Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Stop Social Media Marketing

Today, I gave a keynote address at the PR + Social Media Summit in my hometown of Milwaukee. My presentation was entitled "Stop Social Media Marketing (Unless)," and I have embedded the deck at the end of this blog post.

I predict that many CMOs will diminish their support for social media, content and earned media marketing in the next year or two, and when they do, careers will be adversely impacted. If your career relies on Marketing Department support for content or social media marketing, now is the time to take stock of the trends and consider some actions to protect your career. It is possible that you work for the right sort of company for which social media is well aligned for Marketing Department expectations---that's the "Unless" part of the title--but, as you will see, I believe this is the exception and not the rule.

What is (and is not) Social Media Marketing?

Before we explore where social media marketing works and where it does not, let's first be clear that the definition of "social media marketing" does not include paid media on social networks. Go ahead and invest in advertising on Facebook and Twitter, just do not call it "social." The most popular forms of advertising on Facebook today are retargeting and custom audiences, neither of which are remotely social, and less than one in six ad dollars use social data.

I suggest a better definition of Social Media Marketing is this: Content authored or encouraged by the brand and shared by Word of Mouth that creates earned media and delivers on Marketing objectives. This definition excludes a couple of things, such as advertising (which is not social) and consumer content not coaxed by a marketing program (which is not marketing). It also excludes social media programs that fail to deliver on key marketing metrics, and therein is the problem for most brands.

The Earned Media Venn Diagram

A simple Venn diagram explains what works and what does not in Social Media Marketing. The first circle includes what your brand can say to move consumers closer. This does not mean retweets and likes--the fool's gold of social media marketing--but rather changes in consumer attitude or behavior such as greater awareness, consideration and purchase intent.

The second circle in the Venn diagram is what consumers want to hear from your brand. For years, we have acted as if consumers crave branded content, but the data on this clear; a 2014 Kentico study found that 68% of US consumers “mostly” or “always” ignore brand posts on every social network. The situation is much worse for some categories than others--a 2014 Scratch/Viacom study found that 71% of Millennials would rather go to the dentist than listen to what their banks are saying! If people would rather get a cavity filled than listen to your brand, it's a good bet your content and social media marketing faces a profound uphill challenge.

Where Social Media Marketing Works

Some brands have an overlap between these two circles of the Earned Media Venn Diagram; most do not. There are three types of companies that have this "magic intersection" between content that helps the brand and that consumers want:
  • Brands in select verticals:  Some categories have built-in consumer interest. For example, sports brands can easily post content that drives engagement and also increases demand for team attire and products. TV shows and movies have an easy time offering content fans will share that also increases ratings and box office receipts. Style brands are another example--in the same way that women eagerly purchase the September issue of Vogue with its 631(!) pages of ads, so too will style-conscious women pay attention to and share the latest pins and posts from their favorite fashion brands. Brands in select verticals enjoy a magic intersection between the content consumers want and the content that drives consideration and sales.
  • Brands with purpose:  Consumers may have little interest in what banks have to say, but that does not stop USAA from delivering great engagement and inbound traffic with its posts. This is because USAA has created a brand with a purpose that resonates with its audience. Another example is Chipotle, which has outperformed other brands in the restaurant industry by promoting its commitment to more locally- and organically-sourced ingredients. (Just last quarter, Chipotle delivered a same-store sales increase of 17% in a vertical where almost no brands are able to achieve half that.)
  • Brands with better products and services:  Of course, there is always the old-fashioned way of encouraging attention from consumers: Be better than the competition! Apple has no official company profile on either Facebook or Twitter, yet it still beats Samsung when it comes to building buzz. Both companies had product unveilings in early September (Samsung for the new Note and Apple for the iPhone 6), yet despite the fact Samsung has 2,350% more fans, followers and subscribers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Apple still delivered far more Word of Mouth about their event and product. Apple does not need social profiles and content to drive WOM; it just needs to continue producing interesting, innovative products that get fans talking.
When brands have nothing to say: Example
of a brand exploiting a personal tragedy
to build its own brand engagement. 
Some companies can publish content that consumers want and delivers on marketing goals, but most brands simply do not have that same opportunity--they have no "magic intersection." This does not stop them from trying, of course, which is why so many brands stumble with unwelcome, heavy-handed, embarrassing, brand-damaging posts on Facebook and Twitter

We entered the social media era suggesting that brands with something to say could use social media to say it; instead, we today have brands with little to say that nonetheless post 4.3 times per day because some consultant told them this was a best practice. Desperate for attention and relevance, these companies continue to invest in content that is delivering neither the scale marketers need nor the content consumers want.

Ironically, even for the best companies, earned media may wither and die in the coming years. In just six months, organic reach on Facebook was halved, and many expect that zero organic reach will soon be the rule on the social network that collects 57% of all social visits. The organic reach game has gotten so tough that Coca-Cola, one of the strongest brands in the world, only earns engagement with 1 in 100,000 of its fans on Facebook. The situation on Twitter is no better; a recent Forrester report notes that the average engagement rate with brand posts on Twitter is just 0.03%--75% less than banner ad clickthough rates today!

Earned media could soon be a thing of the past. What happens to your social media marketing strategies if the content you create and post reaches no one?

A sketch made by Jennifer Torres during my presentation
at the PR + Social Media Summit. 

Social Media Marketing's Inability to Deliver Trust, Acquisition or Purchase Conversions

If the prospect of organic reach crumbling to nothing is not enough to worry about, social media marketing has a variety of other problems that marketers have been ignoring: 

If social media is so poorly equipped to deliver trust, traffic, acquisition and purchases--and is facing declining organic reach--why are marketers increasing their investment in the channel? These are, after all, the metrics that most marketers care about. In a 2013 study by Ascend2, both B2B and B2C marketers reported their top three most common performance metrics are website traffic, quantity of sales leads and conversions--goals against which social media does not deliver. Meanwhile, fewer than half of B2B and B2C marketers measure customer retention, awareness or reputation, which are metrics that align well to social media strategy.

But if social media is poorly matched to Marketing Department objectives, it remains a powerful opportunity for others in the enterprise who do not need to rely on reach and scale to deliver on their goals.  For example, The PR/Corporate Communications function can be successful if it uses social media to create relationships with a few dozen influencers, both traditional ones (journalists) and the new variety (bloggers). Product Development does not need to collaborate with tens of thousands of customers but can work collaboratively to develop new products and services with much smaller subsets of customers and vendors. And Customer Care can achieve success by answering the questions and complaints of a few hundred people in social channels. (Compare that to the average marketing campaign, which would be considered a dismal failure if it only engaged a few hundred people.)

Social Media Marketing on a Collision Course with C-Suite Expectations

For now, CMOs seem to have confidence in social media, but I believe this will change in the next year or two. Social media and content marketing is on a collision course with the C suite.

Recent research by the Fournaise Marketing Group, which was conducted with 1200 CEOs and CMOs, found that 80% of CEOs claim they have lost trust in their marketers. One of the reasons is that "74% of CEOs think Marketers focus too much on the latest marketing trends such as social media – but can rarely demonstrate how these trends will help them generate more business for the company."

This criticism is, sadly, entirely fair. In just-released data from the 2014 CMO Survey, derived from 351 top US marketers, a mere 15% of CMOs say they have proven the impact of social media quantitatively. Another 40% "have a good qualitative sense of the impact, but not a quantitative impact" and a whopping 45% have "not been able to show the impact yet." Despite this, CMOs expect to increase social media marketing spending 128% in the next five years. 

If you wonder why the tenure of CMOs is so short compared to the rest of the C-suite, the answer is right there. Less than one in six CMOs know if their social media investments are paying off, yet they still intend to rapidly double that investment!

I predict that increase will not happen. The falling organic reach, low acquisition, microscopic purchase conversion and inability to measure quantitative success will come crashing headlong into the growing pressure on the Marketing Department to demonstrate results. When this collision occurs, will you be the one holding the social media marketing bag? If your career depends on the success of social media or content marketing, now is the time to consider the data, trends and future.

How to Protect Your Social Media Marketing Career

For those in the social media marketing profession, I believe the time has come for a candid assessment. Protect your career by asking three questions:
  • Does your brand have a "magic intersection"? Are you in one of those categories--such as entertainment, sports and style--that has built-in consumer demand for branded content? Or has your company won high levels of loyalty and advocacy with its sense of purpose or by producing products and services that are leaps and bounds better than your competitors? If so, then social media marketing can be an effective channel for the Marketing Department, but if not, then ask...
  • Does your firm evaluate its Marketing spend based on reputation and loyalty? When marketing leaders furnish updates, do they lead with Net Promoter Score and measures of repurchase and reputation? Or do they lead with sales, conversions, acquisition and traffic data?  If the former, then social is well aligned to what the organization most cares about, but if it is the latter, then ask one last question....
  • Can you control the paid media budget for social? If you can control the ad budget and are really held more accountable for delivering paid media than earned media, then your job is secure (provided you are doing it well). If, however, the ad budget is controlled elsewhere and your job is dedicated solely to content and earned media, I would suggest you have career challenges ahead. It may time to consider one of three options:
    • Redirect: If your social media scorecard is full of non-marketing metrics such as likes, retweets and number of fans, then the time has come for you to lead a change. Do not wait until Marketing leadership begins to question how those useless social metrics tie to Marketing objectives; take the lead and start that conversation today. You may be able to change the conversation and redirect expectations toward the sorts of metrics on which social can realistically deliver.
    • Detour: It may be time to consider social media opportunities outside of the Marketing Department. While social may not deliver on typical marketing goals, it certainly aligns well to the needs and expectations of Public Relations, Customer Care, Product Development, Sales and others parts of the organization.
    • Exit: Or perhaps it is time to exit social media altogether and consider other career paths where your experience in customer-centricity and innovation can be of great value. In recent years, I have seen social media professionals successfully shift into new careers in Customer Experience, mobile and customer care, for example.

Of course, if your career is in social media marketing, you could choose the fourth option and bury your head into the sand. I hope you will not, because the data is consistent, the trends are in place and the questions about social media marketing effectiveness are only going to rise.

Below is my deck. I welcome your feedback, questions and challenges. 


Daniel Young said...

Thank you for a great post, you make some salient points.

I would say, however, that this seems like a very Facebook centric view of the world and that there is evidence that true social engagement is shifting to other networks.

The value in that social engagement needs to be determined by the individual brand in question.

As well as this, general consumer attitudes towards social networks are changing.

Not necessarily in ways that work for brands but certainly in ways that require new strategic thinking.

In other words, I think you could be right that the soft marketers in the world of social engagement may be threatened but there will continue to be a role for people that have effective ideas about ways to make brands relevant within the context of peer to peer social interactions wherever they take place.

billbean said...

Too many small businesses have a misguided belief that they SHOULD be pounding away at social media, usually Facebook.

While every business faces limited resources at some level. Very small businesses simply cannot afford to waste time & money on something that has almost no chance of moving their needle.

Thanks for a much needed reality check.

Augie Ray said...

Daniel, Thanks for the comment. On the one hand, it is a little Faceboook centric, but that's because Experian data indicates 57% of social visits go to Facebook. Just 2.1% of of social visits go to Twitter, and it's the third highest ranking social network on Experian's list. In other words, I'm not Facebook centric, the world is!

That said, I think I provide a lot of data about how social is failing to furnish acquisition and purchase, and that data is not Facebook centric.

In the end, I disagree with your last statement. There is no evidence that "making brands relevent within the context of social interactions" works from a marketing perspective. Relevance is not delivered with content, status updates and the like; it is delivered by great products, world-class service and companies with purpose. In other words, unless the enterprise delivers relevent, there is no evidence the marketing department can manufacture it in social media.

If you disagree and believe that an irrelevant brand has been made more relevant via content, I'd like to see examples. As I like to point out to people, your favorite brands (Apple, Disney, Google, etc.) are not your favorite brands because they have great content but because they offer great customer experience.

Augie Ray said...


I still think local businesses have opportunities in social that are not available to larger brands. That said, you're right--the opportunity must be balanced with the time commitment! As a former owner of a small business, I know that time and not money is often the asset in the most limited supply for SMBs!

Davina K. Brewer said...

Love, love, love.

To your 'other department' examples: there's almost nothing any enterprise needs more than talent. HR, when they do more than just post want ads, can work with PR and corp. comms and use social media to great result. That's recruitment, that's internal training, that's team collaboration, that's retaining top talent and so on.

Have a better brand, better plan, stronger purpose and really good products/services. Word. That is all.

The 'magic intersection' - going to totally use that b/c it's parallel to my branding, PR, crisis, marketing 'proof' theories. So much of this is going thru the motions, for the sake of doing it. I'm convinced certain global brands can cut paid media by 10 even 20% and not hurt sales; spend that money smarter, still increase brand rep, market value etc etc. Then on the flip side, there's Apple w/ no social; and my local liquor store which has no ads, no SM, not even a website - but are doing great via excellent corner location and selling booze, they have built-in product demand.

Reputation and security of SMM. Control of the budget is and has always been the issue, the silo, the teams and fault lines. IDK it's a territory fight, one I always lose.

Every brand has bad tweets or posts or feedback but when they've got what I want at the price I'll pay, they get my biz. It's my default position: I'm most loyal to myself, my wallet. Much like the idea that 'the website isn't producing returns, so let's take it down' is kinda silly, walking away from social?? Exit seems unlikely so you have to rethink goals. People can and do talk about brands online - the issue is whether or not it matters; as you suggest, realign for what works. FWIW.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks so much, Davina. I appreciate the thoughtful comment (and appreciate the positive feedback)!

Rosemary said...

Fascinating post with some stats that jumped screaming out at me. In the Custora study, the percentages they tracked only add up to less than 35% of the total customers acquired. That made me wonder where the rest of the customers came from...on looking at the Custora study itself, they say the rest were folks who came straight to the website or through a UTM coded URL.

In my mind it reinforces the need to focus your social pointers to a hub on your own website.

Augie Ray said...

Rosemary, Good analysis. I agree that Custora data demonstrates the value of direct traffic (and, in fact, that aligns VERY well with the Monetate data in the post.)

While I completely agree that too many brands have built their social strategies on others' platforms and might consider how to do so within their own web properties, I still question how many brands can successfully do that--at least at the scale needed by the Marketing Department. I'd suggest that brands with no "magic intersection," have little chance of building any social hub that 1) consumers will want to participate in at any scale, and 2) will drive the sort of scale, acquisition and conversions Marketing needs.

I often challenge people to think of all the brands in their life. We must have 500+ brands in our refrigerator, kitchen, closets, medicine cabinet, cars, devices, etc. How many of those can legitimately expect people to join, participate and return to a social hub on their site?

I still feel the vitalthing marketers miss in an era of transparency and social platforms is that talkable, successful, relevant brands win in social media, but brands that are not talkable, successful or relevant cannot build success through posts and tweets (or even owned social hubs). Strong brands are not built with content; they are built with great experiences with the product and service.

Rosemary said...

100% agree Augie. You can't make those "come talk about our product please" sites and expect any traction. Rather your site must be an actual value-add of its own, supplementing the amazing product/service.

Unknown said...

In the slide deck Augie, I do not see link to Mary Hopkins' song - "they were the days" . I presume there is a youtube of you singing the new words?

I like the concept of your post. Social networks are efficient channels for good content to travel. But why do people share and do brands have anything that meets those tests that also helps the brand. Brands became too social, too influenced by 'social rock stars' but is it possible to find a sweet spot? I know you will answer yes, but not for marketing. But what is marketing? Customer service is now marketing, advocates are now marketing. You are looking at marketing from a mass market/cold lead perspective - are those days over? Is marketing starting from an advoate/customer more effective? Apple does not generate leads it creates satisfied customers and while it has no Facebook page, it does not need one, the conversation happens anyway powered by social connections.

Mrs. M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs. M. said...

This is an excellent post, but how many brands will insist that they have that "magic intersection," even if they don't?

I suspect that many--most--will! After all, they've invested lots of time and money into building up their social presence. It's not easy to turn around and say, "Never mind, it's all bunk."

Augie Ray said...

Terry, Here is the link to my playing and singing the song. Just remember, you cannot unhear this: http://youtu.be/bwun9agE_Zw

You ask a great question that deserves more of an answer than I can give here. I do think that the very tenets of marketing are changing, but it will take many years for Marketing strategies to catch up (or maybe Marketing itself needs to morph into something else.)

I like to point out to people that most of their favorite brands from the last 20 years got big with very little advertising and lots of WOM--Zappos, Google, Apple, Ebay, etc.

I think the rules ARE changing in the social/digital/mobile era. There was a time a brand could be built with advertising--in the mass media era, consumers had little voice and big brands owned the few channels of broadcast available. In those days, it was possible for Lysol to advertising itself as a feminine hygene product or cigarette companies to convince people smoking was cool AND good for your health.

Those days are gone. Marketing and advertising have value, but they have GREATEST value for companies that have a great product, offer world-class service or have a sense of purpose that motivates employees and customers alike.

I'm not sure that is a very thoughtful or cohesive answer, but you are correct. The failure of social to meet the most common marketing objectives is only the tip of the iceberg. I foresee lots of change ahead for brands that will not fundamentally lead with great Customer Experience and instead try to rely on "storytelling" or the power of advertising.

Augie Ray said...

Julia, your comment is great--the risk of self-delusion is very powerful. I can lead a horse to water, but I cannot make him drink, so marketers need to be honest with themselves.

I will say this--eventually the truth always becomes apparent. Companies that keep spending on social without any quantitative results that align to Marketing objectives will, eventually, realize the mistake. I hope my blog post might help a few people reach a decision sooner rather than later, but that all depends on marketers ability to be objective about their brand and consumer perception.

Thanks for the comment.

Scott Monty said...

Really thought-provoking post, Augie. I gave a keynote last week along the same lines, but nowhere near as erudite as you.

Here's where I think the challenge lies: we call it "social media marketing," yet brands treat it like "social media sales." And they wonder why they're not getting results.

Augie Ray said...

Scott, thanks so much for the feedback and thought.

I agree with your general thought on "social media marketing" vs "social media sales," but I think the larger point is that we in the social media industry have to accept what the Marketing Dept values. I feel as if I've been waiting for Marketing to change its tune ever since the days of the Cluetrain, but if anything, the Marketing Dept is even MORE focused on sales, acquisition and traffic than ever before.

Until and unless most marketers change the way they measure value, I think earned media marketing will fail to suit most marketers.


John said...

Augie, great post and as usual very thought provoking... My thoughts are that you are right there's plenty of data suggesting that social media marketing is not yet helping to drive additional sales, but I wonder how much of that is due to a lack of internal systems that can connect the dots between social interactions (along with other customer touchpoints) and customer acquisition. I'm willing to bet in most cases company CRMs are not yet tooled to measure social engagement and the value it brings along the customer journey.

The second point I wanted to make was that social content marketing is not always for Marketing only, content marketing along with Social insights such as Life Events can help drive awareness, and generate a conversation to help advance Social Selling initiatives. In that scenario it's a combination of disciplines that come together to help drive business. This we know for a fact has proven to work in the financial services industry, where smart agents are Listening to these key events to get a deeper understanding of clients & prospects, ultimately putting themselves in a much better position to deliver a more relevant and timely product solution.

Laurel Miltner said...


Smart stuff, as usual. I agree with a lot of what you say here, and think the promise of "earned" media is a lot less promising when you consider that it's really more "borrowed," as you're building on a platform you have virtually no control over.

That said, I'm not sure it's fair to group content into this mix, unless you're referring only to the content shared on social. I admittedly focus on content in my career, which may make me biased here, but I firmly believe that smart content strategy (and delivery) will only become more important as buyers do more of their research upfront, on their own, and online.


Joy Creative (Sales and Marketing) Limited said...

Hey Augie,

What a refreshing look at the Social Media space, backed up with some fascinating facts, thank you so much for sharing this post.

I recently saw a company offering Social Media management for £25 per month and did wonder what you could get for this? Moving forward it would seem these cowboys will be out of a job and the true marketers can get on and do their job properly.

Will be sharing this with my followers as believe it is a must read.

All the best.

Mike Smith @joycreatives

Augie Ray said...

£25 per month? I'm going to quit my job and hire these folks to do it instead, pocketing the difference! :)

Thanks Joy Creative!

Lynn Abaté-Johnson said...

With your depth of research and case studies, you draw crucial distinctions here, Augie.
It's important for everyone who purports to "know" what it takes for businesses/brands to grow,
to have eyes-wide-open; really examine the business cornerstones you offer, and ask themselves these questions.

Great brands/growing businesses, whether large, medium, or small, become that way because they forge better relationships over time...like the old-fashioned barber who hangs out and says hello to passersby. Those relationships built between people lead to trust, loyalty, return business and of course (in my opinion, a lost art), referrals.

I believe that social media channels are just one slice of the pie, a piece of the holistic business plan.
Often, when brands are fully present on social as well as owned media channels, they are able to converse with, and make it easy for their loyal/raving fans to click and refer friends, family, and associates.
I always say "use the tools, don't let the tools use you" to the business owners I work with. Everything is so "buzz-wordy" these days and really, there's nothing new under the sun, except for some added ways to generate World Of Mouth, as author Geno Church called it in his book "Brains On Fire".

I'll be sharing this post via social media, in fact ;-). Thanks for all the effort you put into this piece.