Social Media: Why it’s a Big Fat Waste of Time and Money!

What are you getting out of all those Twitter followers?

by Clayburn Griffin |

Kate chuckled as she repeated the reporter’s question: “Do we have a social media strategy? Of course we do! To get as many Facebook likes as humanly possible!”

Social media has been the next big thing for several years. And now brands just like Kate’s are increasingly throwing lots and lots of money at it. And why not? It’s become quite popular.

Unfortunately though, most of their investment is going down the drain. Why? Because many brands treat social media like a shiny new toy:  it’s different, fun to play with, and most importantly, everyone else has one.

But the problem is that social media rarely has any strategy or business purpose behind it. (Hint: getting as many Facebook likes as humanly possible is not a social media strategy!) As a result, social media typically benefits nothing more than corporate vanity.

In many ways, social media has become the latest status symbol for brands. Seemingly obsessed with their mission to achieve social media success, brands continually try to outdo their competitors and maintain their social media “top dog” position.

Ignorance Drives Fear and Desperation

This mentality forces brands to throw the kitchen sink at social media while completely bypassing strategy.

Why is this happening? It might simply be ignorance. Many brands do not really understand social media. And because they are so busy trying to achieve social media fame, they really don’t have time to step back and learn about its true power.

Their lack of understanding often produces an underlying fear that leads to desperation. All they know is that the competition is doing it, so they damn well better do it too. More often than not, their pursuit is fueled by some executive rant: “Gobias Industries has one million Twitter followers and we only have 30,000!  This is an outrage!!!” This mentality forces brands to throw the kitchen sink at social media while completely bypassing strategy.

It also creates false pressures. In their quest to achieve social media fame, brands tend to latch-on to certain success metrics, such as Facebook likes or Twitter followers. Some even use these metrics to assess the individual performance of brand managers, and require them to achieve some arbitrary number.

Understandably, those interested in job security often interpret the KPI as “You need to acquire 500,000 Facebook likes this year, or you’re fired!”  How exactly is a brand manager supposed to get 500,000 likes?  Are there really that many people excited about dishwashing liquid?  Probably not. But somehow management overlooks that.

Consequently, brands have to reach as broadly as possible in order to hit those numbers. Instead of defining a strategy to reach their target demographic, most resort to running Facebook Ads or giveaways. In other words, they basically bribe people to like them.

The Irony of it All

What brands fail to realize is that this approach isn’t going to build a very loyal following. In fact, when your social media audience is full of people who don’t actually care about your brand, they’ll easily get annoyed when you post an update, and quickly defect.

Social media teams are soon reluctant to post anything at all, never mind something promotional. A manager at a social media agency summed it up best: “Every time we tweet, we lose four followers.” Apparently, brands are spending a tremendous amount of time and money to build a massive audience, but avoid communicating with it for fear of losing it.

The Key to Making Social Media Pay Off

If you want your social media efforts to pay off, you need to realize that it is a marketing channel,  not a shiny new toy.

If the above approach sounds familiar, you need to take a step back and ask yourself WHY you want these likes or followers in the first place. Besides having more than your competitors, what’s your objective? If you don’t know, that’s not a good sign. You should have a clear answer, just as you would for any other media channel.

For example, you wouldn’t advertise during the Super Bowl just because the number of viewers is huge. You’d be looking to get a return on your big investment. To do so, you’d still need to have  a message and a clear objective. That’s where real strategy comes into play, and where many social media experts are dropping the ball.

If you want your social media efforts to pay off, you need to realize that it is a marketing channel, not a shiny new toy. Given that, it should be held to the same standards as other media channels. That means it’s time to have an actual marketing strategy for your social media channel, and think about how it fits into your purchase funnel.

5 Ways to Build Your Social Media Strategy

An effective strategy is defined by clear objectives and measurable goals. Below are five objectives you can use to help support your social media strategy:

Awareness

If you want to create awareness, social media can definitely help. However, it can be tricky in this realm as it usually means intruding and putting yourself where you aren’t wanted. Typically, it is achieved with the various promoted options available on social media platforms, such as Sponsored Stories or Promoted Tweets.

Other non-paid tactics for generating awareness via social media include hijacking trending topics, a.k.a. news-jacking. Or joining a relevant group, like Google communities, and becoming a valuable member.

While the efficacy of these tactics varies, you can improve their chance of success by putting some strategic thought into them. Who are you targeting with your social advertising?  If you’re running a social media based contest, is it going to draw the right eyeballs for your brand?  Does your tweet on a trending topic add to the conversation?

Consideration

Social media has some serious power in the consideration step of the conversion funnel because it can help you build social trust in a variety of ways.

While people don’t usually decide which brand to purchase based on who has the most Twitter followers, your Twitter presence could help them make a decision. For example, it influences me when I book flight reservations. I know that airlines with an active customer service presence on Twitter will be much easier to deal with should anything go wrong.

Brand trust is also achieved via online reviews as many people ask their family and friends for suggestions before making a purchase decision. We even factor in strangers’ opinions!  Such reviews can be extremely helpful to people in the research phase. Given that, strive to use social media to help cultivate reviews and word-of-mouth (which touches on advocacy – something we’ll get to later), and put your brand in the best possible light.

You can also build social trust by using your social media profiles to showcase product features that put you ahead of your competitors. For example, Samsung Mobile uses their Facebook photos to highlight many of its phones’ features. While these mostly go to current fans of Samsung, it still provides powerful visuals for someone researching the brand. And social activity on these photos could expand their reach far beyond Samsung’s audience.

Pulling in the social trust factor is important. Be sure to put a Like Button on your homepage (or every page) that displays a user’s friends who already like the brand. Use social media plug-ins to enhance the consideration power of your website and product pages.

Conversion

By now you’ve probably heard the claim that social media can’t convert. But don’t believe it! You CAN use social media to convert. Here’s a simple example of exactly how:

I saw this tweet from @BurgerKing: “How many soft serve cones can you carry? They are only 50cents!”

So, I left the office and walked over a block to grab one. (It was hot out, and the cone was cheap!) Clearly, BK’s social media effort drove that conversion.

Sure, it can be difficult to tie the social media effort to the conversion, but it’s not impossible. One way to do so is to plan to use special codes or printable (or smartphone) coupons in your social media promotions. Even a simple “mention Facebook and get X% off” initiative can be tracked at the register.

You can also drive conversions through social media by monitoring the chatter online. For instance, people love to complain about all kinds of personal problems on Twitter, and it could spark ideas for new marketing efforts. Who knows, maybe it was people complaining about the heat that spurred the Burger King ice cream cone promotion.

As you listen to the conversation, keep in mind that your product solves a problem (hopefully). For example, let’s say you sell shoes. Do a Twitter search for “need new shoes” in New York City. Now you just tweet your store’s address at these people, and maybe offer them a small discount. They need new shoes. You sell new shoes. No need to go door-to-door. Instead, just monitor Twitter to boost conversion.

And speaking of Twitter, these new Lead Generation Cards could be a game-changer for social media conversions.

Loyalty
To truly foster loyalty with social media, strive to create meaningful engagement points and provide ongoing service to users.

Social media experts love this goal. Why? Because it’s a catchall for pretty much everything they do. It can also help them mask the fact they have no real strategy.

From their perspective, every retweet, like, mention, follow – or whatever — counts as loyalty!  It doesn’t matter the context. It doesn’t matter what comes of it, or what the message was. Their claim is that this was a brand engagement, and therefore, the customer has loyalty to the brand now!

But do they really? If you tweet a cat meme and I retweet it, that just means I’m loyal to cat memes. Your brand may not even be on my mind at all. And if I do associate it with cat memes, what good does that do?  Well, if you sell kitty litter, maybe it does a lot of good. But if you sell people deodorant… maybe not so much.

To truly foster loyalty with social media, strive to create meaningful engagement points and provide ongoing service to users. For instance, a car manufacturer could let people sign-up for important maintenance reminder tweets, or a makeup company could send out free samples of new products to its Facebook fans.

Advocacy

Considered the Holy Grail of social media, advocacy can really help you multiply the return on your efforts. It takes all of the above to a new audience and leads to word-of-mouth, online and offline.

Considering that, you should make achieving advocacy a core component in your social media strategy. Always be thinking: How can I encourage advocacy?  How can I make it easy for users to advocate for my brand?  How can I provide a service that is so good that people will want to talk about it?  This mindset will help guide you.

So what tactics can you use to achieve advocacy with social media?

  • Give them what they want: Creating valuable and easily shareable content can boost advocacy. This can be achieved in various ways, such as simply posting product feature photos on your Facebook page.
  • Keep it relevant: Your engagement points should be relevant and add value. Before you tweet that cat meme, think about whether it will result in brand advocacy. “You should definitely buy a Honda — they tweet funny pictures!” said nobody, ever.  
  • Show you care: Having a responsive customer service presence in social media can add a human element to your brand, build trust, and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Be generous: Rewarding people with some social media acknowledgement can make them feel valued, and in turn, increase advocacy. Give users positive feedback when they actually do what you want them to, and you’ll condition them to do it more often. For instance, I love fried chicken – from a variety of restaurants — but I tend to tweet about KFC more often because I know they’ll respond, and maybe even retweet me.

Get Serious With Social Media

What’s more important to you: Using social media to accumulate more likes than your competitors? Or actually making social media pay off?  It’s time to stop wasting money on meaningless likes, and start getting serious with social media. That means having an actual marketing strategy. Only then will you be able to effectively use social media to achieve business objectives. Otherwise, that massive audience you’ve gathered is just a big, fat waste of time and money.

What’s your approach to social media – do you have a strategy? Is your social media strategy paying off for you beyond meaningless metrics?  

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About the Author

Clayburn Griffin

Clayburn is an Organic Search Director at Catalyst. He is an Internet marketing guy with an entrepreneurial mind who enjoys coming up with ways to use technology effectively for business. His background in the crossroads of social media and SEO has helped him to provide comprehensive digital strategies to Catalyst’s clients.