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.