Think Social's Over-Hyped? Don't Worry, It Isn't Just You -- And The Data Can Prove It

If we're honest, we have all probably wondered whether social media is a case of the Emperor's new clothes. So it's well worth checking out a speech from Marketing Week's Marketing Professor Mark Ritson, applying the most modern data to show that there is life yet in the "dinosaur" media of television and radio and even search marketing, which was all the rage in digital before so many column inches were devoted to social.

It's particularly pertinent in the run-up to the Super Bowl when social marketers will be tutting at the vast amounts of budget given over to television's most expensive slots when they could hijack the event with a clever tweet or two, as Oreo was accredited as having done in 2013. With the lights at the stadium out, it tweeted a joke about dunking in the dark. The tweet won awards and was widely cited as having shown those old television guys a thing or two.

But throw a bit of data analysis at the tweet, Ritson points out, and you soon realise that probably around 60,000 people saw the picture on the night. Meanwhile one of those well shot television advertisements that would have cost millions to put up on screen would have been seen by around 50 million. Take a look at most big companies' followings on social media and it's rare to get above 2% to 3% of the brand'a customer base. However, most of these are "sleepers" who liked a brand in a competition or for some other reason they can't remember. If you look at how many people choose to interact with a brand on social media, the figures go to way under 1% -- in fact, Ritson quantifies it as a very rough average of 0.02%.

It's a similar story with Adobe's research into shopping over the festive season with social providing just under 1% of clicks that ended up in a purchase compared to 40% of people who went direct to a Web site to transact, 36% who came through search and a little over 20% who came from another Web site.

Thus, to Ritson, social is -- and I quote -- "the greatest act of misselling in the history of marketing." A channel for people to communicate with one another has been presented as a medium where they will join in a conversation with brands that has then been turned in to, in Facebook's example, an advertising medium offering inventory like any other advertising business -- not the personal chat with consumers social was sold on.

While I probably wouldn't use the exact same words, I have always been surprised at how quickly brands have gone overboard on social hype -- and I have to say, the media is as guilty as anyone else in spreading the message that social is a great means for brands to interact with their customer base. Sure, there are opportunities, particularly if you're the type of brand that has a fan base -- such as a car manufacturer or a football team. For the majority of businesses the opportunities are limited, with far more attention available for those who pay to advertise rather than hope to have conversations that get noticed.

So let's not be luddites; there is something there. I was watching a view counter go way north of one hundred thousand views for a large brand a friend works for over the weekend. The video in question was a teaser for a new product launch and so the incremental cost of putting it up were minimal and more than a hundred thousand people watching it is a very nice way of building up awareness.

It's just when the media starts harping on about television having had it and radio limping on to a long, drawn-out demise that just an element of common sense has to be applied. I'm often asked by industry people as well as friends or acquaintances at events what I rate as the best digital channel. It's a leading question to which it would be so easy to answer social. Trouble is, I can never get away from my backing of search. Any investment in SEO is never wasted because it keeps a Web site sharp and lined up to Google's way of judging, which is the best in the sector to put on its front page. Creating regularly refreshed content also makes sense in engaging people and giving them a reason to see you as a thought leader. Then with paid search, at least you know you're going to get your spot and you can compare customer acquisition costs as well as match basket size to keywords and audience segment. Sure, you pay, but if your model's right, you can make it work.

Social can have its uses, but ask any small company and they will tell you what we kind of already knew. Coca-Cola or some other mega corporation can always cite success because they start off with such a huge following. For the mere mortal brands social can be a useful way of getting messages out there, but it shouldn't be at the expense of ignoring other digital channels, such as email, newsletters, search, blogging, display and so on. 

I made the point the other day about poor old television being on its dying legs with the vast majority of video viewing, the vast majority of advertising and the vast majority of "water cooler" conversation attention. I'm sure the old dinosaur could do with being killed off a little more for a few years with tweets winning awards for getting 60,000 views while 50 million people are watching the advertisements.

5 comments about "Think Social's Over-Hyped? Don't Worry, It Isn't Just You -- And The Data Can Prove It".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Carl Zide from Auto Trader, January 19, 2015 at 5:46 p.m.

    Great read. Partly true. I believe social media has an important brand building part to play within the broad sphere of public relations: earned media, own media and customer relations. My experience is that social media often fails when we try to scale earned social media initiatives with paid social media campaigns. Most social media initiatives should not be scaled, most great stories lose authenticity when you start paying for them. I don't think we should not try to use social media to replace online performance based marketing (SEM, display, spam, partnerships etc) and broadcast marketing (TV, radio, outdoor etc). We should focus our efforts within social on what Sean says: "the personal chat with consumers social was sold on".

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, January 19, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    I agree Carl. But try and track down Prof. Byron Sharp's "How Brands Grow" and you'll see how 'scale' is behind every great brand.

  3. Ginger Cookie from Consultant, January 20, 2015 at 12:57 p.m.

    Excellent spot on with the diluted effect of branded "likes"... to the more substantive awareness happening with TV commercials..especially a major live event with marquee brands... and I don't even watch much TV...

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 21, 2015 at 12:18 a.m.

    So many people with not enough to do.

  5. Mark Osborne from CitizenNet, January 30, 2015 at 7:40 p.m.

    Yes, but...users share so much information about themselves, their behaviors, and their preferences on social media...the real promise of social is not as a dialog, but a data-driven, micro-segmented ad platform with high impact native ads.

Next story loading loading..