Social Media Marketers: Are You Getting Social Media Wrong?

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I just came back from an amazing week in London, presenting at the iStrategy Social Media and Digital Conference and having a chance to listen to as well as meet some of the most innovative minds in social media, including Brian Solis, Alex Hultgren of Ford, and Alexander Koppel of Red Bull Media.  The net-net is that I believe many in social media marketing are getting too caught up in the “ROI of social media” and a short-sighted view of social, forgetting about the much bigger issues at hand.

I’ve already blogged about how I see social media as an activity that is part of your entire business ROI.  I will also work with any social media consulting or coaching client in helping them calculate a model for how their social media activities can help their business ROI.  There should at least be objectives and KPIs to ascertain the “success” and effectiveness of their social media program.  However, perhaps many social media marketers fall into a trap of being over-reliant on proving immediate or short-term ROI in order to win acceptance internally from their executive team or externally from their customer.  And when they do so, they are at risk of “pimping” their brand for immediate results which, while providing potential short-term gains, might not be the best long-term strategic move for their entire company.

Case in point: I received a LinkedIn Group message this week from a leading American university (currently ranked in the Top 15 according to the US News & World Report) that was, in essence, trying to sell me on their Executive MBA program in an impersonal letter.  One could say the ROI of such an activity is “send LinkedIn Group message to 10,000 potential candidates and hope for an x% conversion,” but what gets lost in that calculation is the negative goodwill that that message creates in the 90+% of LinkedIn users who are getting sick of being marketed to.  We accept advertisements in traditional media, and are used to the ubiquitous ads on the sides of Facebook and LinkedIn, but to directly reach out to someone in such a way in social is pushing the comfort boundaries of many a social media user.

Let’s take a closer look at the mistakes I feel some social media marketers are making based on my own personal experiences:

1.) Look at the Numbers

There was a great Twitter conversation that occurred shortly after iStrategy between Scott Monty of Ford, myself, and another Twitter user, where Scott reminded us that “CMOs can’t afford not to be in social media.”  And it’s true: Similar to how you have a website to serve the Internet population, statistics now show that 25% of internet usage is spent in social media.  Why would you ignore the numbers?   Similar to how you have to have a website in this day and age, you similarly have to have a minimal social media presence because of the population of users that exists.  How you create a strategy and implement it is another story; the numbers, however, mean that you simply cannot afford not to have a presence similar to how you can’t afford not to have a website.  Do you really need to calculate a potentially arbitrary ROI for this to be convinced or convince others?

2.) Over-Reliance on Other Brand’s Experiences

I’ve seen examples of social media marketers looking at the case studies of what other brands have done in social media and merely try to emulate them.  What works for one brand at a given time with their unique audience will never have the same results for your brand.  While I’m all for “standing on the shoulders of giants,” social media requires experimentation and creating your own case studies.  It requires leadership from you because only you can create and/or lead your own unique community.  As Brian Solis so eloquently said at iStrategy, “Social media is a blank canvas. Create your own masterpiece.”

3.) Remembering the Marketing Funnel

The conversation that I had with Scott Monty above came from a marketer who said that CMOs in these economic times only care about ROI.  Sure, you can create a “campaign” asking people to click on a link for an immediate purchase, similar to the Executive MBA LinkedIn message, but that’s like forcing your message on an audience that is not online to be sold to – and could easily spread negative messages about your brand.  While some have proposed that the marketing funnel should be turned upside down, the traditional funnel does remind us that not all marketing $$$ are spent at conversion: It sometimes starts with building brand awareness.  Have marketers forgotten about the value of doing so in social media?

4.) It’s about the People

Social media was made for people, not businesses.  Facebook Fan Pages were made for the fans of celebrities, not businesses.  Every social media marketer needs to be cognizant at every step of the way that they are invading the “turf” of consumers when they launch campaigns.  People are active in social media to get caught up with friends and get updates to information that matters to them.  It is a personalized experience where they are shunning traditional forms of media and, unless you are providing a truly unique social media experience cognizant of this fact, your digital approach to social will not be a successful one.

I hope you don’t misunderstand this post as saying that we shouldn’t strive for ROI in social media marketing, as we should for any activity in any part of the organization, whether it is a profit or a cost center.  But I believe this is part of a much larger issue: From a business perspective, social media is about more than just short-term or even long-term marketing.  It first requires taking a long-term and very holistic view of the role that social media could play in your organization beyond your department walls, and with that a realization that social media will become an integral part of your corporate infrastructure in the not-so-distant future.  In other words, similar to how you have a website to support your company’s external face (and often an Intranet to better communicate internally), social will similarly, in some way, support most if not all of your corporate organization and thus requires a much more broader, holistic, and long-term strategic approach than the way many social media marketers seem to be approaching the space – especially as we progress into the era of social business.

It requires more collaboration internally – as well as finding new ways to collaborate externally with both your customers as well as the public at large.

It requires a different mindset.

Now it’s your turn: Are social media marketers getting it wrong?  Chime away!

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
Thank you @FlyingTern ! - 21 mins ago
Neal Schaffer


  1. says

    I think its depend on the strategy of using social media marketing for your business and how effectively you are using that campaign for boosting your business.

    I am using the facebook fan pages and that gives me great response in terms of traffic and other way.

  2. says

    Agree with you, Neal. Most of the CEO, CMO, CFO keep asking for ROI in social media marketing, especially CEO and CFO. They are already familiar and comfort with traditional marketing (which they can measure the ROI), for them, social media marketing is totally a new thing, but there is no different from what they do offline (they still socializing offline to get business) and online. The different is the platform.

    We may sit in a Starbucks to socialize to get business for offline, but for online we do the same thing on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.

    • says

      At initial stages, questioning the ROI always comes up. It’s only when you can social media marketing to traditional marketing activities and show what is and what isn’t trackable that begins the conversation with the C-Suite.

      • says

         Generally, I will show them some proven result, then only they convinced that social media marketing is workable (to convince them). :)

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