So You Thought Social Media Would Increase Your Sales. Think Again.

In yet another study on the effectiveness of social media marketing, Social Media Examiner just released its 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.

For its 5th annual survey, the online newsletter polled over 3,000 marketers to understand how they are using social media to grow and promote their businesses. What stood out for me is that vast majority β€” close to 90% β€” of those surveyed felt the most important benefit of social media marketing is increased exposure.

At the bottom of the list, as you’ll see in the graphic below, is improved sales, coming in at only 43%.

2013 Social Media Industry Marketing Report

If, as the survey states, 86% of marketers indicate that social media is important to their business, then why isn’t social media helping them to sell more products and services?

It could be because 87% of marketers are still questioning how to measure their social media ROI. As the study states, “Clearly very few marketers have figured this one out.” Facebook comes in as the most popular social media network, yet only 37% of marketers think that their Facebook efforts are effective.

Can You Make Money?

So if you thought that social media would increase your sales, think again. Having spent years in charge of advertising for one of the largest companies in its industry, I can understand the dilemma for marketers.

When companies are using multiple communications channels to reach customers, how do you separate what’s working and what’s not? How do you know if it’s your advertising and not your sales promotion or public relations that is igniting sales?

Now, add social media to the mix and the picture is more confusing than ever. I envy direct marketers. Email your target audience with an offer and measure the returns.

But most marketers can’t track the value of their campaigns.

Many small business owners are bombarded with offers from companies to teach them how to make money using social media. Create a product or service, promote it on social media, put a shopping cart on your website, and off you go. The reality is a little harder to swallow. Sure, most people can make a little money online, but is it enough to make a living?

Burnish Your Brand

I personally think that the marketers got it right when they said most important benefit of social media is to increase their exposure. In other words, social media can burnish your brand. We know that the most hallowed brands such as IBM and Coca-Cola also happen to sell lots of products and services. People buy from brands they trust.

Maybe we just need to take it on faith that social media works, but indirectly, in selling products and services because the more people know you and like you, the more likely they are to buy from you.

This isn’t highly original thinking. But it’s good to remind ourselves once in a while that you can’t expect an immediate return on your investment in social media, or any other marketing channel, for that matter.

It takes time to build brands. Social media has the power to do that.

A Summary of the Findings

Michael Steltzner, the founder of Social Media Examiner, discusses the key findings in this video. For a copy of the study, visit Social Media Examiner.

Leave a Reply


  1. Your post rings so true with what I’m finding when it comes to branding myself as an author and editor. It’s quite the laborious process to build trust in people, but that trust slowly does start to equal interest in services that a person can provide. At heart, none of us are patient people, but staying the course tends to bring the biggest rewards. It can be so hard though when being inundated with examples of people who are further along in the process of branding themselves.

    • Jeri — you’re doing all the right things from my viewpoint. Posting often, collaborating with other authors, writing your own books. It takes patience which most of us don’t have!

  2. I agree that social media will not produce sales but a tool for exposure. The more exposure you get the more people will start to know your name and from there sales can come. Great post. πŸ™‚

  3. While I agree in general I do know of some businesses that sell from social media and do okay. I think you can track but it takes setting up the right measures etc upfront, but it can’t be as specific as DM if you use a combination of tactics, although there are ways to track the paths customers take on your website to the sales page.

    • Susan — I agree. But I think that the people who actually make a good living — and I’m think of smaller companies — from social media are in the minority, sad to say. A few hit it big but they are the stand-outs.

  4. Interesting point, Cheryl. I don’t know that the Google changes will make a difference and help the legitimate social media businesses rise in search. I hope so.

  5. The findings are, in my opinion, correct. But that doesn’t change the fact that social media, and the internet as a whole for that matter, is essential for you to build your brand and be recognised for what you stand for. Someone at the other side of the world should be able to Google you and be enlightened about what your company stands for.

    Sales online works when it’s e-commerce. But if you are not selling a product or service that can be sold online it takes more than social media for you to sell.

    • Catarina — couldn’t agree more. Social media can build your brand. Like you, I think you can measure the results of social media more accurately if you are selling a product or service. A consumer products company can offer discount coupons on its Facebook page and directly track sales.

  6. One of the things that your post touches on is something I’ve been thinking about: how to stand out in the bombardment. It seems like so much selling is being done online it often makes me think (just think) about going back into the brick and mortar business. But maybe what the implication is, which many of the comments point to, is staying the course. After all, that same would apply on the streets. Valuable post Jeannette.

    • Thanks, Pat. Social media is so hot now that we forget it’s but one channel to reach customers and potential customers. Networking, calling on prospects, even advertising, depending on your business, should also be part of any company’s marketing mix.

  7. I can definitely see an increase in traffic using social media.
    Social Media is showing that my website is viable. It is not producing sales but I think it is starting give me more exposure and then the sales will come. It is all about name recognition.

    • Arleen — yes, social media will definitely build your traffic, especially if you use good key words. Increased exposure will build your brand and eventually your sales. I do believe that.

  8. It seems that for a business new to social media, one must manage expectations. It might take a while to figure out how to engage on a particular platform. And then it might take a while for that engagement to have an effect.

    As I just gave a blog workshop, I’ve noticed that local businesses are beginning to see the importance of social media, but often need a bit of help moving along, as small business are usually quite busy already.

    • Leora — managing expectations for social media is key. A lot of small business owners don’t have the patience — they want an immediate return on their investment. It’s their money, you’re talking about. It’s hard to convince someone to take it on faith that social media will increase their business over time.

  9. Jeanette,

    The biggest challenge with social media is patience. I can’t say that social media is making people buy, but I do see an increase in sales due to increase rankings in the search engines. The more someone clicks on your site and you have good backward links, Google sees the site as viable. I can see the improvement in my rankings in I have been tracking every since April and social media works. One needs to not only be patient but do not give up. Once you start to get that name recognition the sales will come.

    • Arleen — I’m glad that you’re seeing your Alexa ranking increase. Never give up, as you say. As you build brand awareness the sales will come.

  10. Amy — thanks for stopping by. Just keep producing good content and increasing your exposure. Sales will follow!