How to rescue your sinking social strategy

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Every major industry innovation arrives in fits and starts. It took more than 10 years of testing for Pampers to figure out the product design, pricing, and advertising message to convince parents that they could not live without disposable diapers. There were more than 100 carmakers in the U.S. before Henry Ford mass-produced the Model T. Today, social media marketing is still struggling through its own growing pains. Or perhaps we should call them "lack-of-growing pains" because the total business impact of social is still far below what it should be based on consumer habits. The good news is that a handful of companies are driving a new "paid-organic" hybrid approach that blends historic media buying habits with earned engagement to finally scale up sales.

By now brands should have figured out marketing through social media. Today, we know social is one of the first places more than 1 billion customers turn for information, advice, and discovery. So it's no wonder that most businesses have finally been convinced to create the budgets, processes, roles, and responsibilities that allow them to post, pin, tweet, and tag every day. But ask yourself: Is all of this work truly building the business?

Sure, you might have run an ROI study or tracked social traffic to see an increase in actual sales. But what about scale? Chances are that if you stopped those tweets or pins today there would be zero impact on the sales report you pull up tomorrow. And whether you're a startup sewing shop or a billion-dollar brand, if you cannot feel the impact of your marketing, then it really doesn't matter. So far, social is missing scale, and we will not move marketing into future without cracking this code.

Now that brands have participated in social for some time, the problems with current approaches are becoming obvious. First, marketers have grown tired of social tools that end up creating more work for them. Initially, tools that churn out social analytics reports, or allow you to create a quick contest, sound like great ways for marketers to get a handle on the complexity of social media. But over time, they end up becoming too much work with too little reward. Further, the monthly subscription business model does not fit with marketers' needs. That $10,000 per month comes from brands' precious "non-working" budgets (aka "cost center"), and the tools come with no guarantee of results.

Social media still asks marketers to do too much. Who has the time to A/B test an infinite number of possible tweets, or to keep up with this week's Facebook feature update? Who has time to work on product innovation or a package redesign when you haven't gotten to update the brand Instagram account yet? Earlier in my career as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, all we had to worry about was email and message boards. Today, this job has never been tougher -- and thanks to profit pressures there are fewer resources to help you out.

It is no surprise that marketers are increasingly loath to renew their annual contacts with subscription social tools. I hear the phrase "social fatigue" in a growing number of corporate halls as marketers struggle to keep up. The reality is that mass marketers have never been do-it-yourselfers. If television advertising started like social media has, you would have seen brand managers personally writing ad copy and deciding daily whether they should buy commercial time on "I Love Lucy" in Idaho or "The Honeymooners" in Hackensack.

The mass media and marketing engine has run efficiently for decades because of very scalable roles and relationships. Companies create products and services, advertising agencies craft meaningful messages, and media planners and buyers get those messages in front of as many people as possible for the lowest cost-per-impression. We need to go back to this type of model to move forward in the social media future.



Bob Gilbreath
Bob Gilbreath April 7, 2013 at 12:26 PM

Thanks for your comment, Jack. Let's turn back the clock to traditional marketing and see if your point works...Would you recommend that large companies "have a presence" on every traditional media network?: TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio, DTC mailers, phone booths, skywriting, etc, etc. Nope. Any media planner knows that you can't spread your dollars across so many options to have the any real impact. You must choose a handful of media to focus on where you can reach a large target audience when they are most receptive.

Why should we treat social media any other way? Sure, it seems "free" to establish a presence and make a few updates or comments; but anyone who has seen the client side knows that nothing is free. "Social presence" sounds good in theory if you can truly limit your time and money investment. The problem is that the time it takes to "have a presence" on 15 different social networks takes away from focusing on mastering and scaling up a few efforts that best scale with the target audience.

Jack Gazdik
Jack Gazdik April 5, 2013 at 8:10 PM

Bob, while agree with some of your points I think you are approaching social marketing in a very black and white way. I think a successful social campaign needs to integrate paid-organic from CPC advertising with earned media from regular posting on brand social media pages like Facebook and Twitter. Social posting and sharing helps build top-of-mind awareness for brands that may lead to purchase further down the road. Having a presence on social sites also is important from a CRM standpoint. Consumers expect brands to have a social presence where they can go to make suggestions, complain, share experiences etc. If you take that away it may hurt your brand.