The declining value of social marketing

  • Previous
  • 1 of 4
  • View as single page

Social marketing's been around for a while now. Are you in? Or are you waiting? Have you been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt? Are you battle weary and wish the whole social thing would go away? Or are you ecstatic with your results and evangelize social marketing whenever you can?

Those options sum up the sentiment of 1,700 U.S. and Canada based businesses that NextStage surveyed in 2013 regarding social marketing experience.

Just to be clear, social marketing means creating a social presence and using that social presence to drive conversions. Conversions cover everything from loyalty to acquisition to retention to customer service metrics to satisfaction to truly strange recency calculations linking site to social to mobile to...

We made it easy for the companies we interviewed by asking, "Could campaign cost be repeatedly and accurately linked to campaign income?"

We started with 4,200 companies, and "cost to income" quickly whittled things down to just over 1,700. All interviewees were director level and above, all qualified themselves as knowledgeable social managers with two or more years' experience in social, with more years in marketing in general, and all answered under terms of strict anonymity.

Companies ranged from mom and pop shops to F100 companies. Tools involved ranged widely: Expion, Fanscape, Google Analytics, HootSuite, InsideView, Nielsen, Radian6, ReviewAnalyst, Salesforce, Shareablee, Spredfast, Sysomos, Viralheat, homegrown variants, manual calculations, and more. We learned about successes, failures, plans for 2014, and what each company would tell other companies about social before spending money on it.

So what did businesses think? And would they do it again?



Jay George
Jay George January 22, 2014 at 2:03 PM

Re: tracking ROI... I see it from the perspective of a marketer, but many CEOs like concrete numbers. They're used to direct marketing. Sure, there are ways to measure social, but as it stands, we cannot provide reporting that is cut and dry in the way you could if presenting direct marketing metrics.

We can present great plans, we can explain long term value and using it as another piece of a marketing plan, but ultimately the mind of many CEOs work in a way that, understandably, appreciates black & white metrics. There are absolutely companies that understand the value of social, but it goes back to my point below: they understand that it's an additional marketing tool as opposed to a magic wand.

Tim Hamby
Tim Hamby January 20, 2014 at 10:22 AM

Excellent piece with some thoughtful comments, as well.

I can see it clearly from both sides- the desire of a CEO interested primarily (or exclusively?) in tracking / measuring simple ROI, like is so easy to do with typical direct-marketing media buys; and Social Media Advocates who respond that ROI is there for companies that understand social media and recognize it as an effective, but longer-term, less-direct proposition more closely associated with branding and public relations, both of which rely upon fuzzier metrics. Companies that inherently understand and value branding will likely have a much easier time committing resources to social. For those that do not, it is far more natural and logical for them to dedicate more of their resources to strategies that have proven capable of producing nearer-term revenue gains.

For social to be leveraged most effectively, I believe it needs to be looked at, not as direct marketing driver, but in a supporting role, both for building brand awareness, perception and reputation; and as a potentially powerful accelerator for traditional marketing campaigns. The former role is longer-term value proposition. The latter is where CEOs could look to close the loop with respect to realizing significant ROI and recapturing / justifying their longer-term investments. In any event, I do believe that social media does require active integration with marketing to be successful (planned together). A disconnect there dramatically decreases the odds that any investments in social will be leveraged fully or properly, decreasing the overall chances for success, and effectively wasting those resources that were allocated to social in the first place.

jerome pineau
jerome pineau January 19, 2014 at 9:53 PM

There's no way to measure engagements on social sites..." - not sure what he meant by that but clearly this is not the case. There's plenty of ways to measure engagement on most social networks earned or owned.

"Nothing does a good job of measuring social." - some vendors do a great job of it but you have to know what you're measuring first and why - you can't blame the tools for lack of clear ROI strategy.

Jay George
Jay George January 19, 2014 at 7:48 PM

Great article and very relevant for the online marketing world. With that said, the biggest issue with social media marketing has been, at least in my experience, clients who have a lack of understanding surrounding social media and content marketing.

With all the talk of 'going viral' and obscure reality stars who have millions of Twitter followers, no matter how much coaching you attempt, there are a high number of people who genuinely don't understand social media and why they, too, haven't achieved internet stardom.

I am of the belief that one of the biggest issues facing social media marketing is not only a the lack of understanding, but also the fact that businesses that try to use it like a traditional advertising method. Obviously, the hard sell doesn't work well on social. To go one step further, I believe there are many instance where the real problem lies with businesses/inexperienced social marketers treating it as a business platform, when in reality, it wasn't designed as such. We are joining a community, not the other way around. The only surprising thing would be if it didn't fail.

Social is a great tool, but it is just that —a tool. My hope would be that as business continues to evolve with social, a better understanding of the platforms and the process will increase. I don't see social going away, but rather we'll be able to refine how it's used.

JM Bonthous
JM Bonthous January 16, 2014 at 11:29 AM

Great article, and very relevant topic.

However... this story begs to consider an underlying question---while social marketing needs to be re-evaluated, is social marketing the "baby" or the "bathwater"?
By that, I mean--what is the mindset underlying most social marketing initiatives, and what is the quality in design and execution of these initiatives?

Some examples---In 2013, we've had a CEO ask us to remove all social sharing buttons from their web site because "a client told us that these buttons don't look good". Amazing but not that uncommon.
Another client, with no prior experience with or presence on YouTube, spent $75K creating within one week, with no clear understanding of audience, purpose and concept,. a video grossly out of sync with YouTube audiences. When the video flopped miserably, the Chairman called us a Friday at 10PM summoning us to "mobilize the teen market during the week end". I could go on and on. This lack of understanding of social marketing is more the norm than the exception in small to mid-size have social marketing embraced across functional silos.
There has been for too long a quasi mystical belief around social marketing that with the proper amount of luck, it could help a company strike it big. Social marketing has often been seen as a substitute for innovation and for marketing savvy. A bit like buying a marketing lottery ticket. More often than not, we see companies approaching social marketing as a way to avoid being customer-centric, hoping that by some miracle, they will unleash some virality. Any social marketing initiative undertaken within this mindset is bound to fail.

My sense is that behind what you have observed, what we witness is the decline of the hype and misguided beliefs around social marketing. Social marketing is getting more difficult by the day. The low-hanging fruit has now been picked. Success in social marketing now requires skills, experience and most of all knowledge and understanding of the customer, and a dedication to building authentic, long-term relationships with your audience. This maturing of social marketing could signify the dawn of a new age where we see less stories about hype or success-by-anecdote-- and more substance in how companies make social marketing work for them and for customers.

Steve Poppe
Steve Poppe January 15, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Social media performs best when following a brand strategy. Most social programs are sales driven or engagement driven, divorced from key brand value builders. Brands with an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging (aka a brand plan) are best prepared to be social and earn returns.

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis January 15, 2014 at 8:29 AM

Interesting statistics! I think the success of social depends on what you want to get out of it. Some companies use social strictly as a customer service tool and don't expect to sell anything. Others want to use it as a lead generation platform. I think you could have success in one way with social and less than stellar results in another.

Brant Emery
Brant Emery January 15, 2014 at 7:28 AM

Ah jeez, sorry Joseph, not John. :-(

Brant Emery
Brant Emery January 15, 2014 at 7:27 AM

So John are you saving this research for your book ;-) - or will there be a fuller research whitepaper / publication coming out too? All seems very pragmatic, and thus probably the realistic picture of social marketing at this stage. I believe many companies will be shifting some budget to lead generation this year and know-it-works brand programs: more cross channel, more experiential, less pure digital.