Social media networks are meant to “belong” to the users. The social media experience should be driven by its users, who contribute content, keep up with friends, and share what’s happening in their lives. Increasingly, however, these user-driven networks are dominated by brands looking to push out their marketing messages. A woman logs onto Facebook hoping to see what her family members on the other side of the country are up to and instead finds herself scrolling through sponsored posts from clothing companies and other products she isn’t really interested in. This example has happened to all of us.
Business owners see this abundance of marketing communications and wonder if they should be doing the same. After all, everyone is seeing these messages and billions of people are on social networks. But is there more to it? Is social media marketing really what it’s cracked up to be? While the power of social media for connecting with customers shouldn’t be ignored, marketers shouldn’t put all of their eggs in this one basket.
Social media marketing can be a useful tool, but it is not the be-all-end-all of marketing programs. Why has it become so overrated?
As in the above example, people want to visit social networking sites and apps to find out what’s going on in the lives of friends and family. No one logs in to these platforms thinking, “Gee, I wonder what all the brands are up to today.” Today’s consumers are marketing savvy. They know that they’ll be sold to when they visit social media, but at a certain point it moves from “business as usual” to “I’ve had enough and I’m hitting the block button.”
Social media is seen by marketers as new and “sexy,” but older tactics are just as, if not more, effective. The “Social Media Update 2013” from the Pew Research Internet Project found that 73% of adults use a social networking site of some kind. Compare that to the 95% of online consumers that use email. Additionally, 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase in 2012 based on a promotional email. Marketers aren’t seeing these kinds of numbers through social media. It can also be challenging to prove the ROI of social media campaigns, as a customer might see and act upon a social media message but the marketing team might never know. Some social networking platforms also limit what messages reach particular users, so some prospects may never see a brand’s marketing messages. With email marketing, nearly 100% of the list will receive the email.
A brand’s followers or fans on a social network do not belong to the brand – they belong to the social network. As such, the social network is free to change its settings and algorithms at any time, which can greatly reduce the number of marketing messages that are seen. Relying heavily on social media to drive leads and new business opportunities can be dangerous, because marketers have no control. One change from the platform and marketers could potentially lose months of work.
Never mind the lifespan of posts on social networks (tweets have a lifespan of 18 minutes, for example). It’s a difficult task to reach customers organically on social media sites. Facebook has even decreased their organic reach, making it necessary for marketers to pay for their posts to be seen by their audiences. A post that hasn’t been boosted or promoted is only seen by a fraction of the people that like a brand’s Facebook page. If you want eyes on your content, you’ll have to pay. This trend is reaching across many of the major social networking sites, making bigger advertising budgets a must for many organizations.
There are sites online where you can buy social media followers for as little as $5. Sounds like a steal… except that when these fake pages don’t interact or engage with content (and they don’t), they drive down the metrics and the reach of a brand’s profiles. Inflating numbers can be tempting, but the possible penalties aren’t worth it. Having thousands of fans or followers means nothing if those people aren’t engaging with the content you post. A brand needs to market to real customers.
While social media marketing can be useful for some businesses, it’s important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” marketing program. Marketers need to deeply consider the campaigns they utilize and do what’s right for the business.