Remember those heady days when the answer to every marketing problem was social media?
It was just a few years ago that one famous Silicon Valley zillionaire had this to say,
“If you can harness social media marketing, you don’t have to pay for advertising any more.”
He wasn't particularly dumb, he was just reading from the Book of Stupid which was issued to every marketing expert sometime in 2006.
Time moves slowly in adworld. But sooner or later the facts catch up to the fantasies, and yesterday's miracle becomes today's punch line. You remember QR codes, Google glasses, and moving sidewalks, right?
Let's have a look at the state of social media marketing as it exists today.
First we have to distinguish between social media and social media marketing. There's no question that social media is a huge worldwide phenomenon. But social media marketing -- the idea that consumers want to "join the conversation" about brands and spread their enthusiasm for furniture polish and frozen chicken wings all over the web so "you don’t have to pay for advertising any more" -- is about as dead as dead gets.
Even Facebook, the shining star of social media marketing, has evolved into nothing more than a website drowning in
traditional paid advertising. You can't find a "brand conversation" there with the Hubble telescope.
Nonetheless, there are still plenty of marketing and advertising people clinging to the wreckage. As a wise person once said, it's hard to convince someone of something when his livelihood depends on believing the opposite.
They are still making the same absurd assertions; they still believe that somewhere consumers are "joining the conversation" about brands and this is influencing all their followers and their follower's followers to go out and buy something; they're still dragging out the same anecdotes about how social media saved this or changed that; they still have not lost the faith.
The problem is that the evidence that social media marketing has been a mass delusion is piling up and reaching a point at which it is becoming hard to hide from. To wit:
- A recent report
published in the Harvard Business Review says: "Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior....nor does it spur purchasing by friends." (This study, by the way, had some serious flaws of its own which I discuss
- In a study by Duke University, the American Marketing Association and Deloitte, over 88% of senior marketers surveyed said they could find no measurable impact from social media marketing.
- A study by Forrester Research reported that only .07% — that’s 7 in ten thousand — of a major brand’s Facebook followers ever engage with one of its posts.
- Coca-Cola's Global marketing chief Marcos de Quinto said, "Social media is the strategy for those who don't have a…digital strategy.”
The silly idea that people want to go online and have conversations about their toothpaste or their tires only makes sense if you understand the fantasy land in which marketing people live -- an alternate universe of meatballs who are "passionate about brands."