The Disturbing Dogma of Social Media Marketing

The sun revolves around the earth.

The world is flat.

Cigarettes aren’t bad for you.

And we all need to be spending more on social media marketing.

Last month, Duke University released the results of its CMO Survey, spreading the good word that “social media spending as a percentage of marketing budgets will more than double over the next five years.”

Survey director Christine Moorman was evidently delighted about the trend, saying, "Companies are searching for novel ways to interact with their customers that will drive the growth of their companies. Unfortunately, marketers are behind the curve with their current levels of social media expenditure, given the amount of time customers spend engaged with one another and with companies online. The good news is that marketers are seeing the imperative to rectify this through increased investment in social media marketing in the upcoming years."

Did you see it? The dogmatic leap? The unspoken assumption? I’ll run it again: “[M]arketers are behind the curve… given the amount of time customers spend engaged with one another and with companies online.”

Yes, customers spend lots of time engaged with one another online. But that doesn’t mean it’s an effective place for marketers to be. That’s the dogma: that, because social is hot and trendy and where the cool kids are, it’s the best place to spend your marketing dollar.

It’s not. Not yet, anyway.

In the provocatively titled “Can We Please Stop Hyping Social As The Marketing Messiah?” Nathan Safran replaces assumptions with data. During the 2012 holiday season, for example, 34% of retail website visits came from search. 40% were direct. 2% -- yes, a mere two percent -- were from social.

Another study Safran cites has 15% of respondents always or often turning to social for shopping or product research, while 97% say they always or often turn to search. Search is obviously not the only possible marketing channel out there, but at least if your dogma is that “search is best,” you’ve got some stats supporting you.

Quoting a series of tweets about a different article, Safran says, "People use social media to, well, socialize. People use search engines when they want to find something.”

We all know time spent on social media is increasing. We all know social media is becoming more integrated into our lives. And, certainly, marketers should be paying close attention and actively exploring what this means for their brands. But it would be a mistake to shift a significant percentage of budget to social based on assumptions.

What should we be doing instead? We should be open to possibility. We should be thinking about the way people behave on the many channels accessible to them, and why they might respond more often and more enthusiastically on some platforms than on others. We should be looking at our demographics, at the facts, and at our results, and adjusting our strategy and tactics accordingly.

When I was CMO of a virtual world for kids, TV was always the highest-converting channel. But search gave us more granular control and was a key complement. We looked at our demographics, at the facts, and at our results, and adjusted our strategy and tactics accordingly.

It’s easy to jump on the social bandwagon, and there are lots of unaware executives demanding greater presence on and investment in social without a true understanding of what it will cost and what can be gained. So be careful. Be awake. Make decisions based on information, not dogma. You might have to hold your ground against a few of the converted -- but they’ll thank you in the long run.

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10 comments about "The Disturbing Dogma of Social Media Marketing ".
  1. Jan Rabinowitz from January Consulting , March 29, 2013 at 12:34 p.m.
    Thank you! Nice to see some words of wisdom instead of hype.
  2. Rick Lavoie from RUCKUS , March 29, 2013 at 1:22 p.m.
    Kaila, You made some valid points on the need to step back and take caution. However, I'm concerned you sound like you're part of the ongoing conspiracy of trying to keeping the billions of dollars in traditional or even Web 1.0 vs emerging channels. I know a lot of livelihoods are tied to the past, but it does our clients and industry a disservice by not implementing smart social programs aggressively. I have mounds of data to dispute the few opposing facts you site that proves the sea change. Fear, uncertainty and ineffective traditional marketing budgets will loose this decade to a world of successful marketing programs harnessed by WOM and two way conversations.
  3. George Linzer from Potomac River Media , March 29, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.
    Once again, Kaila, you are right on. The whole social media craze reminds me of the mid-90s, when blindly spending money on websites and portals mostly irrespective of business goals and strategies was the norm. Instead, it was all about being "there" first and trying to stay ahead of the curve. It was a lousy time to launch a consultancy focused on providing strategic guidance to companies looking to harness the web, which, of course, is exactly what I did back then. To Rick, I'd just say please don't overreact to Kaila's comments. Instead, receive them as a caution to keep your eye on the ball (sorry for the baseball metaphor, but the season is about to begin!).
  4. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent , March 29, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.
    Wouldn't you hate it if, every time you sat down to talk to a friend, someone sat down next to you and tried to interject? That's what social media marketing feels like sometimes. Search and email are just plain better for marketing. They're intentful. They're direct. They're based on asset and permission. Ask marketers how much attribution they can give social media MARKETING. Social Media itself is a huge influencer. No doubt. But does it drive clicks? Not like search and email do. But it sure is new and fun.
  5. Rick Lavoie from RUCKUS , March 29, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
    Dave, it's better than enjoying content and being interrupted constantly. There are ways to blend into the conversation and it's welcomed as long as you're offering something and/or providing value. I believe in integration and strategically making it work together but social will and should have a much greater % as long as it is planned and executed well. I wouldn't bank on email much longer. Its a declining channel. Some companies have stopped issuing email addresses to employees. Email is literally the biggest frustration in my life.
  6. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent , March 29, 2013 at 3:35 p.m.
    @Rick L. That is an interesting esponse to my comment. Name one company that doesn't provide email addresses and I'll add them to the deadpool. You need an email to sign up for a social media account after all. People go to Facebook, Instagram, Vine, etc. to waste time. Not to buy stuff. prove to me otherwise. I dare you to find one brand that ascribes ANY significant holiday spend to social traffic. And social doesnt mean 'word of mouth', it means that silly social agency stuff. Hooey. If you are successful at creating something interesting enough for people to share with their friends, congratulations. 'Dunk In The Dark' was a fluke. A cool fluke, but an outlier. 99.999% of all viral marketing attempts fail. And I would trade an email address for a like any day of the week. You can't do jack with a like. You don't own it.
  7. Rick Lavoie from RUCKUS , March 29, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.
    Half Of Financial Advisors Use Social Media To Communicate With Clients - http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/196784/half-of-financial-advisors-use-social-media-to-com.html I know we can't get behind, prove or believe all the "hype" but this is from 2 hours ago from Accenture and from a trusted publication...uummm...MediaPost. Sound familiar? Don't worry, Dave. I thrive on naysayers at Lunch and learns and when I share the fact that I managed a huge campaign that delivered direct ROI to the tune of 15% increased sales. You're being harder on Social than in Kaila's piece. At least she is trying to keep an open mind. I am honestly concerned for those who shut it down completely because in some ways it effects us all and makes it a little harder. Social will evolve, channels will emerge. Get on board before it's too late. If not, in time you will see you'll be on the wrong side of marketing history in the 21st century.
  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 29, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.
    1. Who profits most from money spent on "social" media ? "Social" media experts and channels. 2. Cool kids or cool adults with money ? Cool money. 3. Sale to people looking for you find you or guessing ? Peek a boo. I see you. 4. My financial advisor goes public with my account in any way shape or form, I'd sue his pants off. 5. Throwing ads at a conversation (if it were that important, call) reminds me of going through the souks/rows of merchants in Egypt as they get in your face and throw a shirt on you you couldn't refuse. It became a game for us since it was temporary, not so much for the sellers.
  9. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , March 30, 2013 at 12:38 a.m.
    Fascinating that Rick L. suggests there's this anti-social media conspiracy. He seems to ignore that there's billions in VC money and major digital corporate investment that desperately needs social media to succeed because they desperately want the traditional ad dollars (and have run out of other sources). So, they resort to prestidigitation with near-facts like the above notes. The truth? Everything is evolving - but it's critical to separate fact from fiction with serious analyses like this. So, thanks Kaila.
  10. Traci Browne from Red Cedar , April 1, 2013 at 9:46 a.m.
    I see a serious flaw in this article and that is what appears to be a narrow definition of social media. When I was in IT I was dependent on List Serves for up-to-date information and idea exchange...that was social media. When you do a Google search (as the article suggests everyone is doing) what pops up and what gets higher marks?...content rich blog posts. That is social media. Everyone together now...Social Media is not a strategy...it's a set of tools. All you need to do is choose the right tool that fits your strategy...it's very simple.