Why Marketers Get Social Media Wrong

by · June 24, 201334 comments

Most marketers get social media wrong. Especially those that have been around the block a few times and know a thing or two about marketing. 

It’s not that they don’t understand what social media is about. It’s not that they don’t “get” social. They all have the Facebooks and the Tweeters and they post and follow and like and +1. Many seem to be finally understanding that the content you provide on social channels needs to be audience centric rather than brand centric. In fact, there’s not a lot you need to explain to today’s marketers about social media anymore.

But they still get it wrong.

Why? Because they don’t understand why the audience is there.

Think about it this way: You know ranking well in search, or even purchasing search engine ads, will work in driving traffic to your website. Why? Because the audience for search engine results is actively looking for an answer to a problem. If your organic or paid search engine result seems to answer that problem, they’ll click. If you’ve done a good job of providing that answer, they’ll convert.

A searcher is in buying mode. They are actively seeking the solution you provide. They are searching.

Now think about the social audience. They aren’t looking for an answer to a problem. They aren’t searching. They aren’t even hoping to encounter a brand or company in their time spent on whatever social network they’re on.

The social media audience is there to be social … with friends, family or other like-minded people. They are not in buying mode. They are not seeking the solution you provide. 

Why do you go to Facebook? I always joke that if you’re over 40 you’re there to see pictures of your kids or grandkids. If you’re under 40 you’re there to stalk your ex. But the joke isn’t far from true. You’re there to interact with people.

You aren’t there to be persuaded to download a white paper, sign up for an email newsletter or buy a thingamabob. 

Being present in social media for brands is counter-intuitive because the audience is not there to shop or buy. They don’t naturally want to engage with you. This doesn’t mean they won’t. It doesn’t mean you can’t ultimately convert them to be customers. But it’s not going to happen at the speed or success rate of a search engine ad or even a traditional media spend.

The social brand is one that nurtures relationships with its current customers, develops new ones with prospective customers and is glad for conversions whenever they may occur.

The social brand is one that nurtures relationships with its current customers, develops new ones with prospective customers and is glad for conversions whenever they may occur. 

The social brand is one that knows it cannot tie monthly, quarterly or annual revenue goals to its activity that are on par with other channels because the audience need, expectation and motivation is different.

The social brand is one that participates because it knows that not doing so is turning a cold shoulder to the very people it hopes to drive to purchase.

Understanding why the audience is participating on these networks and in this channel is fundamental to how you measure it, compare it to other channels and view success with it. 

So how do you compare social to traditional channels? To SEO or SEM? If you’re trying to draw and Apples-to-Apples comparison there, you may want to rethink things.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • @unsettlinglife

    Couldn’t agree more Jason. But of course the marketers won’t pay a blind bit of notice, because they’re terrified of admitting they’re wrong.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    It’s the engagement part that many marketers don’t grasp, mostly because it takes work above and beyond creating a campaign. And the thing about conversations and engagement is they need constant nurturing and have to be authentic (not marketing speak).

  • http://rhogroupee.com/ Rosemary ONeill

    Here’s the problem for most brands on social…because it’s about relationship-building, and that activity is necessarily between two *people*, and a human brain can’t be shared as a permanent, accessible repository of relationship information, no-one has solved that problem yet. Yes, you can make a note in your Salesforce about Jack from ABC company’s love of tennis, but that is super hard to scale authentically. That’s why social is an area where the small biz has a huge advantage.

    • GB music Events

      Hi Rosemary.

      Reading all this with interest, as I have a start up business that offers a service, not a product. I often wonder if my marketing guy is hitting the right area with Facebook and twitter, as I too see them as merely social. As I don’t really have anything to offer an individual, will I generally be viewed as an annoyance on these sites?

      • http://rhogroupee.com/ Rosemary ONeill

        I think as long as the marketing guy is focused on being a useful resource and building real relationships, you’re ok. If he’s there to send out sales promos, you’re in danger of being annoying. As far as not having anything to offer an individual, remember that the business folks who buy your service (even if it’s for a business) ARE individuals too.

        • Simon

          I would agree but has to be promotional a little bit. Can be indirect. For the online world it takes a lot of time to build relation and a marketeer don’t show his intent then at end that efforts out in building relation will not give output except if he refers someone.
          http://www.fmeextensions.com/

  • http://indispensablemarketing.com/ Patrick McFadden

    Jason, you’re on point man. “The social brand is one that nurtures relationships with its current customers, develops new ones with prospective customers and is glad for conversions whenever they may occur.” It’s been said, “Your best prospect then is a current customer.” #nuturerelationships

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  • http://inthekisser.me/ Erica Ayotte

    There are two reasons why brands still struggle with this: 1) they are still too focused on their internal perception of their brand vs. their customers’ conception of it and 2) they are impatient.

    Jason, you emphasized the role that social plays in building brand relationships. Getting a ROR (or return on relationship) is a long tail investment; it’s not transactional. Brands’ disconnect with social occurs when they try to use transactional benchmarks to measure the success of social. Now, I do believe you can measure campaigns in this manner (which by nature are transactional) but you can’t benchmark an entire program or channel in that way, e.g. those stupid formulas that promise to give you the ‘real’ value of a FB fan (gag).

    There are two ways that brands can begin to fix this: 1) include social interactions in their CRM, 2) kill the last touch attribution model. Google analytics is making strides with this with their “Multi Channel Funnels” feature, but it still has a ways to go.

    BTW it mystifies me why mass media spend seems somehow immune to this direct ROI discussion. Big companies will sneeze out millions on TV but balk at adding a community manager to the marketing team. Perhaps that’s the channel to liken social to internally when it comes to reporting. The spend in comparison will be tiny.

    • Khara Ashburne

      Erica! Are we related?? Love the article (especially that part about nurturing relationships), but your comments are just SPOT ON for the wrong thinking in many corporations today. It’s exactly why the market is largely reactive versus proactive… Too much focus on a fast finish & quick fake profits vs long term seed planting for a much greater return.

      Not everything tastes better out of the microwave folks. Some things can only be baked in the oven!

  • http://www.twitter.com/amritachandra Amrita Chandra

    Hi Jason,

    I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent here :) I agree that many people still use social media to be social but there is a distinct shift that I’ve seen in the last 12 months. I’m seeing lots of cases of people actively searching for a service or product on Twitter, Facebook, or using Pinterest to start their shopping experience. Mainly because the social referral is more trustworthy in their eyes than the results they’d get by searching through a search engine.

    Where I do agree with you — because I’m not stupid ;) — is that brands usually respond to these types of conversations in the wrong way – with a spammy, non-personalized reply.

    I also agree that when people do these searches on social networks they are not necessarily expecting or wanting the company to reply, but I’d argue it’s mainly because they don’t want a hard sell, not that they don’t want to hear from the company at all.

    What do you think?

    –Amrita

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Not sure that I’d disagree with you. Obviously, my tome was more a generalization. There are always pockets of exceptions to the rule, and those will continue to emerge and increase. But while there may be pockets of consumers that do actively seek product knowledge, etc., on social channels and want that soft-sell or info-only approach, brands (the focus of this piece) are still programmed to sell, sell, sell and set themselves up to drive conversions and revenue. The socially adept brand allows for conversion, perhaps drives it occasionally, but knows the reason people are there (on social networks) is not inherently to shop or buy.

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    The unawareness of why the audience is not limited to social media. We were all taught marketing as something that interrupts an audience. The better we get at that, the more reluctant we are to turn that off.

    Social media, being more social than media, turns that o. It’s head. Smart marketers are learning that thery can niche down to a single person. That’s working well for now, furred blinding them to the other side of thhe conversation.

    The audience (marketer too) are expecting a conversation. That’s scary if you are used to talking to eyeballs and traffic :)

  • Neicole Crepeau

    Well, you know me, ever the contrarian. While I agree with you that on social networks, people aren’t there to buy as in Search, they aren’t necessarily there to socialize, either. First of all, there are a lot of different social networks. On Facebook, it is largely about seeing what friends and family are up to and sharing what you are up to. But Twitter is a whole different ballgame. It’s a lot more about seeing what people are sharing and talking about. I’d say G+ is in between, and YouTube (if you want to consider that social), is all about entertainment.

    Also, people often drop into these social networks because they are bored or have a few moments to kill on their phones. A lot of the time, they check what their friends are up to in order to kill time. However,content that entertains or informs or engages in a fun way would also likely be of interest to these users. Couple that with the fact that study after study has users reporting they really don’t want to “engage” or “talk” with brands.

    So, I agree with you that marketers need to not try to sell to users on social because people at that point are not in buy mode. However, I’m not convinced marketers should be trying to build a relationship either. As Rosemary points out, there is a scale issue with that, too. Most likely, marketers should be trying to entertain or inform in a manner that drives people to Like/follow them, and ultimately moves them to sign up on their website for future posts, content, etc.

  • http://internetbusinessmastermind.com Ralf Skirr

    Agree to disagree. This is the kind of post that makes its author the ‘nice guy’ and feels good because it dismisses marketing and makes nice claims about socializing. Your claims and idea of ‘social brand’ fall in the category that Dan Zarella calls ‘unicorns-and-rainbows.’ Check out his book ‘the science of marketing.’

    Neither are people on Facebook only to socialize, nor is being social the sole way to business success on social media. There are plenty of marketers on Facebook having good results with plain old advertising.

    • Kimbe MacMaster

      I disagree, Ralf. I think you might have overlooked the point … Jason didn’t say that social doesn’t work or that plain advertising on Facebook is a lost cause. The point was more that audiences are not actively looking for solutions to their problem on social media. Unlike when you type in “best espresso” or “how to get grass stains out of socks” into Google (for example) – when you are actively seeking a solution to your problem, those on social media are not there seeking answers to their questions, or they would just go to Google. They may still be persuaded to click through an ad on Facebook regardless – and maybe that’s because the brand that placed that ad understood the mindset their target was in and designed that ad and copy accordingly. But fundamentally, in order to appeal to your audience on social, you must understand why they’re there.

  • http://www.BeVisibleAssociates.com Betsy Kent – BeVisible

    The most insightful aspect of your article, Jason, is this: “…it’s not going to happen at the speed or success rate of a search engine ad or even a traditional media spend.” This is the most important thing that marketers (and agencies) have to convey when presenting any social media strategy. It doesn’t happen overnight.

  • Craig Jolley

    Jason, while I generally agree with your premise in a B2C context, I must point out that almost all people involved with B2B social interaction on LinkedIn are looking for answers/products/solutions.

    • Kimbe MacMaster

      @craigjolley:disqus What do you think of B2B being more open to being “marketed” to on social networks but not actively looking for a solution. I still believe that in this day and age anyone that is looking for a solution to a problem will do so through a search engine. LinkedIn is more for knowledge sharing and in-depth discussions, but from my experience, most people (even in B2B situations still don’t like to be bombarded with product information through LinkedIn either.

      • Craig Jolley

        @Kimbe MacMaster I would agree with you if the approach is to, as you say, bombard with product information as a thinly veiled sales effort (i.e., old school, yesteryear marketing, regretfully still far to prevalent in the field today). Rather, as I counsel clients for using LinkedIn to increase sales our approach is to establish them as a thought leader, SME and problem solver and develop a positive relationship that can lead to more substantive sales-oriented conversation later – when the prospect is ready, not the other way around.

        It requires a longer viewpoint and a bit of patient but the results are stronger customer relationships and ultimately more opportunities through referrals and WOM.

  • http://www.perkettprsuasion.com c_perkett

    I think people are often on social networks to learn. Brands that act as resources can appease both those who want to socially learn and research, as well as those who eventually want to buy (whether they know it yet or not).

    I appreciated the thoughts here; great stuff.

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  • http://GlutenFreeG.blogspot.com/ CraigF

    When on Facebook people are logged in for a variety of reasons, but it’s typically to escape “work” and stay connected via quick conversations, share funny and entertaining posts, view photos, videos and music. People enjoy Liking and following brand posts because there is fun or excitement content to be engaged with and that creates more attention on their own wall. Facebook for business has evolved simply because it can… With the growth of Linked In, too, being exposed to the newsworthy articles by your favorite sources keeps you in the know ahead of others. If a B2B biz can provide a distinctive brand voice for social providing content that is delivered in a light and approachable way then b2b brands will lure in more followers.

  • Kerstin Burns

    Your email signup doesn’t work.

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