Social media is dead…long live social media

Over the past year, a number of much-heralded social media campaigns have floundered failing to deliver the desired results.  To wit:

  • Despite a variety of Facebook and viral marketing campaigns that generated considerable buzz, Burger King sales witnessed 6 consecutive quarters of declining sales;
  • Pepsi’s very public shift away from Super Bowl ads to Refresh Project, a social charity program, was unable to prevent the brand’s drop to the number three market share position.

In addressing these setbacks, SM boosters will argue that these initiatives surpassed their customer response and engagement goals.  As well, they contend that some failures are to be expected given the nascent state of the SM space.  Finally, apologists will blame other culprits such as the economy, pricing, and distribution that can sabotage campaign success.

In reality, these arguments are a little specious.  If a SM campaign can not directly trace to higher sales then what is the use of measuring esoteric values like a conversation and tweets in the first place? Interestingly, some SM programs have been in market for over 6 years belying the claim that the “media” is relatively new.  Finally, if other marketing or product elements mattered more than SM they should have been the focus of the program investments in the first place.

Should these poor experiences cause marketers to reconsider their ambitious SM plans?  Maybe, but not so fast.  Concurrently with the failures, there have been a many SM successes across a variety of industries including retail banking, automobiles and insurance. The aforementioned problems may have more to do with the end of SM as a fad and the emergence of SM as a serious marketing discipline.  Within many companies, there is a growing realization that SM is just one marketing tool and cannot kill traditional advertising & promotion in the same way that the arrival of the microwave didn’t kill the oven.

Some important lessons can be gleaned from these high profile failures as well as the successes:

SM has not changed people’s buying behaviour – Most people still evaluate and purchase products today the same way they did 10 or even 50 years ago. As long as the vast majority of sales occur in stores or through sales people, driving traffic to these areas should be the focus of SM programs.

Marketing integration is essential – Without the support of value-based pricing, optimal channel management and solid product quality, all SM efforts will fail to generate meaningful results.

The brand promise remains paramount – If it doesn’t reinforce a brand’s winning value proposition and character, a SM program will be nothing more than a cool (and often expensive) marketing activity.

The key metrics haven’t changed – Today, SM metrics and analytics are not ideal, being inherently qualitative and relational.  Until metrics can be linked to revenues by becoming quantitative and absolute, then there will be a challenge justifying program ROI.

Competitive matching is the last reason to deploy SM –  As the negative examples of Domino Pizza, Amazon and KFC demonstrate, SM can be a high risk activity and should not be pursued without a compelling strategic and revenue-generating rationale.

You still need to execute with excellence – Like other marketing or product initiatives, SM activities need to move beyond the creative, “cool” factor and focus on delivering marketing and operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Most pundits would agree SM’s future is bright.  It’s the short term that marketers should now focus on getting right.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


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