Brands need to ditch the Emperor’s new clothes of social media

Apparently Gangnam Style has been seen by more people than there are on the planet, Twitter is more popular than TV and Generation Z learn to Snapchat before they can walk.

psy gangnam style youtube 2012

I may be a little fuzzy on the details, but that doesn’t matter because the broad conclusions are unmistakable.

Social media is where people are at, so your brand needs to be there – fishing where the fish are and all that.

Social media gives brands a new way to get closer to customers by engaging them in ‘social’ conversation.

It’s clearly a compelling story because billions have been spent to give brands an ongoing Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter presence.

It’s certainly worked out for Mark Zuckerberg, but what business impact has it had for the brands that pay for the platforms?

Mark Ritson famously analysed Oreo’s even more famous Super Bowl tweet and concluded that it would have reached c65,000 people. It’s a great piece of creative, real-time, responsive comms, but in reality it’s not going to move the dial on any brand KPI.

Duke Business School’s CMO Study (Aug 2015) predicted Social Media spend would increase its share of marketing budget from 10.7% to 23.8% over the next 5 years, however only 15% of marketers could quantify its impact on their business. That’s a lot of unsupported faith in the social media story.

There is plenty of effective and interesting social media activity going on, but far too much is blindly following the two assumptions of the social media story and burning time and resource creating content that nobody wants or sees. So what about those assumptions?

We can start by looking at social media as we would any other media and being realistic about the investment it takes to achieve meaningful presence. YouTube’s most viewed ad of 2015 was ‘Clash of Clans: Revenge’ with Liam Neeson. It achieved 82 million views over the year.

It was heavily promoted, though would have also gained significant ‘free’ shares. The ad also ran during the Super Bowl with an average audience of 114.4 million viewers in a single break. The fish you are fishing for are on social media, but they still watch far more TV.

Analysis by ReelSEO showed the average cost per view for a 60-second Super Bowl ad and a YouTube campaign as being the same at $0.08 per view. You pays your money you takes your choice.

Social media does offer a new way to engage, but all that talk about marketing being a conversation… It’s a metaphor. Promoting content and activations is one thing – ‘being social’ is another. Marketing doesn’t really converse and people don’t actually socialise with brands. It’s why marketing doesn’t use the phone.

So the second question to ask is whether your brand can really establish an ongoing ‘social’ presence. Do you really have ongoing ‘chat’ that people want to hear? The typical monthly content calendar isn’t personal or responsive enough to feel close to being a conversation.

Oreo showed that if you have resource available to live tweet you can engage more meaningfully, but at what cost and what impact? Interestingly, Oreo decided not to replicate its Super Bowl success and ’went dark’ the following year.

Social media clearly has an important role to play in marketing, but no one’s interests are served by uncritical investment and lauding ‘best practice’ which achieves no discernible business impact.

Much of the industry still wants to believe that reach is automatically there and that brands can be social. It’s time to ditch the Emperor’s new clothes of social media and invest in what it can do rather than what we wish it to do.

By Ben Tan, executive planning director at BBD Perfect Storm