The ‘social media is pointless for brands’ rhetoric has reached a crescendo over the last week or two. It’s nearly impossible to turn anywhere on the web at the moment without someone questioning the value of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram for brands.
The Cambridge Analytica data scandal kicked things off, with the #DeleteFacebook movement picking up buzz and creating debate among users. Brands understandably voiced their own concerns, with ISBA (Incorporated Society of British Advertisers) seeking direct reassurance from Facebook and brands including Playboy and Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla shutting down their Pages.
This was closely followed by the announcement last week that pub chain JD Wetherspoons was leaving all social media sites entirely (announced ironically via social media). And suddenly everyone seems to think that ditching social media might very well be a good idea.
Even as recently as two days ago, a new report created headlines to the effect that alcohol brands are fleeing Twitter, citing the fact that 42% of the top 100 major spirits and liqueur accounts have not posted at all within the past month.
‘Social media use has peaked for brands’, said some. ‘The beginning of a downward trend’, said others. ‘Brands are finally waking up to the fact that it’s all rather pointless’, has become a common refrain.
Well to put it bluntly, I don’t buy it. In fact, I think it’s bullshit.
And so do some of the big names in the world of digital communications.
Leave Social Media to Those Who Understand It
For many brands, social networks continue to drive value. When used strategically with proper planning and thought, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can be used to pinpoint-target very specific audiences at scale.
They can be used to distribute valuable content that resonates with those audiences to create awareness, improve brand perception, generate a predisposition to purchase and to encourage loyalty. And the impact can be measured extremely effectively.
Unfortunately, arguably the majority of brands both large and small have mistaken accessibility for the belief that social media marketing is a) cheap and b) easy. It’s not.
A piecemeal and non-strategic approach to social media tends to result in poor content being pumped out far and wide, gaining little interaction and even less return on the time or money spent on it. Far from improving brand perception and increasing the likelihood of purchase, such content irritates social media users and damages fragile brand relationships.
Without an effective strategy it’s highly unlikely that there’s any tangible benefit to social media. But does that mean brands should just dump it?
“Earlier this year, I was at a social media conference and you would have thought the sky was falling in”, says Gini. “’Social media sucks’, ‘content marketing sucks’, ‘nothing works anymore’. I was almost gleeful at the gloom and doom because it represents so much opportunity.
If everyone is complaining that nothing works anymore, and brands are leaving social media entirely, there is a great upside for the rest of us. You keep complaining and recommending leaving social media so the rest of us can improve what’s there!”
That last point is particularly relevant. Talking to another friend of mine, founder of fintech comms agency FOCO Michael Taggart, he said: “The answer to doing something bad is to do it better, not to stop doing it”. Quite.
Wetherspoons, for example, has cut off a key digital communications channel with loyal customers. If nothing else, it has lost an important method of dealing with customer service issues that will in all likelihood now end up on a review site rather than being contained within social media.
Figure It Out
“Last year, the CMO of Mercedes Benz said: “Social media is the epicenter of digital marketing.” I believe that to be true”, says Mark Schaefer. “Social media is just beginning. It is the way people connect, discover and communicate today. How can you not be part of that? [Wetherspoons] is leaving the building, so to speak.”
Back to Gini: “Social media may be dead for some. But from my perspective, that’s pretty short-sighted. Just like email, people are on social media, and it doesn’t matter if you’re B2B or B2C, they’re there.
Your goal is to have a strategy that allows you to use social media in a way that generates results. It’s even more fun today to figure it out than it has been since 2008. You just have to say to yourself ‘OK, this isn’t working because it’s off strategy’ and switch things up.
The glorious thing about social media is you have some runway to test what works and what doesn’t work. Go out there and be your bad self – it is still possible.”
‘Yeah, but if Elon Musk is ditching it, why wouldn’t we?’, you might ask. Well…what if I said the SpaceX and Tesla Facebook Pages weren’t actually deleted?
As it turns out, a developer has uncovered the fact that the Pages are merely unpublished, meaning they’re just temporarily offline and can be reactivated at any time. You know, just in case…
And you know all those predictions of doom in the wake of Cambridge Analytica? About how users were going to leave Facebook in droves out of concern for their data? Social media use has increased over the last three months, not declined. In the UK alone, there were one million new Facebook users between January and March 2018, a quarter-on-quarter growth of 2%. So much for that theory then.
The Magic Bullet?
“Pacific islanders after World War II thought that if they, like the Americans, cut down trees to create a long rectangular clearing and built a wooden hut at the end of it, metal birds would carry on landing and give riches unknown. Build it and they will come”, says Dan Slee, co-founder of comms2point0.
“There’s a lot of ignorance and FOMO about social media. Wetherspoons is a successful company, so if you ditch your social media like them you’ll be successful too, right?
Wrong, actually. Or rather, probably wrong. Put simply, it’s down to you to understand what good social media communications can and can’t do.”
Now, to be extremely clear, I’m not saying you absolutely must be on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or anywhere else for that matter. It’s horses for courses.
Social media is not a magic bullet. It never was. Those who’ve made a success of it have invested lots of time and money and worked very hard to understand it, to work things out and to get where they are now.
But what I am saying is that you can’t make a success of any social network without a strategy. What we’re seeing now is not the beginning of the end for social media marketing, it’s the beginning of the end for a lack of strategic social media marketing and for brands posting crap on the internet. And for that, hallelujah!
Last words to Mark Schaefer: “Social media in some form will become more important, not less important, over time.”