumping ground for everything that does not sell, for all ideas that flopped. There is NO RESPECT for customers they try to reach of social media.

    If something is selling well, it gets claimed by sales dept. If it’s a piece of garbage that no one wants – put it on social media of course! Your PR or marketing dept failed hard and want you to push their failed idea onto all your SM channels to salvage at least a bit of it? Do it, be a sport.

    And the so called “social media specialists” play along – they plaster a huge fake smile on their faces and howl “ITS SO COOL” at every piece of corporate shit send their way. Want to do social media right? Just stop.

  16. “Find ways to get people talking to each other about their real experiences with your company and its offerings.”

    This is already happening. For free.

    If your product or service attracts consumer product reviews – on your site, those of your e-comm partners, or both – the Holy Grail (promised by Groundswell) of current consumers influencing future consumers is going full steam. Without you.

    80+ percent of consumers read reviews before making a major purchase and reviews are ranked, by consumers, as one of the most influential sources of pre-purchase information.

    Want to see an uncomprehending look on someone’s face? Ask your Social Media Director for their strategy on consumer product reviews.

    Want to find a company that will collect your reviews for you, organize them, identify trends and give you a secure platform to search your own review database? Or those of your competitors? That would be us. Just break the news gently to that confused Social Media Director.

  17. I discovered your article while having lunch and scanning my Facebook News Feed. (Great article by the way). It was interesting to me because it discussed several pain points which I have around social media.

    Halfway through the article I was interupted and later could not find the link in my feed. I returned to my office and continued my search. After 30 minutes passed, I decided to search on the only thing I could remember: Augie | Social | Media. (Didn’t know Augie, was just an unusual name) I found another link and followed it to your page. Social media (or at least social search) did its job.

    For me, social media is about touchpoints. You acquired 2 so far with my searches, and when I subscribe to your blog when I’m finished writing this you will have 3. Not even sure if you sell anything but you have my interest.

    I agree, social doesn’t convert to revenue very well. Poor marketers have muddied the marketplace for the rest of us. Poorly crafted content has created a more discerning audience who have gone blind to crappy content. If we want to get their attention we’ll have to do a better job.

    Social media should be a venue of conversational discovery. A place where we allow our true voice come through and engage the reader in valuable dialog. Social media provides consumers with the touchpoints we need in support of what we’re selling, Social is not the conversion apparatus, it’s the conversion engine. A company or brand might have 15 touchpoints before a sale is made, and 8 touchpoints before the customer is even on your radar. Social is still marketing, but it’s not a sales platform. Unless of course you want to burn through cash.

    That said, the article and comments are all first rate. Thanks.

  18. It’s funny – I pitched the value of social media for awareness for years on the tails of Groundswell, but I saw that there wasn’t much value by way of conversions years later (especially after the whole get viral content > build links for SEO > get traffic that converts stopped being as effective). Instead, and I’ve evolved with it, I notice that people turn to social media for support issues, because they love the real time touchpoints of an electronic communication (vs. a phone call where you’re waiting on hold or an email that takes 48 hours to respond to). Social media marketing exists for smaller brands (not super small brands with no visibility, though) in a much different format, in social media customer experience, to the point that I started offering email services to ride that wave of realtime (see website link). If you do this right, you get people to market for you. Will it result in conversions? Yes, definitely–obviously WOMM is stronger than a broadcast from an unknown entity. I’ve considered this social media customer experience component an intersection between sales, marketing, and support. It’s a fun experience for me, because it means I’m solving problems in real time, and giving a customer fodder to evangelize us. That, to me, is far more valuable than anything I’ve done in the social media space for at least 5 years now.

    Thanks Josh – great insights.

    1. Tamar,

      At Reqvu we’ve been saying the same thing for years. SWOM (social word of mouth) is very powerful. It just needs to be guided with the right tools to maintain its genuineness. Some of our Commender customers do that well, others less so. What continues to impress our customers though is the reach. Our customers feel the awareness level is very high and their social properties (Facebook pages for example) seem to benefit quite a bit also. Naturally they would like to track conversion on that activity as well and we’re playing around with some new tech this coming months that will put that to the test. Brands and marketers need to understand that people go on to social to see what their friends and family are up to, not to be broadcasted to. Everything else is just disruptive noise. Do people talk to their friends about brands, yep, great experiences at businesses… yes. Trumpeting from the rooftops on social about how great your brand is, is again just more noise.

  19. What a great post and even better conversation. I have to admit that I miss those early days of social, when it really was a community and everyone felt like a friend. Then it became another advetising channel and I do used it for marketing. The good news is that REAL ROI isn’t there — just the fake stuff that everyone promotes — like thinking that likes are ROI or some such nonsense. That means that eventually it will all go away, and with luck, out of the ashes will emerge something better.

  20. Social from a WOM perspective is absolutely dead.

    Social as an advertising platform is just getting started.

    Social started as a way for conversation to happen. Then the shareholders got involved and the major players realized they could monetize every ounce of promotion once given to brands for free.

    Social management is all about advertising management and is moving to the media buying/strategy teams in agencies.

      1. Why do you say “sadly” though?

        The free lunch wasn’t going to last forever. Brands know exactly what they have to do to get exposure, just like in other forms of media. Smaller companies had a window of opportunity but they’ll have to innovate elsewhere to be heard.

        I guess it just feels like evolution to me.

        1. There was a time that we all thought brands and consumers could participate in a dialogue and work and learn from each other.

          I feel that social media advertising is advertising. Consumers resist it. Media companies force it on people. It doesn’t matter much whether it’s on Facebook or CBS. Advertising is fine, but it’s just less interesting to me.

          1. But they can — if the “brand” presents as a “face” not a “company”. I’ve seen several cases where brands have smart, interactive, funny people behind their social media and they do get good engagement, tamp down fires quickly, and can learn things. It’s when the social face is simply a corporate drone, spouting tired corporate-speak, that people just click it off.

            This is hard, to be sure. And it can go terribly off the rails. But as I said before, social is _personal_ and if you treat it that way, it goes well beyond advertising.

          2. I agree with Chris but I think the problem is often systemic (e.g. the structure of the enterprise) which I think is the core premise of Augie and Josh’s argument. Social media is still often an isolated group or a sub-group of marketing, which to me seems to indicate a mindset that it is either just another marketing channel or some side project.

            I’ve also been seeing social media groups get their budgets cut or assimilated into the regular Marketing team. I think this is because companies have been trying to treat social media as another one-to-many marketing channel (with similar metrics) and not distributing it across the enterprise and allowing/empowering the rank and file employees to actually present the kind of “face” that does not turn people off.

            The other side of the equation is where the social media efforts are completely ad hoc and, as I said earlier, strewn all over the enterprise. The challenge here is that there is very little coordination, training, and support to help the front line employees present a a face which is in tune with the corporate values, persona, etc and not just parroting corporate sales and marketing messages because they don’t have the resources (or authority) to do much more.

            In my opinion (and experience), neither extreme is likely to succeed. We need the distributed, semi-autonomous model but with the support and guidance from Marketing and other stakeholders/leaders.

            Anybody disagree?

          3. “Sadly” because it becomes a banner ad race to the bottom in terms of value of influence as brands are blinded by targeting and reach metrics and social users become just blind to the ads.

            I still think our Commender SWOM approach is sound and working directly with brick and mortar we’re starting to actually track real results.

        2. As I said in the blog post, it’s only one in ten brands that can even try to interact successfully that way. The rest are toast. You really want to do a social media campaign for Firestone Tires, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, or GM? Right.

  21. Many valid and insightful points, Josh and Augie.

    That being said…

    Marketing includes paid media. Always has. Always will.

    Who says big brands people talk about are the only ones that benefit from social media marketing? Anyone who wants to create awareness *should* be marketing on social networks (both owned and paid). This is especially true for web companies. From Product Hunt to BuzzFeed, the Internet is full of sites, services and apps that would not have succeeded as they did without social media. Some may call it inbound or growth hacking or omnichannel or whatever, but bottom line, social media marketing is alive and well.

    Creativity is still key to any form of marketing. GE on Instagram? Who would’ve thought that could be interesting? But it is. Good ideas, good execution. Even if their main use case was to attract talent, it is marketing, and it is on social media. “Earned media” is a great definition because earning something takes hard work. https://instagram.com/generalelectric/

    Facebook was offering ads almost 10 years ago. It was much cheaper then but it wasn’t a mass media as it is today.

    New “social” apps rarely offer ads from the get-go, and they’ll be lucky if they ever do. Until people pay for these, paid media will be the way to monetize in the long-term (Instagram thrived in “potential” while most social apps fade into oblivion.

    For what it’s worth, and to stay true to the goal of this blog — aren’t “X is dead” posts *usually* (i.e. 99%) in the b.s. camp? They may drive clicks but let’s be honest – such posts are also misleading exaggerations based on an opinion. A better title may have been “Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing as we used to define it is dead” or “Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing doesn’t work in the same way for every company because every company is different, and therefore some should just scale back?” or maybe “Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing should die in our humble opinions?” – But I guess I may not be writing this here right now 😉

    1. Thanks for the title suggestions. They’re a bit long, though, and I’m about brevity.

      Here’s the truth as I see it, Esteban. Regarding social media marketing:
      – Little guys can do it well.
      – Media companies can do it, since what they sell is sexy and what they desire is attention.
      – The occasional big company with a unique company culture can do it, e.g., USAA
      – Advertising works, but that’s just advertising next to content and not particularly interesting.

      So there a bunch of small exceptions. The larger case, though, is that big brands are giving up on organic social media and it’s increasingly not a significant part of their marketing.

      Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps it’s “not dead yet” (like the guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). But as far as I can tell, Social Media Marketing is on life support. Nearly dead, I guess.

  22. Fabulous post and comments. Glad I found this discussion, and good to see and hear thoughtfulness from some friends, folks with whom I’ve had a beer, and people with the same last name 🙂

    I’ll add to the list of those who have the potential to effectively execute social media as we’ve come to think about it: individuals, and organizations with a culture, and thus people, who have a sincere interest in consumers’ problems and satisfying their needs.

    This can include large organizations.

  23. From MOZ report. Point No.8. Always controversial, the number of social shares a page accumulates tends to show a positive correlation with rankings. Although there is strong reason to believe Google doesn’t use social share counts directly in its algorithm, there are many secondary SEO benefits to be gained through successful social sharing.

    If links matter a lot ( as they say ) and social shares help then links from posts on the highest ranking social media sites probably are relevant to SEO at least .. I assume this is why you have social sharing buttons on your website ???

  24. I couldn’t agree more with these statements! Almost every day I get the question of how do I quantify an ROI for social….The reality is if your engagement strategy is based on social media engagement you’re going to see little if any return for the effort. Here’s why; deep brand engagement does not happen on a mass-market scale it happens in peer-to-peer web communities. Still not totally convinced? Here’s something that’s undeniable. People hate advertising, only 14% of consumers trust advertisements while 80% trust peer recommendations (source: Nielsen).

    The bottom line is that the businesses that are winning today are able to deliver problem resolution in the customer’s chosen channel of interaction, at the lowest possible cost, all while leveraging the potential of peer-to-peer endorsement of their products and services. Vibrant customer communities drive sales, reduce service costs, accelerate innovation and grow brand advocacy and brands like H&R Block, RBS, Barclaycard, CommSec, Consorsbank, ING, USAA, FICO and many more are achieving significant financial impact via customer communities.

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