Social media is at the forefront of digital buzzwords, especially for businesses. If its ardent advocates are to be believed, this new outlet will save your business, double your profits, and perform other business miracles. Here are a few reasons to be skeptical of social media marketing promises:
Online sources are awash with stories of social media-driven success. In the past, brands like Cracked, Cheezburger Network, and Upworthy rode the new media trend to fortune and fame, often driven by small teams of individuals with more pluck than money.
The keyword there is “past.”
Nowadays, every company worth their salt retains social media experts, riding their Twitter accounts and seeking the viral Holy Grail. As a result, the playing field is crowded and increasingly dominated by high-priced consultancy agencies. While your nephew’s WordPress blog and fifty Twitter followers may be impressive at family gatherings, his work may not make much of a splash in the broader marketplace.
Remember: trying to shout over a crowd of thousands is only going to make you hoarse.
Social media is where it’s at, so hiring the experts and sharp MBA graduates to help your business make the most of this platform must pay off, right? As it turns out, yes, probably. As long as by “payoff,” you mean “bump sales by about 2%.”
A data firm, Applied Predictive Technologies, recently performed an analysis of the effect of location-based social media promotions on the profitability of businesses. Their estimate clocked in at an unimpressive 2% jump.
While the survey couldn’t account for the aggregate effects of social media as a whole, it is not a promising start, and hardly justifies excess spending on this kind of brand-building. While consultants might promise your company the moon and the stars, the results in the current media landscape are closer to earth.
Contradictory though it might seem, the other problem with social media marketing is that it is still so new. Consider, again, the APT study referenced in the previous point. Coupons and discounts seem like a business slam-dunk, with a long history of driving customers into stores.
The new methods of offering such incentives, however, turn out to be marginally effective at best. Social media campaigns are still in a place where their effects will be experimental, and thus unpredictable. Gambling your marketing capital on unproven methods is a dangerous game.
A popular brand of internet story concerns the aggrieved customer who is placated by a quick-witted customer service representative who uses Twitter or other social media to save the day. You’d almost think no one had ever made a customer happy before the internet.
Believe it or not, stories of skillful service turning impressions around didn’t originate with 140-character messages. In the olden days of before-ten-years-ago, companies were still able to contact customers. They simply used different methods, like e-mail, business phone systems, and letters. In fact, these methods still function and may work better.
Sending out replies via a faceless media account is an impersonal act; speaking on the phone or emailing a physical letter requires direct contact with a human being, which people generally enjoy. Even in a digital age, customers are more likely to relate to Tina the phone rep than @yourbusinessisawesome.
Web customers need just the right amount of attention. Too much, and they get sick of you. Too little, and they feel neglected. And the content itself needs to be carefully designed to appeal to their interests.
All of this takes time, which means man-hours, which means money. Your money. Perhaps, if the returns were more guaranteed, this would be a good bet, but in the absence of demonstrable efficacy, spending that much time and effort is a risk.
While doomsayers predicting the growing irrelevance of social media are likely jumping the gun, the fact remains that a social media strategy is only a part of a well-built business. Aim for a comprehensive approach, and watch your business blossom.
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