There are some conversations you just have to have over and over, and somehow this seems particularly true with social media.
Take, for example, the idea that companies have to be on social media simply because everyone else is. I have had that conversation a hundred times -- including in this very column -- and I can always tell when I’m in a losing battle: my customer’s eyes glaze over, she starts nodding, and then she says, “Right, right, right… So when can we get started?”
Or take the idea that social media is free. It is, of course, most emphatically not free. But it has always suffered from the illusion of seeming free. Executives who didn’t have Facebook accounts and had never used Twitter assigned unpaid interns to handle their social media, and expected the work to happen in that most mythical of dimensions, “spare time.” (This strategy is, of course, only effective if the message you’re trying to send to your customers is that you care so little about them that you’re going to delegate engagement to the lowest-ranking person in the organization, and you’re not even going to allocate actual time to that person so he can do it properly.)
Beyond these two eternally repeating conversations lurks a third: that each individual social media encounter has an attributable ROI, that we can or should be able to always quantify the revenue generated from a tweet or a Facebook post. We can’t. And it’s silly to assume we can.
Yes, you don’t want to waste money, and yes, you need to measure overall results from all your activities, but there is a complex system at work here: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Trying to extrapolate revenue from individual interactions is tantamount to cutting open the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Let’s assume you’ve gotten past all this. You’ve convinced your client to assign someone with adequate communications skills, brand comprehension, and experience to manage their social media. You’ve gotten agreement for her to spend X hours per day or per week or whatever to do it properly. And your client has finally accepted the fact that not every Facebook post will result in a fresh influx of cash.
And then, just when you think your ceaseless explanations of how it all works might actually cease, Facebook has to go and introduce Promoted Posts.
I understand Promoted Posts, really I do. I know we never owned the platform anyway. I know customer communications have value. I know Facebook is providing that value and I agree it deserves to generate revenue as a result. But Promoted Posts have the potential to destroy everything “social” about the way companies use the medium. Just when we’ve gotten businesses to understand that social media is no place for relentless product-pushing, the CFO is going to be wanting justification for each sponsored missive. And while many companies will simply cease using Facebook as the medium of choice for customer communication, those who remain are going to look for that justification -- by directly tying each post to a revenue opportunity.
What do you think will happen to the quality of the Facebook experience when small companies can no longer afford to use it, and bigger companies resort to high-pressure sales messages to rationalize the money it costs to promote them? Did somebody say, “vicious cycle”?
So here’s hoping Facebook finds another way to generate revenue and keep its shareholders happy. The risk of the current model is that the true cost of Facebook is, unfortunately, just too high.