The Bare Truth About Social Media Marketing

Here’s the truth about social media marketing as I see it right now: there are three camps people sit in with it all. 1.) Love it, but not exactly making it work for their business. 2.) Are doing it, but grudgingly and without much hope of seeing a result. 3.) Are still thinking about doing it, but just don’t feel the big push. Bare Naked

Is that how you see it, too?

The Old Days

In 2009, people were crazy about social media. The big companies really wanted to understand this because it felt like it would be a great way to connect in a different (cheaper) way. The little companies saw this as a mix of a burden and an opportunity. Traditional ad people were mortified and felt it seemed stupid. PR people loved it, but weren’t really sure how to count it in their “earned” reports. Bloggers found an instant and easy force multipier for their content.

I got lots of meetings with companies who really wanted to figure out the play for themselves, sometimes just to explore, and other times to try a project, and other times, just to give some thoughts. I visited everyone from Google to Sony to Pepsico to Microsoft, to GM, etc. In all cases, there were two patterns:

1.) Social media nerd with little power seeking validation externally.
2.) Social media nerd but C-level, like CEO or CMO, who needed to convince the troops.

Meanwhile, Julien Smith and I wrote Trust Agents, which was about how to be human at a distance, and how to build trust. (Not a book about social media, but still on many people’s list of favorite social media books – and thank you for that.)

By 2010, lots of companies were “doing” social media, but when pressured to give me examples of their metrics, I got a lot of “well, we’re experimenting.” I also released Social Media 101, which still sells reasonably well because it is a book about social media.

By 2011, I started pressing and asking companies when they were going to take social out of the lab and make it a part of their channel strategy.

In 2012, Julien and I were at it again with The Impact Equation. We argued that everyone showed up on the social web and just cluttered it with “noise” instead of action. It’s still not a book about social media. More than 3/4 of what we espouse in the book would work perfectly well with zero computers. This was the year that I saw a lot of my social media brethren inside of big companies leave those companies and get lost inside agencies. 2012 was actually the year where most agencies had weaponized their versions of social media for their own interests, sometimes good and sometimes kind of mechanically.

(2012 was also the release of Google+ For Business about that social network most people still love to hate.)

And Now

I’ll say this:

The state of social media marketing is fairly depressing from my observations. It’s mechanical. A very informal survey of several brand accounts just shows them chirping out blather to elicit responses or likes, but with no follow-up, no next steps, no actual business intent. Just… faux interaction. The number of companies who have outsourced their social media brand voice to an agency or third part of some sort is higher than ever. And I’ve no idea the stats on corporate response rates to efforts, but they can’t be especially interesting.

Our “browse” culture is clicking and sharing and reposting stuff all over the place. Great content is now like a trading card game. We retweet and share and like and stumble interesting stuff so that we can keep our own feeds alive, but we’re barely reading the stuff we’re sharing and we’re definitely not taking a next action. Click a link? Hardly. Take a next action? Not at all.

What Needs To Be Done?

I’m sifting through that right now. MY version of the solution is Mastering the Digital Channel. On Thursday, I’ll release a podcast interview with Jay Baer about his really smart solution. I know a lot of other people are working on their variation of the answers, too.

Let me say this as my starting opinion:

1.) Social platforms are still a viable communications/marketing channel, but need to be better managed.
2.) Blended models have always been better. Throwing out the old ways is/was/will be silly.
3.) Companies who don’t actually care about interaction with their buyers can ignore this. We’re ignoring you, anyhow.
4.) If you’re going to pretend to use social, at least pretend to use it well.

That’s it for now.

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  • Lyndon Antcliff

    I think it’s absolutely the truth of how you see it, however I think it may help to view it from different angles.

    Social media isn’t about the conversation, as is the mantra that gets trotted out, it’s about persuasion. It’s a communication tool that is most effective when persuading, and I’m not talking about persuading people to buy diet pills and then have a deep fat cronut sandwhich. I am talking about the act of persuading people of the intent and veracity of the signal.

    Once you establish the parameters of the communication tool, rather than as a tool merely for sharing cat pictures or selling cronuts, things get a little more interesting. Because it becomes apparent that this stuff we call social media is ancient, sure we have a technological layer over all of it that is a function of the immediacy and reach. But our brains are still the same brains that took down Woolly Mammoths with a bunch of sticks and rank body odour.

    Point being, I’m not so sure it’s the social media that is depressing you, and causing you to sob into your RSS feed, may I put forward the idea that it’s more a part of human nature that is depressing you.

    Once you look past the back slapping, flattery that infests most blog comments you find that people are selfish creatures and that the primal brain still has dominance over the rational. Most people like to show a smear of civilised discourse, but poke them a little with a stick and that ancient brain soon comes back.

    It’s the noble savage thing that most people know about and hey, it lives and acts out in social media too.

    And I think that may be part of most peoples disapointment with social media.On the positive side it’s done its thing to topple the odd dictatorial Government and caused corporations to row back on the nastier stuff, and it’s with that in mind I accept the mindless repostings of cat pictures and the insouciant babblings of the masses.

    Right now, I think it’s doing all right, and I raise a glass filled with a sparkling fruit derived beverage and say, “Cheers!”

    • Lyndon Antcliff

      Oh and btw the way, thanks for mentioning me in Trust Agents.

  • thomsinger

    the other problem that you should address is that there are two worlds. There is social media for the known / famous (companies and individuals) and social media for everyone else.

    The problem from 2009 is that many are looking for ways to take the “social” part out of the equation. They want to automate, but without “social” we are just left with “media”

  • Lynn Kelly

    From my point of view social media is simply that, a place to be social (look up “social” in a dictionary). By definition it isnt’ a place for generating sales. It is a place for sharing fun and life with family and friends and for sharing ideas and in my case, presenting those ideas in ways that hopefully help people to consider other possibilities. From my point of view, if your goal is to generate sales you need to be on “sales media” (look up “sales” in a dictionary). Oh, ah … is there a “sales media”?

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  • Ivan Temelkov

    I couldn’t agree more. In my last position particularly the CMO knew jack didley about social media but vigorously sought after management persuasion. It seems to me that certain brands and agencies missed the boat completely omitting the basics of social media. Trust, likability, interest, engagement to name a few. Admittedly I personally fall in #1 segment as outlined above. Social media isn’t exactly the easiest thing to monetize even after several years of being immersed in it. Great blog post by the way. Significant amount of truth on all points made.

    • Isabel Herron

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  • Dan Erickson

    I teeter somewhere between camp #1 and camp #2. I like using social media. I’m not quite making it work, but it helps. Sometimes I begrudge what feels like wasted time.

  • Stacy

    wow! cool post! thanks a lot for sharing

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  • bbradyinthenews

    love the pic it rocks!! What year? Circa? it connects the article perfectly.. thanks

  • Felix

    Hey Chris. Just found your site, and I can see that you have lots of valuable posts, with great ideas and insight. Thanks, and I would be coming back.

  • Michael Sagar

    Social Media is just a set of enabling tools. One of marketings primary objectives is usually to improve sales and performance. SM tools have changed the rules for engagement, attraction and retention. For businesses to fully exploit the potential that SM offers they need to change their culture to reflect this new paradigm. It is NOT just about a new channel, or different attitude to PR and MARKETING. IT IS a whole new way of doing business. It is a game changer, and whilst it is easy to become ‘frustrated’ at the apparent slowness or apathy with which companies are adopting these new techniques, let’s not forget these tools present massive change challenges….and combined with the rate of new products emerging, companies and their employees are doing fairly well at managing risks of technology overload! OUR responsibility is to help them by focusing on the business basics and showing how these products can influence business performance…and not get dragged into purist arguments.

  • AlisaMeredith

    Social media is next to worthless if you don’t have behind it a solid website and blog with lots of great, constantly updated content, an assortment of powerful landing pages, marketing automation, and lead nurturing. It’s definitely not the cheap and easy fix people were hoping for and it doesn’t work with traditional push marketing.

  • reynoldbeckers

    Social media marketing helps your business increase traffic and sales. It provides you a platform to connect with your customers within a matter of minutes.

  • Chris @ Rizzo Tees

    I share your sentimonies (to quote Homer Simpson). Fairly depressing, indeed. And on the whole, not really getting much better.

  • Brendan Tully Walsh

    I feel very much in my infancy when it comes to social media, but fortunately the channel(s) themselves are too. We may remember this period of somewhat lame “experimentation” as the halcyon days of social before we all got too serious. In our agency I have the good fortune of working with a great group of younger marketers who are intuitively confident and are wrong much less often than me, and that’s comforting . Our basic philosophy is Keep Marketing Fun, and on that metric we are succeeding. Thanks for the great post.

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  • Generation21stCentury

    The online world, true to form, is one of the fastest developing places in the world. Look at things like Disqus, which is spreading through the blogosphere like wildfire.

    Especially for the youth, entertaining/informative content IS the marketing and the old online sales tricks (like pushy landing pages, annoying pop-up boxes and scammy promotions) are going to be less and less effective. Engagement is key, and that’s why Disqus is so successful. I predict a system whereby sharing content that others share on further boosts some kind of “social reputation” score (beyond “likes” and “retweets”, more like a centralized “Internet relevance index”), to encourage ever more interaction with the online world.

    • Universal_Mind

      I knew Disqus would be BIG. FB comments is not seen much anymore. Disqus is an awesome tool.Great design and practical.

      • Ellen

        Very true! FB comments will eventually go away

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  • Steve Bonin

    Interesting views. I am just starting with putting an hour a day into SM and I don’t know if it is worth it at all. I have not gotten a single new subscriber to my email list. Email marketing on the other hand has real measurable results.

  • Steve Bonin

    BTW I read the whole post so some people do read before reposting…and I did repost this.

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  • Matt Searles

    I don’t know if I’m wrong about this.. but I always kinda feel like “well um, duh, maybe you should just work smart instead of stupid?” You know.. it’s true of everything else in life, why shouldn’t it be equally true of social media-e stuff to?

    I also think that social is… This thing that’s hard to do for reasons of systemic inertia. As you mentioned in your post “how does a pr person write it down as payed media”.. It’s like it doesn’t fit well into the old models of thinking.. and the world is used to situations where models of thinking have such long shelf lives that you can easily mistake a model as being something that will always be there… and people have based most all there thinking on assumptions that all these things would always be there.. and then they freak out when things start changing.. cause they just weren’t prepared.

    And what I see is.. yeah.. businesses pretending.. but they’re not pretending in a way where.. if anybody knew anything about anything they’d know “um, that’s just a lot of stupid.”

    I don’t know.. I’m having a grumpy boring..

    But I guess the theory I’m running with, at least for the time being is “look, just don’t do stupid.”

  • marja huotari

    Thanks! You mention a key finding in your article: the mix! Mix of traditional (Old stuff = Old school) and the New. Both are needed and a part of the markiting strategy, right? Now I’ll RT your stuff and yes, I did really read it

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  • Mitz Build Websites

    It is a hard topic to discuss because when people say they are having success with social, it might not be success to you.

    I personally feel that it is like website traffic. You need quality traffic to make a successful website and you probably need quality followers to make a go of social.

  • Isra García

    Fantastic post Chris. I’m amazed about how people overestimate content repeating the old saying “content is king”, my bet “result is king”. That’s it.

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