B.L. Ochman’s blog: 10 Things Social Media Can’t Do

2 11 2009

10 Things Social Media Can’t Do

By B.L. Ochman

treefalling.pngAmid the endless pronouncements about social media — often shortened to “social” these days by consultants trying to sound like they know what they are talking about — is the reality that social media is not a solution, or a sure bet.

Social media can’t:

  1. 1. Substitute for marketing strategy
    A Twitter campaign, or a Facebook page that announces your weekly specials is not a marketing strategy.

  • 2. Succeed without top management buy-in
    Social media requires a way of thinking that includes willingness to listen to customers, make changes based on feedback, and trust employees to talk to customers.

    The culture of fear (of job loss, of losing message control, of change) is ingrained in corporate cultures. Top management has to want to change.

  • Be viewed as a short-term project
    Social media is not a one-shot deal. It’s a long-term commitment to openness, experimentation, and change that requires time to bear fruit.
  • Produce meaningful, measurable results quickly
    One of the complaints about social media is that it can’t be measured. But in fact there are many things that can be measured: including engagement, sentiment, and whether increased traffic leads to sales.

    Those results can’t be produced or measured in the short term. Like PR, social media marketing often produces its best results in the second and third year.

  • Be done in-house by the vast majority of companies
    A successful social media campaign integrates social media into the many elements of marketing, including advertising, digital, and PR. Opinion and theory are no match for experience, and the best social media marketers now have more than 10 years of experience incorporating interactivity, blogs, forums, user-generated content, and contests into online marketing.

    You need strategy, contacts, tools, and experience–a combination not generally found in in-house teams, who often reinvent the wheel or use the wrong tools.

  • Provide a quick fix to the bottom line or a tarnished reputation
    Social media can sometimes provide quick results for a company that’s already a star. When a well-loved company like Zappos, or Google employs social media, its loyal fans and followers pay attention.

    However, there’s a lot of desperation in a lot of corporate suites these days, and many companies seem been convinced that a social media campaign can provide a quick fix to sagging sales or reputation issues. Sorry, nuh, uh.

  • Be done without a realistic budget
    Building a site that incorporates interactivity, allows user-generated content, and perhaps also includes e-commerce doesn’t come cheap from anyone who knows what they are doing.

    Even taking free software like WordPress and making it function as an effective interactive site, incorporating e-commerce, creating style sheets that integrate with the company’s branding, takes more than time. That takes skill, experience, and money.

  • Guarantee sales or influence
    Unless your effort can pass the “who cares” test – and most simply can’t – your social media efforts will fall flat.

    And unless you know how to drive traffic to your contest, video, blog, event, etc. you’ll have little more than an expensive field of dreams.

  • Be done by “kids” who “understand social innately”
    You can climb Mt Kilaminjaro without a sherpa guide, but why would you? Experience and perspective can make the trip easier, or even save your life.

    Companies trying to run social media without experienced consultants waste time, money, and reputation on their efforts. And then, sadly, many decide that this new-fangled approach doesn’t work.

  • Replace PR
    No matter how great your website, video contest, blog, Twitter strategy, etc. you still need publicity. Or you may end up with a tree falling in the forest, and nobody hearing it.
  • Comments

    Great article. But a couple of the points sound like excuses to not bother with metrics (which are still useful for communicating with management and a couple sound like excuses not to build internal capability and instead rely on consultants. You’re right that here is a lot social media can’t do but there is a lot more it could do.

    Posted by: Peter Thomson at October 31, 2009 3:44 PM

    You could replace “web site” or “the web” for “social media” in this entire article and move back twelve/thirteen years, and it would sound just about right.

    And you’d probably be preaching just as much to the choir as I was then, and will reach an equally sadly small number of the people who really need to hear this.

    But it’s a noble effort! Perhaps in less than ten years, the windmills you are tilting at will become turbines of business as the web has?

    Posted by: Shava Nerad at October 31, 2009 3:51 PM

    Are you trying to frighten people on Halloween B.L.? Way to tell it like it actually is!

    Posted by: Tom Asacker at October 31, 2009 4:21 PM

    This is a much needed reality check for all businesses, big and small. Your first point is such a valuable one. None of the TACTICS used in social media can replace sound marketing strategy, they are merely pieces of a whole puzzle. 🙂

    Posted by: Maria Reyes-McDavis at October 31, 2009 4:46 PM

    Great list BL. It’s been a while since I came on to a post so true and universal. When will be all understand that social media is only a title to a tool that means nothing if there’s no good content/communication to support it. –Paul

    Posted by: Paul L’Acosta at October 31, 2009 11:04 PM

    Now for two things that social media can do as we all know that nothing beats face to face interaction which was most of the downfalls referenced in this article.

    Social media is not going away so everyone may as well learn from this article and learn how to drive traffic with the use of social media or make up another top ten list of doables.

    Posted by: Linda Goffigan at November 1, 2009 6:45 AM

    Peter: you’re preaching to the choir. I’ve been helping companies integrate social media into their marketing since 1996. Of course there’s a lot social media integration can help companies accomplish – if they view it realistically!!!!

    Posted by: BL Ochman Author Profile Page

    at November 1, 2009 12:39 PM

    Excellent article, B.L. It’s great to hear an opinion on the subject other than that social media is a godsend to businesses.

    I am a student in the PR diploma program, and I find many of my courses focus on the numerous benefits of social media and yet the potential fallbacks are not nearly given enough attention.
    Great imagery from Maria Reyes-McDavis, a small piece of the puzzle is the scope of social media when it comes to PR.

    Of course, the Facebooks and the Twitters are not going away anytime soon, but it’s important not to let the hype surrounding them to blow their roles out of PRoportion.

    Posted by: Maria Zavidova at November 1, 2009 10:48 PM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so happy to see that first point re Marketing Strategy front and center. So many people/companies are guilty of “marketing flavor of the month” disease and seek to jump on the latest trend. All of those “flavors” are still just tactics…and tactics FOLLOW strategy, not the other way around.

    I believe it’s clear that social media is here to stay, and used properly can have many benefits over time. But, as you point out, it’s not a short term fix or solution. And, we must also recognize that the “flavors” will continue to evolve going forward.

    It’s for these reasons that marketing fundamentals and principals still need to lead the way for defining any Brand or company’s tactical or programmatic efforts, including social media.

    Net: Great post!

    Posted by: Ted L Simon at November 2, 2009 1:19 AM

    Social Media isn’t the ‘magic’ money-making tool that a lot of people seem to think it is. Well done you for pointing that out in an interesting and informative blog post.

    Posted by: Amelia at November 2, 2009 4:37 AM

    This is a great list and I think much needed wake up call for any company that uses or is planning to use social media.

    As a PR student at Humber College, we have been focussing alot on how social media has become so mainstream practically over night. It seems as though some business are just following blindly. I feel that your fist point is very important it seems as though social media “campaigns” are somewhat taking over regular old marketing campaigns.

    Posted by: Marion at November 2, 2009 8:27 AM

    I totally agree, apart from one thing: I call it “Social” as it is a natural shortening and I think it is pretty acceptable to do so. I notice you use “PR” rather than writing Public Relations in full, does this make you any less knowledgeable in that area? Likewise with terms like Mobile, Web and Email – They are just one word associations.

    Posted by: N.E Consultant at November 2, 2009 10:19 AM

    Great points, I agree. Now for all of us communicating it in the market place and allowing business owners to absorb it in ways that they can wrap their brains around it. 🙂

    Posted by: Michele Price at November 2, 2009 10:37 AM

    I totally agree with B. L. What we need to remember is that roughly only 10% of our audience is really active in social media. And ‘social’ means just that – you have to socially link to everyone with whom you’re communicating. A sound total marketing strategy should always take precedence.

    Posted by: Linda Hardman at November 2, 2009 11:21 AM

    BL, you hit the nail on the head! I’ll bet a lot of organizations have these misconceptions.

    Posted by: Elaine Fogel at November 2, 2009 11:55 AM

    Using Twitter and Facebook doesn’t make you a successful marketer any more than MS Word makes you a writer or Photoshop makes you a designer. These are tools. And not only do you need to master these tools, but you need to know when and where to use them. And this must be part of an overall strategy.

    But as with any new technology, some people will think technology by itself is the answer, others will run far away from it because it’s new and frightening. The successful ones will learn how to master it and how it fits in with their business.

    Posted by: Larry Chandler at November 2, 2009 12:14 PM

    You see all these posts/articles about how great social media is and what it CAN do for a company, but you don’t see posts very often about what social media CAN’T do. I wonder if that means I’m cynical? Either way, great post and excellent points.

    Posted by: Nick Shin at November 2, 2009 1:24 PM

    You would probably HAVE to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without a “Sherpa.” Sherpas are native Tibetans, and assist climbers in the Himalayas. Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania.

    Hard to believe that you couldn’t fact-check that for a post made up of two-sentence hyperboles.

    Cheers, everyone.

    Posted by: C. B. McGillivray at November 2, 2009 2:05 PM

    BL, your list is a great reminder of the importance of integration.
    Many thanks!

    Posted by: tracey at November 2, 2009 2:32 PM

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    This is so true – and so many people don’t get it!

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