Monday, December 23, 2013

Three Reasons the Marketing Department Will Give Up On Earned Media in 2014

Let's start by giving credit where credit is due: Within many companies, there is no more consistently innovative organization than the Marketing Department. Fifteen years ago, while everyone else was deriding the information superhighway as some overhyped playground for nerds, it was the Marketing group in many companies that advocated for the World Wide Web and found the budget to create the first corporate websites. And six years ago, while most executives were chuckling over their kids' obsession with MySpace and Facebook, it was likely the Marketing Department in your company that staked out the firms' social profile on social networks.

But while Marketing Departments may have controlled the first iteration or two of their companies' web sites, that time has now passed. Today, the Marketing Department has responsibility for driving traffic to the site and may control the corporate website's look and feel, but it is very unlikely (if your company is of a certain size) to own the content, the business functionality or the underlying technologies such as web content management, search, hosting, web analytics and the like. In other words, today Marketing brings its traditional strengths and capabilities in reach, scale and acquisition to the web, while other parts of the organization bring their own strengths.

Today, it is common for the Marketing function to own companies' social media accounts. In Spring, SmartBlog on Social Media asked "Who controls the social media efforts at your organization?" and over half the respondents noted their Marketing Department is responsible for social media. No other answer even came close--Public Relations was second with just 18% of the responses.

But in 2014, it is time for change. In the same way Marketing ceded control of corporate websites as the rest of the organization matured digitally, it is now time for Marketing to leave most aspects of social and earned media to others in the organization. That means that primary responsibility for social accounts, daily posting and organic content must shift out of marketing and to other departments, if this has not already occurred.

There are three reasons why this shift is occurring and will continue to do so in 2014:

Reason One: It Is Increasingly Difficult for Earned Media to Furnish the Reach Marketing Needs 

Earned media, that golden promise of the social era, is dying. You don't even need to examine data to know this--just look at the wave of whiny blog posts we have seen this year from marketers accusing Facebook of breaking promises. Apparently, marketers thought Facebook was going to be a place where basic consumer behavior changed: As more brands joined social media and increased their content marketing output, consumers who avoid ads in every other medium would suddenly welcome and engage with marketing content on Facebook.

Of course, that isn't what happened--people sign into Facebook and other social networks to see what friends, family and peers are up to, not to get marketing content. On Facebook, as more brands paid for access to users' news feeds, it was absolutely inevitable that brands would find it increasingly difficult to "earn" their way into fans' news feeds organically. (And if you think I am demonstrating 20/20 hindsight, feel free to read my blog post from almost two years ago, "Did Facebook Just Kill Earned Media?")

Ignite studied 689 posts across 21 brands; only one
brand saw an increase in organic reach.
How difficult is it becoming to generate earned media on Facebook? Two recent studies demonstrate that engagement and penetration are sinking very quickly. Komfo found a 42% decrease in fan penetration from August to November, and an Ignite study revealed that in the week following Facebook's December 2nd news feed tweak, brand page organic reach declined by 44% on average. Ignite notes, "Facebook once said that brand posts reach approximately 16% of their fans. That number is no longer achievable for many brands, and our analysis shows that roughly 2.5% is now more likely for standard posts on large pages."

And if you think the earned media bloodletting is over, think again. The slow decline of earned media on Facebook will continue in 2014. Ad Age recently reported that Facebook is telling marketers, "We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site."

Make no mistake, the phenomenon of shrinking earned media is not just a Facebook issue. Facebook is on the cutting edge of social media because of its scale and longevity (not to mention investor expectations, with a market cap almost 50% greater than Twitter's, LinkedIn's and Yahoo's combined), so it provides a peek into the future of all social media. As more brands pay for access and as social networks strive to monetize, brands' earned media will get pushed aside.

Earned media is dead; long live paid media! Marketers should not mourn the loss of earned media but rejoice that their traditional skills and abilities are in ever higher demand. The need for paid media expertise in social media has never been higher and is going to continue growing. The Marketing Department is uniquely equipped to stay abreast of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks' rapidly evolving ad programs, develop and test targets and creative, and measure advertising success. Marketing can focus on what it does best and leave the rest of social media to others.

Exception to the rule: While it is ever more difficult to gain access to consumers via earned media, this is not a universal problem for all categories. Entertainment, news and style brands continue to have opportunities to increase reach and engagement both in traditional social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the newer breed of visual platforms such as Vine, Instagram, Pinterest and perhaps, if they can prove themselves to marketers, Snapchat and Whatsapp. Most other categories simply do not have the luxury of innate consumer interest, and trying to manufacture it where little exists only pushes brands to, well, let's move on to reason number two...

Reason Two: The Harder Marketers Try To Win Earned Media, the Greater the Risks

You're getting a little choked up with the
emotion of this respectful post, aren't you?
As earning organic social media becomes more difficult, marketers get more desperate to break through, which elevates the risk for brands. No consumer hopes for a daily dialog with their brand of canned pasta, as evidenced by the fact Spaghettios has just 2,600 people "talking about the brand" despite having amassed 518,000 "fans." Since no national brand can succeed with a marketing effort that has a reach of just 2,600 consumers (and since some Social Media Marketing Manager's job depends on it), Spaghettios' Marketing Department has to churn out daily content that struggles to get more attention than other brands. The more they produce and the harder they try, the greater the risks, so it is of little surprise that Spaghettios stumbled instead of soared. The brand's recent Pearl Harbor Day post of a smiling brand logo waving the American flag was widely criticized and embarrassed the brand.

Spaghettios apologized and said its intent was to pay respect, but you and I both know that is not true. This was marketing content, and the goal in posting it was to achieve what marketers always want to achieve in social media--likes, comments and shares. The intent of the smiling cartoon Spaghettio was not to pay respect but to create brand engagement (and in that, at least, the brand succeeded).

Of course, I should not pick on the Campbell Soup brand when there is an almost limitless number of examples of social marketing missteps to choose from in 2013: The #AskJPM, #AskBG and #AskRKelly hashtag dustups; endless look-alike newsjacking after the royal baby's birth; embarrassing campaigns to extort retweets in exchange for charitable dollars; failure to control social accounts from dismissed employees; pathetic fake account hacks to jack up follower counts; branded hashtags inserted into tweets about tragedies; accidentally racist posts; misguided humor about fatal airport crashes. Was that enough, or should I go on?

Cole defended his tweet as a way to "provoke a dialogue."
How far is your brand willing to push to get attention?
Okay, I will! Epicurious insensitively exploiting the Boston Marathon tragedy for social content. Kenneth Cole joking about war to sell footwearTaco Bell turning fans into detractors by mistakenly sending thousands to restaurants that were not yet carrying a promised new productNokia failing to put a language filter in place, permitting someone to post "F### you" on its corporate account. (Yes, that "F" word!) The Onion calling a nine-year-old girl a c###. (Yes, that "C" word!)

In 2014, we will see still more brand blunders in social media, but there is a simple solution: Stop trying so hard! With shrinking opportunities to reach the kind of mass scale marketers want and need, consider the risks versus the potential modest rewards. If you do, many of you will shut off the lights on those special-event real-time marketing newsrooms--your brand is more likely to be criticized for spamming consumers' conversations than be next year's Oreo Blackout. Put an end to those tweet-this-or-we-won't-save-a-starving-child campaigns, which consumers increasingly see as mercenary attempts to boost brand reach. Stop desperately asking people to "like this if you love Fridays." Tactics like those may deliver some bumps in your social media analytics, but they are more likely to create negative sentiment than to boost consideration, purchase intent or loyalty at any reasonable scale.

Note that I said to stop trying so hard, not stop trying altogether. Brands certainly have a place in social media, but the time has come to focus not on what your marketing department wants but on what your customers want: Deals, information, education, customer service, co-creation and social functionality. In this list, the Marketing Department is best aligned to furnish just one type of content--promotions. The remainder of the content and services are better left to Public Relations, Customer Care, Product Management and Development and Channel Management.

The Marketing Department is an important provider of content for social channels, but that does not mean those social channels should be run by Marketing with the goal of producing marketing results. In the coming year, I anticipate we will see more Public Relations and Customer Care departments take over companies' social accounts. This will decrease the chances for the kind of social missteps that embarrass brands. No PR or customer service department will ever post an image of a smiling Spaghettio waving a flag, newsjack a national event or fake an account hack. Those departments do not need to win a battle for hundreds of thousands of eyeballs in order to succeed, and they will not push the envelope until, inevitably, the envelope tears and creates a social PR mess.

Exception to the rule: If your brand does not offer the kind of customer experience that earns advocates, then attempting to earn organic attention at scale is difficult and risky. If, however, your company creates advocates with a great product or service experience, that bestows opportunities for social media marketing that is safer and more prone to success. Coca-Cola, USAA, Apple, Trader Joe's and other successful brands don't succeed in the real world because they have great social media; they succeed in social media because they offer a great experience in the real world.

Reason Three: There is Little Evidence that Social Media Marketing Success Drives Business Success

No matter what your corporate social media scorecard may imply, all engagement is not created equal. Getting consumers to engage with your jokey posts or videos is not the same as making a brand impression, building purchase intent or driving sales. Too many brands continue to chase social media metrics while failing to measure how and if social media efforts drive business results. For every Dove "Real Beauty" or Secret "Let Her Jump" that delivers measurable marketing results, there are dozens of other social campaigns that fall far short.

It is easy to see the gap between social media success and business success by looking at Kmart's 2013 efforts. Few brands were as talkable as Kmart this year. Thousands of blog posts and tweets trumpeted the brands' success with funny viral videos like "Ship My Pants" (20 million views!), "Big Gas Savings" (6 million views!), "Show Your Joe" (16 million views!) and the new "Ship My Trowsers" (3 million views in a week!) Even though Kmart, which is owned by Sears, amassed twice as many views as top-rated primetime program NCIS has viewers, the retailer has continued its slow decline, with same-store sales falling 2.1% in the second quarter and an equal amount in the third quarter. As Mashable's Todd Wasserman notes, "It's hard to make a case that the ads did much for owner Sears's bottom line."

In the article on Mashable, Sears chief digital marketing officer says he judges success by "the amount of engagements in social media surrounding the brand." It is long past time for digital and social media leaders to stop this kind of idiotic babble. Marketing that entertains or engages without driving measurable brand or business benefits is failed marketing. Television ad buyers don't claim success based on gross rating points, and neither should digital and social marketers claim success can be counted in "likes" rather than dollars, new customers or brand equity (such as awareness and purchase intent).

Kmart is not the only brand we can study to see the tenuous relationship between social media success and business success. Late last year, Red Bull launched an amazing social campaign around Felix Baumgartner's record-setting skydive. The YouTube video earned 35 million views and got everyone talking. Two months ago, uberVU evaluated Red Bull's and Monster's social media presence and declared Red Bull the winner. But while Red Bull may be winning the social media battle, it is losing the market share war. In recent years, Red Bull has been slowly bleeding market share to Monster, and the trend continued in 2013. In Monster's third quarter earnings call, CEO Rodney Sacks announced that Monster's year-over-year growth was greater than Red Bull's and that Monster was close to overtaking Red Bull in US market share.

Two of the biggest social media marketing successes of the past fourteen months seem to be driving no demonstrable brand success. Maybe my Kmart and Red Bull examples seem unfair since, of course, social media is but one small factor in overall brand success or failure. After all, customers disappointed with past Kmart experiences won't be enticed into stores with a funny video, and Red Bull may be leaking market share because competitors have better product innovation. If you buy this line of reasoning, then you are acknowledging my point--entertaining consumers with funny videos and knee-slapping posts do little to impact the bottom line when consumer perception of the brand is shaped by more powerful experiences with the product or service.

I see little evidence that entertaining consumers with social content imparts benefits to brands. Consumers are awash in entertainment options, and your brand cannot compete with the likes of BeyoncePewDiePieCinema SinsRihanna or Reddit. Those channels and pages, and thousands of entertainment options like them, are unencumbered by the limitations faced by your brand, such as reputation considerations, brand fit, legal and regulatory concerns and, most of all, the need to drive purchase of goods and services. (Yes, Rihanna and Beyonce want you to buy their music, but in that case their entertainment is their product, while your brand is left producing diverting videos in the wild hope they will drive folks to purchase pistachios or bottled water.)

Exception to the rule: While big, established brands show little sign of being able to alter brand behavior with tweets and YouTube videos, small and unknown brands and individuals still have opportunities to leverage earned media to gain attention and achieve success. From Blendtec to Justin Bieber to GoldieBlox, upstart brands have demonstrated that the right content can build awareness and change minds.

Where does this leave Marketing and Earned Media? 

There remain several ways marketers can succeed in social media, including paid media and using social networks to distribute promotions. In addition, brands that create advocates through superior customer experience can work to increase Word of Mouth. For many marketers, however, 2014 will be the year they must contend with the diminishing reach, increased risk and dubious business results of organic content and earned media. The earned media equation is changing, and marketers must ensure they don't make the mistake of committing to a strategy that cannot deliver the audience, opportunities and results necessary.

The time is right for a reassessment of your brands' cost-benefit equation with respect to marketing content in social media. If you are achieving significant organic scale and positive outcomes for a reasonable cost, keep up the good work. But if you are employing writers, videographers, photographers, illustrators and other creatives to develop social media content that is reaching too few customers and fails to deliver measureable results, then a change is in order.

There is no shame in acknowledging that earned media does not offer the marketing opportunities that we hoped for years ago as social media was developing. There is, however, shame in continuing to invest if the strategy is not producing results or in striving so hard for marketing success that the company is embarrassed with a social media misfire.

In 2014, I believe the time has come for a normalization of roles in social media. Your organization has professionals with decades of experience creating earned media, and they are not in Marketing but PR. Your organization also has professionals able to scale one-to-one relationships, answer customer questions and engage consumers individually, and they are found in Customer Care. These are the departments that can better manage corporate social accounts. More importantly, they can measure success on their own terms, with metrics based on responsiveness, reputation and satisfaction rather than on acquisition and sales.

The shift has already happened at many companies, but if the Marketing Department at your firm still "owns" the corporate social media accounts, it may be time for them to hand over the keys. Moreover, if your marketing function is ramping up a content marketing program at the same time earned media opportunities are vanishing, caution and careful consideration of costs and goals is advised. Marketing will always have a role on social networks, but the time has come to recognize that social media is not primarily a marketing channel but is better aligned to the longstanding responsibilities and capabilities of others throughout the organization.


Unknown said...

No-nonsense post about the realities of life in this business. Nice change. Well documented. No marketers were hurt in the making of this post :)

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Jerome. I hope marketers take up the challenge to either shift primary responsibility for social accounts OR tie social investments to demonstrable metrics (and not the squishy "engagement" measures.)

Unknown said...

Interesting and provocative post Augie, thank you! That said, isn't most of the $ 600 B market in measured media used to drive squishy things like brand awareness or mind share - most of which has little direct ties to specific business performance? I'm not saying you are wrong in your prediction, but i am not certain that earned media is a direct driver of digital commerce. I am certain, however, that earned media is a direct driver of branded pre-purchase consideration, and that engagement is a strong metric in driving it. I might also argue that engagement in earned media is a better, more effective, and not to mention more trusted, authentic, and transparent way to build pre-purchase consideration than the $ 600 B in advertising is...

So, you may be right that the marketing department gives up on earned media and instead focuses its efforts back to the tried and true (but squishy) flavors of advertising, but not because engagement and earned media don't build better brands, but because its hard, it takes time to get it right, and because most marketers have not yet taken the time to get it right.

Lets hope they don't give up.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Really well-written, well-researched blog post you've got here. Love it! Thanks for the shout-out to our Red Bull vs. Monster Social Media Face Off post on the uberVU blog, too :-)
- Elisabeth, Social Media Marketing & Community Manager at uberVU

Unknown said...

Thanks much for this, Augie -- one of your best posts, which I say because you've explicitly raised the most important question about Social Media ROI: Organization: Where does it sit, who has responsibility to implement so that companies can achieve real business value from the activity?
Until this question is satisfactorily answered all the other blathering about Social ROI is just that, blather.
That I disagree so fundamentally with your conclusion, however, has inspired me to try to make a counter-argument on my blog. Give me a few days or so...

Augie Ray said...

Jeff, I am absolutely not against "squishy" measurement like brand awareness. In fact, I think I mention several times that success can be measured in ways other than dollars. My concern is that a brand cannot build brand awareness with a reach measured in thousands. Earned media's reach has been and continues to be decreasing.

In the end, my feelings (and hopefully my post) can be summed up like this: Social media marketing, no matter how brilliant, cannot save a mediocre company with mediocre products and services. Getting people to engage with your tweet or post is not the same as building brand awareness or mind share (although I do acknowledge that unknown brands have some opportunities here.)

The companies that succeed are the ones where the corporate mission, the products and services and the social media strategies are aligned. Too few companies can say that, and for them, the first step is NOT to invest more in social but to get their purpose and their products and services right. (But then again, that has always been the recipe for success--marketing rarely can close the gap for a firm that people do not trust or that offer products and services that disappoint.)

Social is the last step in a WOM chain, not the first.

Thanks for the comment! I hope all is well and looking positive for Dachis in 2014!

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comment. I appreciate UerVU sharing the data!

Augie Ray said...


Years ago I wrote the ROI of Social Media Marketing for Forrester, and I still believe the approach was correct. I offered up a balanced scorecard approach with four quadrants: Digital metrics (the one where marketers put all their attention but the least useful metrics of the bunch); brand metrics (the most powerful but least utilized in social); Financial metrics (always valuable but but frequently difficult unless a brand sells direct); and Risk Avoidance (which, admittedly was the weakest quadrant in my balanced scorecard.)

My point is that ROI isn't that hard to understand, even if it is (as it often is) more difficult to measure. If you look at the typical company's marketing objectives, you will see the Marketing Dept needs to drive growth, sales and acquisition. I'd argue those are difficult (and getting even more difficult) to produce with earned social media. The scale simply is not there, and the promise that people "liking" or "following" brands would create a wave of advocacy has, of course, not materialize.

Now look at the goals of the PR department. They measure what they do based on reputation, not on acquisition. That is much better aligned to earned media in social media.

Or examine the goals of the Customer Service Department. They measure customer satisfaction overall and transactionally (that is, in response to service requests). This is perfectly aligned to social media earned media, and again, it is easier to achieve than scale and acquisition.

I just do not think earned media aligns to Marketing's goals. The harder Marketing pushes for attention, the greater the risks.

USAA got it right. Social was run by Corporate Communications, which collaborated with Customer Care to furnish news, educations and customer service in social networks. Marketing was also a partner, and the Corp Care team worked with Marketing to make sure campaigns had a social component. But, in the end, success with social media (and the rest of Corp Comm) was measured primarily in reputation and satisfaction. Social DID provide ROI (and we measured it), but the leaders at USAA always made sure this was presented as a secondary goal, not the first.

I simply believe that's the way it works, and I think it will become even clearer in 2014 that marketers' first role in social isn't to manage the accounts or create a bunch of content no one wants--it is to buy media and leave the rest of social efforts to others in the organization.

Thanks for the comment. I await your post.

Unknown said...

Thoughtful post, as usual, Augie. Glad to see that Esurance is aligned with the group that "got it right". Our social media team is part of PR, and we run much the same way that USAA does.

Gookul Grammar said...

Your words "Brands certainly have a place in social media, but the time has come to focus not on what your marketing department wants but on what your customers want: Deals, information, education, customer service, co-creation and social functionality. In this list, the Marketing Department is best aligned to furnish just one type of content--promotions. The remainder of the content and services are better left to Public Relations, Customer Care, Product Management and Development and Channel Management" are simply great.

However, even some of the other departments, are not going to be very successful with social media.

I think that instead of introducing marketing - or any other existing business function like customer care or product development - into social media, we should introduce a new function called "conversation" or "engagement" into business. Conversation was part of all businesses that existed in a pre-mass market village economy. Conversations are fertile grounds for businesses to know more about customers and customers to know more about brands. It is out of conversations that WOM can be generated or Voice of Customer can be captured.

I had recently written an article with a funny story. I think you will like it.

Terry said...

I agree with all your conclusions and analysis Augie. It is a period for hope though, we can get away from the silly games and now start to think about how to use social media effectively.

Davina K. Brewer said...

Augie, this is the 2nd 'SM reality check' post I'd marked to read/comment on later.. and now I wish I'd done this one first. (The other was from Marcus Sheridan.)

That whole part about the why, the behavior of consumers (and those who are social) - I'd just wrote that in my (also lengthy) comment to Marcus. Sigh.. repeating the same bad marketing the same old ways, therefore not getting any returns. Oh how many businesses have planned to fail, hitching their SM wagon to marketing, leads, pipelines, traffic, conversions. SM is/could be so much more than that, sustainable biz success is more than that.

I love the Kmart example, allows me to again reference Ogilvy.. good marketing only makes a bad product/biz fail faster. And to reach back to comments I've been making all along about social media (and its misuse, limited to a marketing/sales channel). My stock example: don't care how cool Microsoft's Twitter may be, how awesome Best Buy or Dell are on FB or the blogs.. they can lead me to their waters, they're not getting me to buy their product.

Sure we social consumers want relationships, connections, helpfulness. We also want what's easy and fun and the deal, don't want to be bothered w/ the rest. You can do it all 'right' and have it not matter at all. We can love your SuperBowl ads, tweet and FB them and watch them on YT. But if we can't afford it or think 'oh but brand X has a better rep for quality,' we ain't gonna buy the car. See also, Kmart; see Microsoft who copied the Apple store, whilst Samsung copied the phone and products people where actually buying.

Your 'vive la paid!' meme. Not too long ago I wrote that it's time to give awareness its due. It's not a dirty word, nor is paid. We've gotten on this 'free' kick and look down on advertising and sponsored. Spending money .. the cost of doing business, so yeah - you better have a team who knows how and where to spend, what's gonna get the most bang for the buck.

I'm PR and integration. In many ways I agree w/ your conclusion, but more than that I'd like TPTB to expand their rethinking. Communications is how Business gets done. SM is but one tool in a vast comms/biz arsenal. You're not gonna hire top talent or make sales and earn revenue or create a new, must-have product w/out communications. If there is one that brings together Value and Reputation, Leadership and Direction, Service and Innovation, CRM, HR, IR, and everything else an organization needs to thrive .. it is smart, integrated communication. FWIW.

Augie Ray said...

Davina, Thanks so much for the thoughtful and substantial dialog. I'm glad we find ourselves thinking alike!