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.