Social Media Lies, Myths And Delusions

Social Media Lies, Myths And Delusions
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If you search for blogs or articles on social media you’ll find a lot of information about how to run social campaigns, how to set up accounts, plus tricks, tips and secrets to “kill”, “rock” or otherwise do violent-sounding things in the name of hitting a marketing home run.

But search as you might, you’ll find very little on whether social marketing does, indeed, rock or kill anything but your time and budget.

Modern conventional wisdom would have us believe that social marketing is a revolutionary, magical boon for businesses. Instead of taking the long, tough road of “traditional” marketing we can simply reach into our social marketing hat and pull out the rabbit of success.

Witness the flock to Pinterest once brands heard it was the leading social network among women (not a bad consumer base to tap). Witness the sheer uproar over the recent changes to Facebook brand pages, as if shifting from “wall” to “timeline” would bring entire marketing departments crashing down.

To confound matters, there are studies that yield completely contradictory results. You need not look further than the current debate over whether or not Facebook ads work. A Reuters survey found 4 out of 5 people “never” buy something via a Facebook ad. A ComScore study refutes that by demonstrating a “statistically significant positive lift” on buying behavior.

So what’s a smart marketer to do?

The first and most important thing you can do is ask yourself, “Why?” Before you do anything, before you run a campaign or jump on a platform, you must know your reasons and your goals. Without them, you’ll have nothing to measure.

And you can disabuse yourself of the common misconceptions, delusions and straight-out lies you’ve been told. Starting with this one.

Myth: Social Marketing Is New

Human beings are social. Long before the advent of photo sharing and status updates, we talked about brands, referred them to our social circles and advocated for those we believed in. We just never got any press for it. Nobody retweeted our recommendations and nobody gave us a discount on our next dry cleaning bill for sharing the name of our preferred vendor with our friends.

But we recommended and shared anyway.

The first car I ever owned was a Chevy. No thanks to coupons, deals, “brand advocates” or “awareness” campaigns, I had a bit of a romantic love affair with Chevrolet. My father had owned one. One of my close friends owned one. Other relatives and friends owned or had owned them so when it came time to sit behind the wheel of my first car, I wanted it to be a Chevy.

I was “loyal” to that car for 13 years, until it literally fell apart under my feet.

I still reminisce nostalgically about the glory of the Chevy. The same can be said of other brands I grew up with. My mother and grandmother before her welcomed Saturday mornings with Aunt Jemima pancakes. When I got married, I stocked my pantry with Aunt Jemima pancake mix. And Carolina rice and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. I used Trapper Keepers in Junior High and wore Jordache jeans in High School.

If you think back on your childhood – and even pre-social-media days – I bet there are one or two brands that you attach a bit of nostalgia to. Give it a moment and tell me – are there brands you use because your family or friends do? Brands you still use because they’re the ones you grew up with and “trust”?

I bet there are.

One might wonder how any of these brands managed to survive without a Facebook page or a single Pinterest photo.

The answer, dear friends and readers is because social marketing has always existed. We just didn’t have the same social platforms we do now. It was always about being social and belonging – the same thing the supposed “new” social media is about today.

The problem with thinking of social marketing as any different now is that we attach some otherworldly mystique to it. We approach it like a curious wild animal that we have to tame and we make up new rules of engagement instead of focusing on the underlying truth of marketing: people buy from companies and brands they like and trust.

The only thing “new” about social marketing in the internet age is that some people seem to have forgotten how to be social in the name of doing social.

We’re putting the tools before the purpose.

Once we realize that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all the other social networks are just tools and not strategies, we can start to look at what we’re really doing with our marketing – whether we’re acting as social human beings or just bots in a social echo chamber.

Next time you’re wondering if you’re “doing social” right, ask yourself whether your marketing, conversations or behavior would fly in the real world, where social has been going on since the dawn of the human race.

Myth: Social Media Studies Tell Us What Works

As a student of statistics and psychology, one thing I can tell you with as much certainty as one can muster is that people are confounding, curious, contradictory, unpredictable and completely irrational.

We like to think we’re rational. That we buy based on logic. That we weigh our decisions. That we know why we make decisions.

But in fact, we tend to buy based on emotion and we often build our own narratives around decisions and behavior that have less to do with reality and more to do with our perceptions of reality.

That’s why surveys are notoriously inaccurate. What if I told you I’m conducting a study and I want you to post in the comments right now and tell me how many times you’ve cheated on your spouse or partner? Are you inclined to be 100% honest about that? I’ll challenge you further and tell you that even if you were inclined, I bet you’d leave out that time you just flirted in the bar… or the one kiss that didn’t mean anything.

Ok, so being less than truthful about such a serious matter is different than being less than truthful about how many times you clicked on a Facebook ad. But the psychology is the same. People remember what they want to remember. And even that they do selectively.

If you have a particularly strong opinion about Facebook – love it or hate it – your answers are more likely to reflect your feelings than your actual behavior.

Sure I clicked on an ad!

Heck no, I’d never do that.

Surveys are also less-than-scientific. I can ask 100 people and get 80 of them to tell me that Pinterest marketing is working for their business. I can ask 100 more and find 80 to tell me it’s a waste of time. Which is right?

Both. And neither.

Take all surveys with a grain of salt. Who participated, as well as how a question was phrased can completely change the outcome.

Even the more scientific “studies” should be suspect until you know the methodology and potential sources of bias.

I bet you can think of at least one topic that’s been the subject of debate – from Facebook ads to Global Warming – where you’ll find competing “studies”. You may occasionally lament that you just don’t know what to believe. Depending on who conducts the study and the outcome they expect, studies can point us in just about any direction we want to go in.

If you’re an advocate of social media, you’re more likely to seek out studies that support your position and if you think Facebook stinks, you’re going to find every study known to man that shows it’s a dying medium.

Here’s the lesson to you: if you’re looking to studies to tell you whether to run an ad, try an idea or tackle a platform, you’re wasting your time. The only thing that works is what works – for you.

Case in point: GM pulled $10 million in advertising from Facebook saying its ads were ineffective. Ford jumped in saying its ads were doing just fine, thank you.

Sometimes, your very belief in the effectiveness of a plan can affect its outcome. If you think you can’t make Twitter or Facebook or [insert channel here] work for your business, then you’ll probably prove yourself right.

The subject of psychology and statistics is so fascinating I could write a book – but to save you from another 3,000 word post I’ll let you decide for yourself.

I recommend two fascinating books that will challenge your thinking.

One is called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. If you don’t think human beings are completely insane – er, illogical… er, intriguing… read this. It’s completely accessible and entertaining.

If you want to dig into how numbers are what we make them, try How to Lie with Statistics. Take it from someone who isn’t a numbers fan that this is more entertainment than math.

(Both affiliate links, both of which I’ve read and still have on my bookshelf.)

I hope when you’re done you’ll stop relying on what other people tell you about social marketing and rely on what you can prove for yourself.

Myth: Social Marketing Is Free

Here’s another area where we need to make a distinction between the tools and the strategy. Social tools tend to be free. You can create a Facebook or Twitter account, you can post on Pinterest and Tumblr.

But beyond creating an account, you’ve still got to market. That costs one of two things: time or money.

If you’ve got time on your hands, you can run social campaigns yourself. But many business people are busy running their businesses and don’t have the time to invest in learning, studying, measuring, tweaking and executing ongoing successful social marketing strategies.

Do you know what’s worse than no social marketing? Social marketing done poorly. Business pages on Facebook that are updated once every few months. Twitter accounts for businesses that have tweeted three times in three years. “Being there” isn’t enough. You’ve got to use the tools.

We’ve been socialized to think that the internet is free. That somehow everything gets there, circulates and works wonders by sheer force of magic. But social marketing is no different than direct marketing, email marketing, or any other kind of marketing.

It requires one or both of either time or money.

For a shoestring startup or a self-employed enthusiast, it may be worthwhile to invest the time. But be mindful of your opportunity cost. What aren’t you doing while you’re spending three or four hours a day “engaging”? Are you really generating leads and sales or just feeding your ego and need to be human in a social world?

For businesses looking to seriously utilize social marketing, you’re not only going to have to hire someone to manage your marketing but you’ll probably need to look beyond the “free” tools. There are monitoring, scheduling and analytics tools for anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars a month.

The overhead may not be the same as taking out a magazine ad or direct-mailing several thousand postcards but that still doesn’t make it free.

The sooner you look at social marketing as just another marketing channel, and not the magic answer to every small business’s marketing misfortunes, the sooner you can be realistic about your goals and outcomes.

Myth: Likes, Tweets, Fans And Followers Matter

Judging by the number of people selling “10,000 Twitter followers” and guaranteeing hoards of new fans, you’d think that’s the golden goose of social marketing.

If you’re staring gloomily at your Facebook fan count and thinking that you’d be making money if only you had 10,000 Likes, or if “get fans/followers” is on your list of social marketing goals then it’s time to stop and reexamine your business objectives.

Ask yourself this simple question: would you rather have a fan or a dollar?

We’ve gotten so absorbed with the notion of “social proof” that we blindly chase numbers that don’t translate to revenue or anything meaningful at all for that matter.

Great, so we can prove to the world that we’re really good at getting people to click a blue thumbs-up. But how good are we at getting people to buy our products or services?

What does a Like really mean to your business?

My results are unscientific but I’ve never met a single person who would rather have fans over sales.

I understand the desire for the big numbers. Trust me, I’m not immune. Sometimes I look at those people with thousands of Twitter followers and think, “Pft! I’m interesting, why don’t I have that many followers?”

When I write a blog post and two hours after I click the “publish” button there are only 4 shares, I feel a little deflated.

But we must focus on the true goals and the true results. The shares and comments and follows are not goals. They’re ego-boosts.

Here’s an interesting example from my experience. I once wrote a blog post that got a tremendous positive reaction. It was one of those rare and wonderful occasions when people called and emailed me to talk about it, and even to ask if I could help them with their marketing so they could avoid mistakes and count on someone who could do it well.

I was so excited and I thought for sure that post had to be all over the internet. People must be liking and sharing like mad!

And you know what I found? It was one of the least-trafficked, least shared posts at the time. When I checked my Google analytics I thought I must’ve been looking at the wrong metrics. How could something that had actually driven revenue be so unpopular?

Here’s the answer: who the hell knows?? Clearly I’d reached someone. So I brushed off my ego and reminded myself that I’d rather have that new job than a hundred tweets.

(On the other hand, my single most-shared post on this blog has generated not a single dime. But my competitors love it.)

So next time you’re worried that your content isn’t being shared or that your updates aren’t being thumbs-upped, brush off your ego and remind yourself that that’s not your goal. Remind yourself that just because a blog got 200 comments doesn’t mean that blogger made a dime off them.

Mea Culpas And Confessions

If you want advice for how to do social marketing, you’ll find it on this blog. If you want references to interesting statistics and studies, you’ll find those on this blog, too.

That may seem a little disingenuous after a many-worded rant about how you should disavow statistics and forget the “how” in favor of the “why”.

But I’ll tell you what I often tell you: don’t take it from me. Don’t take it from anyone. There are good reasons to email more or less, to post more or less, to use or not use a tool, to expect or not expect a result.

There are studies to give you a starting point and best practices to help you learn from the experience of others. But the only real result is the one you get and the only real best practice is the one that works for you and your business.

Social marketing is not magic. It’s just another way to market and you must put the time, effort and analysis into making it work for you.

Don’t believe the hype.

Don’t disbelieve it, either.

Learn, think, analyze, adapt. It’s what smart marketers have been doing forever. And when you get stuck, look for a professional to help you. If you have a question about social marketing, you can ask it in the comments. Or you can even get in touch with me for a consultation. I look forward to helping you succeed!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera