Friday, August 21, 2015

Burn It Down, Start From Scratch And Build a Social Media Strategy That Works

photo credit: on strike via photopin (license)
There are times you simply need to destroy what exists in order to replace it with something better. Such is the case for social media. The past seven years have been so full of mistaken beliefs, poor assumptions and outright misinformation that the time has come to reassess completely what social media is, how it works, how consumers use it and what it means for brands.

The fact is that much of the social media dogma we take as gospel has been wrong from the start. As a result, brands are wasting good money to chase irrelevant or even damaging social media outcomes, and the required improvements are not minor adjustments. In many cases, the wrong departments have hired the wrong people to do the wrong things evaluated with the wrong measures.

Together we will burn social media to the ground and rebuild it from scratch. We will do this with data. Data will provide the spark and accelerant that destroys today's social media strategies, and data will also be the bricks and mortar to build a credible and accurate understanding of consumers' social behaviors and the legitimate opportunities available to business.

Destroying Social Media Marketing Myths With Data

Every social media marketer and pundit knows case studies that tease the promise of organic content success. They share and reference the same ones time and again, building false hope that marketers' next social campaign will be Oreo Dunk, #LikeAGirl or Real Beauty. But tear yourself away from the rare and apocryphal stories of success and focus instead on broad, unbiased data, and a different picture emerges.

"Organic social media stopped working." Those words are from the latest Forrester report, "It's Time to Separate the 'Social' From the 'Media.'" This is the same Forrester that in the 1990s counseled IT leaders to pay attention to "Social Computing" and whose 2008 book, Groundswell, introduced many business executives to the ways social media was changing consumers and the marketplace. Today, Forrester is again ahead of the curve, making the case that brand organic opportunities have disappeared and social media marketing has become entirely a paid game. As a result, the research firm recommends that marketing leaders assign their social budgets not to the social team but the media team because, as Forrester notes, "Social ads aren’t social; they’re just ads."

The report states a simple fact that too many content marketers ignore in 2015: "If you can’t get a message to your audience, you can’t very well market to them" Facebook reach for top brands' posts was just 2% of their fans in 2014, and that number will only decrease further this year.

Evidence of social media's remarkably poor reach is all around, and many social media marketers are simply ignoring it (or hoping their bosses do). For all of its brand strength, Coca-Cola's Facebook page this past weekend had a People Talking About This figure--which includes every page like, post like, comment, check-in, share and mention the brand earned in seven days--of just 37,700 people. The world's largest consumer brand (which sells 1.8 billion drinks a day) on the world's largest social network (with 1.5 billion monthly active users) engages fewer people in a week than can fit in one MLB stadium--and not even Dodger Stadium but Kansas City's modest Kauffman Stadium.

Source: Custora Pulse 
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). 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 according to MoZ's 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors report.)

Rather than hit the brakes, social media marketers are trying to keep their shaky strategies together with wishes and duct tape. For example, marketers are desperately trying to overcome declining organic reach by posting more frequently, but that is not a long-term solution (nor much of a short-term one, either). Another tactic is to chase consumers from one social network to the next for brief windows of organic opportunity. Instagram is the latest social network hyped for delivering higher engagement, but the social platform is busy adding and growing its advertising programs, which means organic reach will rapidly decline on Instagram as it has elsewhere.

Social media marketing has become a house of cards, teetering with lies stacked high since the dawn of the social media era. 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 and fans and followers are advocates. The best thing social media professionals can do now is to burn down that tower of cards and start from scratch by studying the data, creating new and realistic proof points and producing more effective social media strategies.

Building Social Media Strategies With Data

Starting from square one, please allow me to introduce you to social media and the opportunities available to your company, one fact at a time:

FACT: People take social media seriously, and so should business. 
The numbers are impressive--1.5 billion people use Facebook, 316 million use Twitter, 300 million Instagram and 200 million are on Snapchat. And social media behavior is still growing, with the average usage time rising from 1.66 hours per day in 2013 to 1.72 hours last year. Despite some spurious headlines suggesting Facebook's demise, that social network continues to dominate, with 59% of users accessing the social network two or more times a day (which is two-thirds more than Snapchat or Twitter and 1000% more than Pinterest). What these data points tell us is that social media is important to consumers, and brands should find ways to meet consumers' needs and expectations in the channel. While numbers like these typically tempt marketers into believing social media is a fertile content marketing opportunity, this is not the case because...

Source:  PageFair
FACT: Consumers work hard to block and ignore brand messaging.
Use of adblocking software is on the rise in 2015, having gone up by 41% since last year. Of people who view time-shifted TV, 37% do so because it permits them to skip ads, and 56% skip every commercial when viewing from a DVR. Of those who have seen online pre-roll ads, 94% have skipped them. And 57% of consumers are actively taking steps to avoid brands that bombard them with irrelevant communications, with 69% having unfollowed brands on social channels, closed accounts and cancelled subscriptions. The reason people do this is that...

FACT: Consumers do not trust brand content.
In the latest Edelman Trust Barometer Study, the majority of countries now sit below 50% with regard to trust in business, and this past year trust in business dropped in 16 out of 27 countries. In the US, consumers do not trust text messages, social media posts or ads from brands. Millennials are an especially tough crowd, with only 1 in 100 saying that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more and they place sales and advertising at the bottom of their trust rankings. So, if organic reach is continually declining toward zero and consumers do not welcome or trust brand messaging, should brands abandon their social profiles? Of course not, because...

FACT: Consumers count on brands to be present in social media, particularly on Facebook.
Consumers indicate they expect brands to be available in an average of 3.5 social media channels, and around 80% of consumers expect brands to be present on Facebook. But if we have established consumers do not want or trust brand messaging in social media (or pretty much any other channel), why do consumers want brands on social networks? It isn't for brands to fill their news feeds with a stream of promotional messaging but...

FACT: Consumers expect brands to engage on consumers' terms.
62% of Millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. It is not as if brands have no opportunity to listen and engage with consumers one-to-one, considering nearly 50% of people have used social media to praise or complain about a brand in the past month. On the B2B side, 75% of B2B buyers want brands to furnish content of "substance," that helps them to research business ideas, but 93% of brands focus their content on "marketing" their own products and services. Of course, while too many marketers believe broadcasting messages is a way to engage consumers, people do not consider marketing content to be "engagement." Instead, they want brands to treat them individually, listen and respond. For example...

FACT: Consumers want fast, responsive customer care in social media. 
63% expect companies to offer customer service on social media, and one in three social media users prefer to reach out to a brand on social media for customer service. 75% of consumers using social media for customer service expect to hear back in an hour or less; half want a response in real time. But despite the demand for customer care in social media, brands fail to meet expectations; one study found that 33% of consumers who reach out to brands for customer service get no response, while another recent study found four out of five inquiries go unanswered on social media. The stakes are high for brands to get this right. Econsultancy asked consumers how brands performed to resolve recent issues, and of those who said the brand was very ineffective, 46% are still customers (compared to 71% for very effective brands) and 13% shop at the same level (compared to 46% for very effective brands).

FACT: Consumers want to collaborate with brands to develop better products.
42% of Millennials say they are interested in helping companies develop future products and services, and studies have shown, not surprisingly, that customers are more likely to buy products they helped to create. The secret isn't merely to offer a database into which people can dump their product ideas; once again, people want true bilateral engagement with brands. A recent study of ten co-creation projects found that the largest percentage of participants (28 percent) was driven by curiosity and a desire to learn, and another 26% had an interest in building skills.

FACT: Consumers want brands to stand for something, not simply push products and generate profit.
People want more from brands. Consumers do not see a conflict between businesses being profitable and being good for the world--81% agree that a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Edelman's 2015 Trust Barometer study also found that half of respondents attribute increased trust in business to the fact that a business enabled them to be a more productive member of society. Edelman found the biggest gap between business importance and business performance on 16 trust attributes was not products and services or even purpose--it was integrity and engagement. The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility found much the same, with 55% of global online consumers across 60 countries saying they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Millennials have even higher expectations--three-quarters say that it is either fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit.

FACT: Brands win when they get people talking to each other, not about the brand's content but about the actual Customer Experience. 
In the US, 70% of consumers trust brand and product recommendations from friends and family, which is almost 400% greater than the trust they have in brand posts in social mediaMillennials do not trust traditional media and advertising, so they look for the opinions of their friends (37%) and parents (36%) before making purchases. However, marketers continue to struggle with Word of Mouth (WOM)--64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe WOM is the most effective form of marketing but only 6% claim to have mastered it.

Doing Social Media Right

Most companies are doing social wrong and have done it wrong from the beginning. The key to success is to stop most of what today passes for social media strategy and rebuild social plans from the ground up:

  • First, create and measure a new definition of WOM. An individual who recommends your brand based on their actual customer experience is gold; a customer who clicks the "heart" button on a pretty photo posted by your brand isn't even tin (and a like that is bought is a stain on the soul of your brand). Now is the time to recognize that not all consumer interactions are equal and to succeed, brands must generate the WOM that matters--not the activities that are easy to manipulate and tabulate but the ones that are difficult and meaningful. Discard the fake WOM strategies created with brand-to-consumer content broadcasted in social channels and focus on the real WOM forged peer-to-peer with customer stories, recommendations and advocacy. Fake WOM gets people to click "like" on something the brand posted; real WOM gets people to tell others why they should trust, try and buy your product or service.
       
  • Toss out your social media scorecard immediately. The first step to refocus social activities on what matters is to change what is measured. Stop rewarding employees or agencies for generating engagement that fails to deliver business benefit and start measuring what matters--changes in customer loyalty or consideration, positive and authentic Word of Mouth, inbound traffic that converts, quality lead acquisition and customer satisfaction.
     
  • Reconsider what department should lead your social media efforts. Once you have reconsidered the metrics that matter, the next question is who within the organization is best equipped and staffed to deliver on those metrics. If organic social media is not proving an effective marketing channel, should your marketing team be responsible for content creation and managing social media calendars? If one-to-one engagement and responsiveness are the new goals, which department is best staffed to provide what the brand needs and consumers expect in social media? These are vital questions, because whichever department funds and manages social media will expect the outcomes and use the metrics about which they most care. A recent report from Econsultancy makes the case: Among Financial Service firms, just 38% see social media as a channel for retention; the majority sees it geared for acquisition and cross-sell. That means most of these firms are using social media to chase marketing strategies to drive sales (an approach we now know will fail) while the minority have social media strategies designed to improve customer satisfaction, reputation, loyalty and retention--goals generally not associated with Marketing but with Public Relations and Customer Care departments.
          
  • Objectively assess the return your brand generates with content marketing in social channels, and stop what is not working. If you are not today validating positive return on marketing content posted to social channels, you certainly will not do so in the future as organic reach crumbles to nothing. Marketers continue to act as if content marketing is destined to work and they have simply failed yet to find the right content marketing strategy. Data tells us otherwise; customers and prospects inundated with marketing messages, distrustful of brand content and protected behind social paywalls and adblocking software are not interested in or available to your content marketing output. Content is essential and has a place in Marketing strategies, but now is the time to rebalance the investment the brand is making to match the return it receives and can expect.
       
  • Stop talking at consumers and telling them what you want them to hear. Start listening to customers and responding with what they want and need. Your brand's intent is more evident than your content, and actions speak louder than words. If the best thing your company can think to do with this wonderful one-to-one relationship channel is to talk about itself, you have no right to be disappointed when consumers perceive and punish your company for its self-interest. 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.
      
  • Get social customer care right. There is no excuse for failing to staff a customer care team properly, secure the right social media management platform, listen for customer needs in every appropriate social channel, manage inbound messages, answer every question, address every complaint and help every prospect or customer in a timely manner. Self-service and peer-to-peer support are valuable tools, but they are no substitute for getting responsive one-to-one customer care right in a growing (and very public) channel of preference for many of your customers.
      
  • Get people talking to each other. Your brand is disappearing from consumers' news feeds (if it has not already), but friends will always see content from the people they know, care and trust. Stop trying to spark engagement using funny, clever, hip, edgy or inspirational content, and stop acting as if authentic peer-to-peer engagement can be bought by paying influencers to tweet about your brand. 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 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.

Here is a place to start as you rebuild your company's social media strategies: If your brand never posted another piece of marketing content to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, how would you demonstrate your firm's values in social channels? If the ability to post promotional messages were taken away, what social media strategies would your company execute to create awareness, attention, consideration, trial and loyalty? If you could no longer rely on your brand journalists, paid influencers, social designers and marketing agencies to create content for social channels, what one-to-one, peer-to-peer, responsive, collaborative, integrated, authentic and meaningful strategies would your brand execute? (Why isn't it doing those things effectively today?)

The question is no longer if the tired, failed strategies of the past seven years will miraculously yield success; it is if your social media leaders are willing to admit the mistakes of the past, throw out what is not working and chart a new course. The data to build practical and potent social media strategies is not hard to find, but it easy to ignore.

The true secret sauce of social media has never been and will never be to get people to share your brand's latest viral video or inspirational quote on Instagram. The future belongs to brands that follow the lead of companies like Uber, Nest, Square, Apple, JetBlue, Costco, Trader Joe's and USAA--brands that get people talking to each other about their differentiated products, customer experience, values, innovation or community commitment rather than about their clever social media posts.

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.


37 comments:

Jeffrey Summers said...

Outstanding!

Soji Fagade said...

Jefferey, I couldn't agree more. I read it and thought, every serious minded sales and marketing executive ought to take a good look at this compelling argument to reposition their marketing effort from just mere metrics to concrete engagement that delivers measurable long time value

hope said...

Wow....well said, researched and documented.. This has to be read by serious corporations, businesses that want to get Social right.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks all. I appreciate the positive feedback after the work to produce that post!

Josh Bernoff said...

Excellent analysis. Your devastating takedown of social media marketing is right on target.

I not as hopeful as you are about whether it can be fixed, though.

See http://withoutbullshit.com/blog/augie-ray-can-we-admit-now-that-social-media-marketing-is-dead/

Augie Ray said...

Josh, thanks for the great post and very worthwhile dialog. I appreciate it, even if we disagree just a bit (but we agree FAR more than we do not.) I posted a reply to your blog and I look forward to your thoughts.

Colleen Grams said...

Augie, I've followed you for years and this is by far the most thoughtful, deeply reported and dead-on assessment I've seen from you (or anyone in this space quite frankly). Thank you for sharing this with your followers. I will, in turn, share this with my team and push them all to report back to me with what they plan to do differently in 2016. This post is a smack in the face that change is needed and I want my team to be in front of that change.

Jerome Pineau said...

Superb article as always - so I'm curious: where do you place community and community building in all this? Talking about gated owned properties (forums/customer communities etc) - you throw this in with social or consider it separate?

billbean said...

Provocative and, potentially, disruptive.
Thank you!

Gabriel Gheorghiu said...

agreed with everything you said about brands and marketers but it seems to me that we sometimes tend to overestimate consumers...or rather overestimate some consumers and underestimate others. Actually, we shouldn't even use "consumers" because there are so many categories of consumers that are so different... For instance, Instagram is full of silly pictures, which to me means that most users do not take social media seriously and maybe the best way to attract them is through silly content...

The other thing that we should consider about "consumers" is the fact that they don't always have realistic expectations, which is not new. Customers always want great quality, fast and cheap which may simply be impossible to deliver by most companies. While consumers don't trust brands, it seems that brands don't trust customers either - in order to establish a good relationship between them, both sides need to make an effort. Companies like Amazon created spoiled and arrogant customers, which is bad for everyone because Amazon cannot sustain this from a business perspective and customers will get used to high but not sustainable service levels.

Augie Ray said...

Colleen and Billbean, thanks for the nice comments.

Jerome, I see communities as being very powerful and part of social, but I think it depends on how the brand uses those communities that makes the difference. If the community is a legitimate attempt to connect people to each other and to the info they want and need, then it is social media that matters. If, however, as I've often seen, a community is launched by the marketing department to support a campaign or to promote a product launch, those communities tend to fail. Communities are very powerful, but I am surprised how often they get launched for the wrong reason to the wrong audience.

Gabriel, I disagree with your points. First of all, the question isn't really if people create, like and share silly things. That's not that unusual in or out of social media, given the popularity of Adam Sandler films or sitcoms of the "Two and a Half Men" variety. The fact people like silly things does NOT mean brands must do silly things to get noticed. Some brands can lead with a sense of humor, but many cannot. The problem I have with so much of today's social media strategy is that it encourages brands to do the silliest but most meaningless things possible to get a like. In the end, we always have to remind ourselves at brands don't succeed with silly engagement--they succeed when they meaningfully change minds or attitudes with regard to the brand.

Also, I am not suggesting brands meet every and all consumer expectations because consumers can ask too much. But to blame Amazon for spoiling customers seems unreasonable--the future belongs to the companies that can leapfrog competition with amazing customer experiences that profoundly reset customer expectations (a la Apple, Uber, Nest, Tesla, Costco, etc.) Instead of complaining about it, brands need to figure out what they can do to maximize their experience at margin. Woe be to brands that dismiss customer demands and expectations because they seem unreasonable, because those same demands and expectations will be satisfied by someone else.

Welpy Team said...

This article is one of the best i've read for years. We are startup working on our product for 9 months now, going private beta in September. This means that we start from almost zero on social media (except friends, "supporters" and family) with this brand. Your analysis is excellent for Brands with existing customers, track record, etc. What is your point of view, based on your analysis, regarding the use of social media for brand in a "launching phase" where the goal is not to manage and grow a community but build and grow this community?

Judy Gombita said...

Jerome (and Augie), in regards to "communities" I think one of the biggest mistakes the typical established "brand" is doing is entrusting its community "management" to Millennials. Why? Because their people experience is limited to individuals like themselves.

I believe I've been a victim of ageism (during things like "community" weekly Twitter chats). I may have used the product/service for years, but my contributions aren't deemed "positive" enough by the community manager (meaning I don't sip the kool-aid unreservedly).

I will say that a definite exception to this observation is the Buffer team's "sensibility," as well as the startup's culture and values (which are made very public). I don't even USE the Buffer scheduler (really only because I program scheduled tweets for two accounts via Hootsuite--have done so for several years--so the Buffer service would be redundant). Despite not being a customer, I am a champion of the company. I find numerous Buffer staff (all much younger than me, I'm sure), welcoming me to the weekly #bufferchat and complimenting me on my contributions (that made the person think differently OR it resonated with similar experience). I often have a side chat with one or more staff, as we explore a topic of interest to both of us. So it's not that Millennials are incapable of "relating" to other generations, but it has to be made explicit within the company culture that it is an expectation.

As a generation, Millennials may be a physical numbers force, but several studies/articles have demonstrated that they are also cash poor (often as a result of student debt). As a result, they don't buy expensive products (like homes or cars) or high-end retail, with the exception of their tech devices. And yet. And yet. In Twitter chats and in community "hubs" (like G+ or FB for Augie), there is all kinds of assertions about how companies should behave.

In general when it comes to "community managers," I also find the lack of solid middle-to-senior-level IN-HOUSE experience troubling. Particularly when the brand's CUSTOMER base skews Gen X and older.

Maybe there would be fewer "social media marketing" mistakes, Augie, if more of the people in charge of company social accounts had actual solid (and more senior) experience in other channels/forms of marketing....

gregfromparis said...

As always, Augie, you've nailed it.
I don't know how long it took you to write such a piece but it is just great and is going way further than my own thinking but in the same direction which helps me a lot to develop my own thinking then.
We've always been on the same page but really your article is so much better than whatever crapy article that you can find in huge so called "social media expert" huge website.
Thanks for sharing like really!

Augie Ray said...

Welpy, Thanks for the comment, but I'm not sure I understand your question. You ask about using "social media for brand in a 'launching phase' where the goal is not to manage and grow a community but build and grow this community?" It sounds as if both parts of the question are about building and growing a community. I still believe in the use of communities for true peer-to-peer interaction, and I think social can be a good feeder to promote and attract people to communities, but I also think it is damn hard for a new company with few connections to use social media to much benefit outside of paid media.

Judy, I see plenty of examples of ageism in tech and social media. (Trust me, I'd love for a brand to want my experience to lead a social effort rather than continue to hire those with 50% or more less experience in the digital and social space!)

Gregfromparis, thanks so much for the nice comment. I am always pleased when we agree on our POV!

Welpy Team said...

"but I also think it is damn hard for a new company with few connections to use social media to much benefit outside of paid media. " : we agree.

MIMA Summit said...

This post is just full of awesome. Great work.

It certainly gets to the heart of what I too feel is wrong with social media these days. I rarely take the projects I'm offered anymore since they're usually just companies wanting quick fixes, push marketing and vanity metrics. And, you're right, it just doesn't work.

On the flip side though, no one wants to pay me to do any of the stuff you listed that has lasting value. I hear that it's too disruptive to their company culture, feels too hard to control or is too integrated into other areas of the company (which makes it then "too much work.") In short, no one wants to burn their rickety social media straw houses to the ground, because they just finished building them. They hired a "social person." They set up a command center. They're paying a big agency to run them reports with lots of mentions. It's all good.

So what's a social media strategist to do?

Well, to be honest, I kind of just gave up and started doing other types of work. I feel like maybe there will be a course correction (a flash fire?) in a few years after companies realize what they've build is a money-suck and unsustainable. Until then though, there are thousands of social media experts out there more than happy to build them the garbage they want.

The whole thing kind of bums me out and makes me feel like the equivalent of the old lady who's yelling "get off my lawn" to everyone else in social media. But you make me feel like less of crazy person in that you get that something really IS rotten in the state of social media today.

So thank you for that, Augie. You can come sit on my lawn any day. :)

Augie Ray said...

Jennifer/MIMA,

Your comment hits very close to home. I have had interviews for social media leadership positions in recent years, and when I tell marketing leaders that social is hard, not easy; that it must be rethought and involves greater integration between product, CX, brand purpose and social strategy; that the metrics are incorrect; that content must be rethought to slowly build long-term relationships rather than serve short-term goals; and that ROI is the wrong question and the wrong way to measure most social strategies--I lose the job.

I have begun (half jokingly) to consider lying in interviews to land the right position so I can put the leadership and experience I have to use, but that is not, of course, an appropriate or fair strategy. If marketing leaders want to hire people to keep doing what they're doing--damn the lack of metrics or the shrinking reach--then I guess they should do so. Much like you, however, it bums me out and I do feel like the "old man" yelling at kids to get off the lawn.

So, how do we change the world?

MIMA Summit said...

Become arsonists? :)

Augie Ray said...

Well, that's a place to start, Jennifer!

Pablo Apiolazza said...

I just read the post on social media today and I couldn't comment there, so I'll do it here.
I really liked your post, I think you nailed pretty much everything, but as a visual storyteller and content strategist I have to disagree with the storytelling chapter. From the article storytelling looks a bit like a waste of resources, and most of the time it might be for the reasons you mentioned above. But this is not so much because of storytelling itself, but for the way that storytelling and content strategy is defined to begin with. When we say storytelling should be "engaging" it shouldn't be about putting a like or a share, but actually striking a chord on people, inspire them, make them think. Storytelling should be inspiring in the sense that it should be a gift to customers, something the brand gives away, and that has some impact on their lives or the way they think about something. So in that sense it should absolutely entice the interaction.
I usually propose this kind of approach to clients, telling them that they should try to avoid pushing, and talking about the brand, and instead talk about the subject their brand is about, inviting their community to discuss. But for entrepreneurs and specially for startuppers "there's no time for that". And that's a very sad side effect of the speed that digital and social media pushed into stakeholders, creatives and agencies.
Your article is a great insight, properly argumented, but I think that the storytelling part could deserve a better space into the big communication puzzle. :)
Just my two cents. Thank you.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Pablo. I appreciate storytelling. Heck, I consider myself a storyteller (on my blog and in my public speaking.) And I agree brands CAN do storytelling right, by focusing on customers and what matters. All that being said, I don't know where storytelling fits for most Marketing Departments when they are held accountable primarily for short-term traffic, acquisition, conversions and sales. If we agree organic reach is crashing, then how will people see these stories, and when they do, is the impact immediate (as Marketing wants) or more long-term (in terms of reputation and loyalty, which Marketing generally does not measure.)

The problem I have with storytelling is how eagerly it is being sold to brands and how quickly marketers want to believe their stories will be seen, valued, shared and believed. Let me ask you this: How many brands do you interact with in a month? Estimate the number of brands you have in your refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, bathroom, closets, on your device, at work, in your car, etc. 500? 750? And out of that, how many do you want stories from? For how many would you take time to read and consider their stories? I doubt it's more than 10 out of those 500 to 750 brands. And therein lies the challenge of storytelling--with shrinking channels, low trust and brand-averse consumers, I fear storytelling might be another tactic that marketers adopt and then are left wondering where the ROI is.

Not every brand can be Nike, Disney, USAA and Apple, with stories people want. What do you think? Feel free to challenge me! I'm always eager to learn.

Kailee Brown said...

This analysis is fantastic. As a social media strategist, these are the questions I ask myself each and every day.

I agree with your conclusion that the brands who adopt a new way of thinking will be the ones to succeed. However, what should the social media strategy be for those brands who are unable or unwilling to change their business or their product to adapt to what consumers truly want from them in social media? Should they still measure the cumulative impressions they're gaining in the networks? Should they back out entirely, even if they are gaining incremental awareness for their brand by utilizing the channels? If their authentic Word of Mouth is not great and they can't push lead conversion via social, how will they justify the increased spends for additional customer service and increased focus in the space, etc.? (Said another way, what happens for the "just okay" brands? Do they have a place in this space?)

Jason Small said...

Very interesting and I appreciate the strong POV. One of the most interest pieces I have read in years. Thanks for pulling this all together and for the useful links included.

ScorpFromHell said...

Déjà vu!

Seems like 2009 called, only this time the Social CRM gang has proved its points too, not just postulated.

Also, probably time to dust out the old and forgotten HBR article on Word Of Mouth, Customer Referral Value, Customer Lifetime Value by V Kumar: http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/2/3/423D2549-0024-4214-8B97-62AF2EEB99C6/How-Valuable-is-Word-of-Mouth.pdf

Hopefully the Social Media Marketers learn their lessons well this time and heed to the words of wisdom in your post.

Debbie Elicksen said...

Absolute truth.

Ingrid Cliff said...

Definite truth bombs throughout this article. I am also at the "Let's go back to a blank page" approach. Most of my clients are small business owners and are really struggling with social media as is currently done as a strategy. Using social media as a complaints/praises channel is one option as you rightly suggest. But there has to be more. Watching the growth of live-streaming through Meerkat, Periscope, Blab and Facebook live offers some hope as people grapple with what works when people talk back. Interesting times.

Augie Ray said...

Kailee, thanks for the questions. I think the entire message of my blog post (and the data presented) is that it is the VERY rare brand that is "gaining incremental awareness" in a channel with declining reach, low trust and rising paywalls. Given the data I shared about Coca-Cola, one of the strongest brands in the world, then why would we believe ANY brand can gain even "incremental awareness"? And as for what brands should do, I don't think the answer is to waste good money after bad in a channel that is not producing results. As for how brands would justify investing in customer care in a channel with no conversions, let me ask you: How do they do it for inbound phone? Most every brand in the world provides customer care via phone, despite it providing no marketing value, so why should social be different?

Jason, Scorp and Debbie, thanks for the comments!

Ingrid, I have to tell you, I am not that optimisitic about live-streaming video. I wrote about the many challenges facing live-streaming in a world that has already decided that time-shifted video better suits their needs. You can read more in my blog post here: http://www.experiencetheblog.com/2015/04/why-meerkat-and-periscope-will-not.html

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Pam Brooks said...

Spot on! Great information, suggestion and ideas. Will implement!

Of Shoes and Ships said...

Inspiring. Thank you.

Lib Aubuchon said...

Having now read the post as well as ALL the comments, there isn't much I can add other than to say this is a really impressive, kind of depressing, slightly discouraging, a little bit inspiring piece on a topic that doesn't get enough attention.

You're so right that many, many brands rely on vanity metrics like Facebook "likes", and seem to have no clue that the real key is delivering an excellent product or service and letting social media be a channel for authentic relationships.

Nice work!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Lib. I set out to create a post that was somewhat impressive, kind of depressing, slightly discouraging and a little bit inspiring, so mission accomplished! :)

Richard Stacy said...

Good post. The key to it is trying to work out why this happened and how to put it right. My conclusion is that social media is a connection medium, but traditional media (and thus traditional marketing) is a distribution medium: a channel and message game measured by reach and frequency.

The problem is that we have been playing a distribution game in a connection environment. In a connection environment you only create value by recognising that you can never reach large numbers of people at any one time, you are only ever speaking to very small numbers of people (and speaking to them as individuals rather than members of an audience). Thus the value you have to create through these contacts has to be hugely greater than the value generated through traditional 'reach'.

The only way to create sufficient value is by starting with the individual consumer / customer and identify what it is they want from a relationship with a brand. And almost nothing that we associate with traditional markeing (which is high reach but low engagement) can ever create relationships of sufficient value. I notice you have mentioned the Edelman Trust reports. I actually think that Edelman have produced a far more important report in their Brandshare report of last year.
http://richardstacy.com/2014/10/23/edelman-brandshare2014-manifesto-brand-survival/

This identified eight factors, arranged in two distinct groups, that define what consumers want from brands (that actually reflect many of the issues you raise in the post - which is why you may find this report very useful to substantiate what you are saying). I think this may be the most important piece of research done recently - in fact I called it a manifesto for brand survival. I don't even think Edelman themselves realised its significance - partly because much of what Edelman's market (brands) want and it supplies (i.e. content or channels strategies) just doesn't register against what consumers are saying they want from brands.

We are moving from the world of the audience (channel and message / reach and frequency game), to the world of the individual (behaviour identification and response game). Brands that recognise this will survice, those that don't, won't.

Richard Stacy said...

P.S - one further point in relation to the Forrester report. I don't buy this idea that organic social media has died - simply because it was never alive in the first pace. http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/organic-social-media-dead-was-it-ever-alive

And I also think there is an inherent problem with digital advertising - which is that the promise of digital is better targeting. But the more precisely you can target someone, the less receptive they become to the idea of being targeted. Far better to stop targeting people altogether and accept that the social digital space is best understood as a space where consumers target brands, not the other way around.

Rabjohns Blog said...

Finally found time to read it. Awesome post, thanks.

idigic said...

P.S - one further point in relation best website selling facebook likesto the Forrester report. I don't buy this idea that organic social media has died - simply because it was never alive in the first pace.

Samira Smith said...

Finally found time to read it. Awesome post, thanks.
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