Is Social Media Being Oversold?

Social media is not the jackpotThat may seem like a strange question coming from a blogger and active participant in social media. More companies are embracing social media, but, in my opinion, too many are treating social media like the jackpot that will make them rich. The social media landscape is changing and I believe 2014 will see a shift in how marketers promote their brands.

Pay-to-Play

It’s been obvious for the past year that the major social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are cutting back on their free benefits and pushing users toward paid advertising, or premium memberships, e.g. LinkedIn, as Social Media Examiner said in its 2014 predictions.

The free ride is over for smaller businesses. If you decide to pay-to-play by boosting your posts on Facebook, for example, you will need a substantial budget and even then the ROI may be small. How long can you keep up this investment?

Google AdWords has proven to be successful for many marketers, even smaller ones. But that’s not social media doing the job. That’s traditional advertising.

Organic traffic from web searches is increasingly less reliable as a source of traffic — more important are your subscribers and others who specifically seek out your website. There is simply too much competition now to depend on organic traffic, most of which bounces off within seconds anyway.

Back to the Future

This is going to sound really retro: marketers are going to start making more personal connections. Some of it will be through social media but I predict a greater focus on in-person networking, sampling and event marketing.

These communications channels never went away, but too many marketers put have all their eggs in the social media basket. That is not likely to work. Social media will be but one marketing channel among many. Social media needs to be integrated into the marketing mix.

I decided to visit Facebook to learn how the three world’s top three brands are using the largest social network.
Apple logo vector imageI started with Apple, the world’s #1 brand. I learned Apple isn’t selling the newest iPhone or iPad on its official Facebook page. Instead the company established a user community called DigitCorner, where visitors can share information. iPhone and iPad Facebook pages are not affiliated with Apple

Next, I went to the Microsoft Facebook page, “your source for news and conversation about Microsoft’s consumer products and services.” The #2 brand also has a “Microsoft Store” page. But instead of selling products there, Microsoft invites you to browse a list of brick-and-mortar stores where you can sample its products. Of course, while you’re in a store, you might converse with a real salesperson and buy something.

Finally, I visited Coca-Cola, the #3 brand. With 78 million Likes, their presence is huge.

But guess what? Coke is not using Facebook to sell, but to build its brand. The company’s stated goal is: “The Coca-Cola® Facebook page is intended to provide a place for fans of Coca-Cola® to discuss Coca-Cola® beverages and promotions.”

Coca-Cola Facebook pageIf you click on the “Shop Now” link you get taken to its store where you see a blank page. There is nothing there. I wonder why they even have that link.

All three of the world’s top brands are using Facebook – the largest social network – for brand building.

That isn’t to say you can’t make money from your own website. One of the most successful young entrepreneurs I know is Danny Iny, founder of Firepole Marketing. He receives 37,000 monthly visitors and sells them a variety of products and services.

When he first started out a few years ago, he took Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course. Guest posts can jump-start your subscriber base, which is your source of revenue. Danny wrote 80 guest posts in one year, including one for me.

I subsequently wrote a post about his book Engagement From Scratch, in which he describes how to grow an audience. But Danny may be the exception. He’s smart and had a plan and developed products to sell before his guest post blitzkrieg. He seems to have an inexhaustible source of energy and drive.

So Why Social Media?

Did you think I’d given up on social media? Not at all. Social media plays a key role in marketing your business. On social media networks you can:

  • Establish your authority. One of the best ways is by starting a blog. I firmly believe that a blog is the centerpiece of your social media strategy. It’s where you create the content that establishes your authority and burnishes your brand. It’s the launching pad for your activities on social media. You own your blog. You are not at the mercy of a social media network that starts charging for what you once got for free.
  • Join the conversation. You can be part of the conversation about issues of importance to your core constituencies. I once started a discussion on HR.com, the largest HR group on LinkedIn, about laying off employees that got dozens of comments. I was the Top Influencer in that group for four straight weeks.
  • Gather intelligence. Every network displays trending stories that can provide valuable insights into your industry and potential opportunities for new business.
  • Make new connections. These connections expand your network and possible sources of business. I am part of a blogging group on LinkedIn and we support each other by commenting and exchanging useful ideas and tips. Several have done business together and collaborated on books.
  • Generate business. You can get business on social media. Someone will read your update or new post on a network and contact you directly. Or you can contact someone and they will just happen to be in the market for what you’re selling. It doesn’t happen every day and it’s not something you can depend on for your livelihood. But it has happened to me and I was grateful to make new connections as well as earn some money.

What’s the Future?

Social media will continue to grow in usage and importance. But I think this is the year when marketers take a deep breath and settle down. It’s going to be more of grinding it out and not hoping for a silver bullet.

Did you notice how many catalogs you received in the mail this past holiday season? Wasn’t online shopping supposed to end all that? Consumer products companies have gotten smarter and know that customers still like to browse through colorful catalogs. But instead of filling out an order form and writing a check, consumers will go online to make their purchase. That’s what the catalog owners are hoping you’ll do

Companies will step up their event marketing. Nothing like tasting and touching the product. Can’t replace kicking the tires.

Marketers will increase their advertising, in traditional print, broadcast media, and out-of-home, as well as online. They will advertise in the niches where their customers hang out.

We will be bombarded with online ads that can track our interests based on our browsing history. I should know. Hello everyone out there: I’m finished searching for boots. I bought a pair. Please stop showing me ads for all the boots you have for sale!

These are my own unscientific opinions. Having been blogging and deeply involved in social media for five years I feel I’ve gained some perspective. I sense in my bones a shift in the way companies will market their products and services.

What do feel about the role of social media in 2014? How do you plan to monetize your social media efforts? You would sure help my readers if you left a comment below. Thank you.

 

 

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Comments

  1. As usual, great information Jeannette. I also find myself getting really irritated when advertisers keep trying to sell me things I have already purchased. If they can track what I am looking for, you would think they could track the fact that I made my purchase and move on. Sheesh… It will be interesting to see what happens in 2014. The media landscape is changing rapidly, as is everything.

    • Cheryl — I agree. Advertisers keep following me everywhere! So do social media gurus who are trying to get me to attend their next conference. Our lives are an open book!

  2. Good job outlining the role of SMM today, Jeannette! I think a lot of businesses struggle with their social media marketing efforts exactly because they don’t fully understand why they are there and that generally speaking, social media isn’t their direct sales tool they want it to be.

    I think in 2014 and next years SMM will shift even more toward the consumer preferences and needs; i am curious how the user-generated content will translate in the context of social media marketing. There are already ways to do that – e.g. shared pinboards on pinterest where people can pin stuff; or making an album on FB public and free for everyone to upload pics and tag them – this could count as user-generated content but i think it will only get bigger.

    • Diana — user-generated content is a great way to build relationships that can turn into business. But first comes the relationship in most cases unless you’re Zappos and customers know to come to you to buy their shoes.

  3. Agree with you Jeannette. We need social media for the reasons you mention and Apple, Coca Cola and Microsoft are good examples of how o benefit from social media.

    But when it comes to b2b and large amounts of money you need to meet your clients in person. If not, you can easity be taken for a ride.

    Almost every day I get messages from Linkedin connections who want to do business with me. But even if they are in European Union member states it’s difficult to make sure you get paid. And unless we are talking fees of 500.000 it’s too expensive to take out an insurance policy because lawyers fees will be astronomical. In other words, to meet and get to know a person before doing business is still essential and so far social media hasn’t been able to trump personal contact.

    • Catarina — I understand your concern about getting paid. I ask for payment in advance, either through PayPal or by check. I don’t start work until receive this payment if I’m dealing with someone or company I don’t know.

  4. Thank you for this Jeannette, I have been thinking about this very subject and trying to decide how to approach my new year and a new business plan (inexpensively). It’s really important to understand how social media can play a part and how to participate in the different platforms. I find it very significant how Apple, Microsoft and Coca Cola are using Facebook. I wonder how they are approaching Twitter and G+?

    • Susan — I decided to take a look. I was actually surprised that Apple (which has several G+ accounts) is using one of them about new products related to their iPhone and iPad. Microsoft has a typical stream of user comments and a bunch of different communities. Unfortunately, the company is not monitoring G+ because there is a page using an expletive in the banner and a link to another site with the same expletive. I found Coca-Cola’s presence on G+ a little confusing. There are company pages and communities plus a stream of mentions — including a post that I wrote about Coke’s branding three years ago! Will look at Twitter next.

  5. Great information Jeannette. We are only now getting set to enter into a serious phase with our marketing and your ideas are really valuable as we consider how to move forward. Thanks for sharing your knowledge so generously.

    • Karen — my pleasure. I believe in the value of social media but it’s got to be integrated into the marketing plan along with other communications channels. Good luck!

  6. Very timely and especially astute! I’d been thinking that I need to find a different way to sell my book. I used some Facebook ads to boost a few blog posts. That boosted the visits to my page but didn’t translate into sales. I completely agree that things will settle down. It will interesting to watch! And I wondered just why I got so many catalogs this year!!!! Thanks for clearing that up! 🙂

    • Jacquie — Selling a book is so tough, especially if you’re self-published. I read a story recently that most newspapers have dispensed with their book reviewers. That’s so sad because they played an essential role in bringing new works to the attention of their readers.

  7. Well said. I think there is a time and place for social media and it’s certainly not going anywhere soon, but it gets used in the most bizarre ways at times. I hope we will see a shift to more rational use. I’m certainly tired of explaining that Facebook is a great place to engage, to provide useful information, demonstrate value not sell.

    • Debra — yes, it is bizarre how people are using social media, in ways that will hurt and not help them, like posting inappropriate images on Facebook. It’s time to rationalize social media.

  8. Nice summary of the State of Social Media! I just enrolled in Jon Morrow’s course – it begins tomorrow and I am totally psyched! I agree with many of your points, the biggest one is a return to in-person networking. Get up, get out, and connect in the flesh. There is nothing better for building relationships than talking to a human being in person. I think FB will continue to dominate, but G+ is right behind, as soon as peeps get used to a different platform.

    • Welcome, Laurie. I agree that there is nothing like the personal touch. Unfortunately, so much business is conducted by email and via social media that personal relationships are suffering, in my view. I agree about G+. Google is in it for the long haul and has the added advantage of giving you a lift in SEO.

  9. Thanks, Dan. As I said in my post, I believe your blog is the centerpiece of your social media strategy. It’s your home base and obviously it’s working for you.

  10. Of the five bullet points you’ve given, I’ve spent most of my time so far making connections via my blog and various social sites. It certainly is a long process, but it’s too bad Facebook has changed their algorithm so much. A good number of grass roots movements got started on FB, but now that posts need to be boosted to be seen, it will never be the same.

  11. Nice post Jeannette. I’ve been slowly building my social media presence over the last 8 months while I was finishing up my studies, but now I’m ready to get started on my own business. I’m still not sure how helpful social media will really be for me. I have an established blog now with lots of content, but the problem for me is that I I’m a nutritionist who promotes healthy eating, so I’m essentially trying to sell sensible advice in a niche where the biggest money makers promote the latest fads that aren’t scientifically validated. It’s pretty tough to compete with that and build up a presence when you can’t promise what the big names do.

    • Hi Glenda — thanks for visiting. I like your blog and your Facebook page. I think there is always room for someone like you with the credentials to counsel people on healthy eating. Social media is but one channel. Your blog and presence on social media will establish your credentials for potential clients who are looking for a nutritionist. Some people like to shop before they buy and as long as you’re producing useful content you will build your authority over time. Best of luck.

      • Thanks for the kind words Jeannette. My blog originally had two purposes. Firstly to give me practice on giving nutrition advice, and secondly to build a ‘database’ that could be used for promotion to potential clients and also as a resource for active clients. So it’s good to know that you think I’m on the right track. Thanks for the tips, and I look forward to reading more from your page.

  12. I think you are right. Adding social media to the mix of marketing rather than the magic bullet is the way to go. Isn’t the saying not to put all your eggs in one basket?

    • Becc — you’re quite right. You can’t count on one channel to do the heavy lifting.Look at all the people who invested time and money into My Space which is now just an afterthought.

  13. Thanks. I tried to express my sincere opinion about the role of social media. Social media is important but only one communications channel.