Why social media is like Sunday trading – enough of the false value

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Social media has to be the biggest bandwagon since the invention of the internet. Over  the last 15 years I’ve been through the pain of convincing people that the internet had a marketing role to play, and seen the year of PPC, of email marketing, SEO and maybe three years that have been announced as the year of the mobile!

Of course, over the last few years social media has become the hot thing. It’s in every conversation and everyone is so up to date if they mention it aren’t they! Social media has some great opportunities but I wish people would think about what it’s actually delivering.

I recently sat through a presentation at the Ecommerce Expo at Old Trafford. The session was run by an email marketing platform and they had brought along an author who’d written a book about storytelling in business and how that manifests itself in social media.

It was massively attended, mainly because of it’s Pied Piper kind of title. It hypnotised us in to being excited by the promise of a potentially different take on the use of social media. Sadly not.

Now, credit where credit is due – the author never professed to be a marketer. The presentation was interesting with some nice examples of social media campaigns and it was well delivered by the two presenters. But I have to say that I left the room thinking that what they articulated wasn’t at all revolutionary or exciting.

Firstly, storytelling has always been important in marketing. I watched a Drayton Bird video about long copy and whether it sells, the other day. Of course it does as long as your engaging people, and that needs the story.

That story will usually include real life examples about how XYZ product provided ABC benefit that helped Mrs Customer to be so much happier in her life. If there is a quote or endorsement to that end from Mrs Customer, or even Miss Celebrity, then all the better.

So telling stories is as old as the hills. Of course social media isn’t, but it has a great role to play in collecting and spreading these stories – part of the Web 2.0 “revolution” was about providing platforms on which anybody could post content.

I also despair when I see examples of social media that are supposed to represent a fabulous inspired idea. These examples supposedly demonstrates the value of the channel and show that you can demonstrate real business benefit from engaging and SPENDING MONEY in social media.

Let’s cut through all the hype and analyse properly what’s going on.

The aforementioned presenters used as one of their examples a pots and pans company that already had a great email database. They decided they’d get a Facebook page up and running and it was seen as a success because they were able to get X friends by emailing their list and asking them to join them on Facebook. Am I missing something?

Someone who is enthusiastic enough about your pots and pans to sign up to a newsletter is probably a committed customer. They’ve probably bought already and will probably buy at some point in the future.

QUESTION 1: So emailing them and getting them on Facebook allows you to sell how many more pans for the money that you have invested in Facebook?

QUESTION 2: What INCREMENTAL revenue (that you wouldn’t have already received from your excellent product) will come from what you have spent on Facebook?

I’d suggest not very much.

Now hold on before you jump down my throat! Of course I know they can now LIKE their pots and pans, tell their friends and interact with the brand. And if pots and pans is your thing, fill your boots!! But what’s important to note is that its not the fabulous success, and a fabulous return on the money that was spent.

So is it pointless spending that money then? Well not necessarily…

I’ve not studied the pots and pans market, and the dynamics of marketing the product in and out of social media so I can’t quote specifics. But what does occur to me is that there are brands and businesses that have to be there from a defensive point of view. If they’re not, then their competitors may well steal a jump on them.

Of course I’m not advocating a “me too” approach to marketing – remember I was holding my head in my hands when people wanted websites because “everyone needs one don’t they?”.

But think back to when Sunday trading arrived. Marks and Spencer were notable for holding out and not opening on a Sunday out of principle. Eventually that position became untennable as SOME of their customers spent their cash in other stores on a Sunday. But there was no more money being spent as a whole – it was just being spent over 7 days rather than 6. Eventually Marks and Spencers had to relent and open on Sundays.

My point is that when you are looking at social media, spending money on it might be the right thing to do and it might not. But when you assess what it’s worth let’s be realistic about why you are doing it and what it really delivers incrementally. It’s OK to use it defensively, but make sure you acknowledge that.

There are too many people proposing social media as the great white solution to everything, and many of these are the same people that will claim that those Facebook friends for the pots and pans company are new sales. A social media expert might say that, but a marketer never would. Or would they?

What do you think?

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On August 7, 2012
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One Response to Why social media is like Sunday trading – enough of the false value

  1. Tim N says:

    I think we're on the same page Mr S!

    Just because you can doesn't mean you should!

    The sooner everyone calms down and realises that digital is just another comms channel, another option in the mix, the better. But remember when direct mail was the great white hope? And look what happened there? The golden goose is well and truly cooked.

    So avoid the snake oil salesmen, don't believe the hype, ask anyone who is advising you spend your dollars in social media to give you their MARKETING credentials and then take them seriously or not.

    Rant over!

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