5 reasons why social media skeptics maybe right

When it comes to social media, there are plenty of skeptics out there who  have dabbled in social media but are still having a hard time buying into the hoopla. Typical skeptics include your traditional marketers, enterprise executives, etc. who are intrigued by social media but are very reluctant to commit many resources to it.

Here are 5 reasons why the skeptics might be on to something.

#1 Show me the metrics! 
The biggest problem with social media today is that there aren’t many  clearly defined metrics. For traditional marketers, that’s a huge hurdle, not just in getting their social media budget approved but also proving that their social media programs were successful. If you don’t even know what you’re supposed to measure, how do you measure it’s success??? ROI is becoming increasingly important, as it should be, especially in this tight economy. Social media may sound like the greatest thing ever invented but without quantifiable results, it’s hard to justify any $$ investment.

2# Here today and gone tomorrow?
There are fundamental site stability and security issues and even major social networks like Facebook, Twitter are not immune to hacking and site stability issues. And let’s not forget that most, if not all, social networking sites are  privately or VC funded with little or no revenue  despite all the traffic. Given the economic recession, it’s anyone’s guess which ones are going to be still around this time next year, so it’s no surprise that many still remain reluctant to invest resources in this media.

#3 It’s not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ that’s also perplexing
Once you’re over the challenge of figuring out what metrics are meaningful, the challenge still remains around tracking  and assigning some meaningful value to these metrics. Say you decide to monitor tweets, retweets, # of followers on Twitter; # of ‘friends’ or posts on FB.

A multitude of questions arise, one which is how can you drive more tweets? And how much is a retweet worth, anyways? Also, which tools or services should you use to track activity? And last but not the least, which one will last the downturn?
#4 Not enough experienced guides for the uncharted waters
Given that it’s so new, there aren’t many ‘experts’ who are experienced in implementing social media campaigns or figuring out how it should fit into a company’s overall corporate strategy. Social media has many evangelists  talking up the opportunity of this media but not many who are able to articulate the value in quantifiable terms that traditional marketers and executives are comfortable with.
#5 It’s the culture, stupid!
Let’s not forget that many are not used to being so ‘social’ or open on public forums. Before Twitter came along and made ‘twittering’ acceptable, it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to be constantly pitching details of your mundane life on websites unless you were a publicity-crazy celebrity. In some circles, shameless self-promotion is still considered bad taste and downright loony, so while there might be millions of users on social networks, the active users are still early adopters.
There’s no doubt about the immense opportunity that social media presents, but it still has a long way to go and the dots from opportunity to reality need to be connected before it can truly deliver on its promise and make believers out of the nay-sayers.

26 responses to “5 reasons why social media skeptics maybe right

  1. To write all social media off is shortsightes. There are sites and services out there that provide viable alternatives to businesses, for example, where they can achieve the same thing for less money and effort. As they can attach savings to using social media to get feedback, management complaints, win sales or whatever, it is just possible they’ll pay to use the best services.

    That’s the business model. Web 2.0 just isn’t quite there there with all services.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

    • Hi Ian,
      Thanks for your comment. My post isn’t intended as a justification for non-adoption of social media but rather a commentary on what’s slowing down adoption. Moreover, I am only looking at folks who have dabbled in social media, but are hesitant to jump in with both feet, not those who have written off social media. Social media has a great deal of promise, but like you said, it’s still not all there yet.

  2. Mia –
    Great post… and I think your points are valid. In some ways I see this as a replay of CRM – where the technology became the focus and the whole point (you know, actually building relationships with your customers) got lost.
    The only criticism/point of contention I would make is that Social Media is just observable word of mouth. The power comes from the business’s ability to tap into word of mouth and participate – thereby leveraging what is and always been the most powerful and effective form of marketing. Customer word of mouth.
    The ROI is still a bit fuzzy… but that isn’t new – what is new is fuzzy ROI in marketing/PR. Customer service/support orgs have been fighting that battle for years – seek allies there.

    • Thanks, Brian! 🙂
      I couldn’t agree with you more. The focus (obsession) needs to move away from underlying technology and platforms to the person who matters the most, ie. the customer.
      You bring up a very interesting point about ‘visible WOM’. You’re right, social media is extremely powerful for WOM marketing and it certainly helps if WOM is all positive. However, high visibility and fragmented nature of this media makes it hard to control so it has the potential to do a great deal of damage in very little time. Despite its promise, social media is currently an unwieldy beast and the lack of control continues to be intimidating for many.
      Fuzzy ROI and ‘fluff’ in marketing has always been my pet peeve, I don’t think social media evangelists/marketers are doing social media (adoption) any favors when they gush about how great it is, without having any measurable returns to back them up. Sure social media needs champions but metrics would be even better…

  3. Hi Mia,

    All you’ve written is very true, as you say its early doors for Social Media, most still aren’t comfortable using the term.

    But as you and I both know, Social Media currently requires an engaging commitment with no guaranteed returns.

    This doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort, just that the effort needs to be clearly focussed and applied only where appropraite.

    There is ongoing work to address the issue with metrics, but the nature of social feeds don’t really lend themselves to standard metrics. That’s part of the issue, we need to give up on some of the idea of traditional metrics with social media and use it for what it is good for and that’s backing up brand awareness, client engagement and generally encouraging discussion to gain other perspectives.

    Nice post.

    • Hi Ed,
      Thanks for the great insights! 🙂
      You’re right, customer engagement is definitely a step in the right direction but current economic downturn has put the focus back on the bottomline and without returns, it’s challenging to make the case for investing in social media.
      Your point is well-taken, traditional metrics are grossly inadequate when it comes to measuring economic impact of customer engagement via social media and it will require significant mindshift to adopt social media as a medium for engaging with the customer despite no clear returns in the short term.

  4. Hang on! Let’s not tar all social media with the same brush! It is grossly unfair to state that social media doesn’t produce returns. There are several social networking sites where business owners can illustrate business won as a consequence of a presence there, Ecademy and WeCanDo.BIZ included.

    For businesses there are only two ways of measuring a return and they have nothing to do with retweets or number of friends. Show a business person that it will bring them revenue at little or no cost and they’ll take you seriously, regardless of whether your service is lumped in with other social media or a more traditional method of lead generation.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

    • Ian,
      I agree, lets not lump all social media together but ‘returns at little or no cost’ from social media is a fallacy. Social media needs resources – time is a critical resource. Conventional channels have well-established metrics and processes for tracking performance, while for social media, these still need to be defined and set up. Social media competes with other channels for resources and the incremental returns may or may not justify the investment. Furthermore, social media is about engagement and interaction, which is also time-intensive.
      Again, let me clarify that we are not debating whether companies should or shouldn’t have a social media presence, but rather that there are fundamental issues (highlighted in my post) that need to be addressed for it to be taken seriously.

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  6. I think as Ian points out, measuring hits, views, downloads is a rather crazy way of measuring the success of any campaign.

    You also mention control in one of your comments. That went long ago. Even if you don’t do a “social media campaign” people will talk about it, good or bad regardless. They don’t sit there thinking oh that’s a tv ad not a social media campaign I can’t tweet how rubbish it is.

    As for funding, well I argue you will need considerably less cash in marketing now, one of the reasons agencies and marketing dept are worried.

    I’ve seen agencies charge stupid numbers to advise someone to start a Facebook page and charge for “design.”

    When it comes down to it organisations are going to have to reorganize so that the customer does come first. So the enterprise becomes human and in a downturn those that take that route will come out the other side..

    • Hi Karl,
      I am not recommending any specific metrics, you should go with what works for your business and can assess the efficacy of your campaign but without any metrics, it’s hard to justify what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
      There’s a paradigm shift in the way information is shared and distributed on the internet. Social media is making much more challenging to monitor and track conversations around the web and that’s what I mean by ‘lack of control”. I am not suggesting that one should ignore social media, but merely pointing out some of the critical hurdles to social media adoption.
      I agree that companies need to put customer first and companies that are highly customer-oriented will find it easier to engage via social media.

  7. In my field, social media is clearly an unplowed field. I’ve spent the last months or so just learning my way around. That in itself – the time it takes to self learn – may 1)help me as there will be less competition for business 2)discourage me as it may take too much time in the long run.

    I am leaning to #1 for now.

    What is happening is the fragmentation of ways to socialize and to market. In my newbie eyes, sites like linkedin will in essence be virtual chambers of commerce/book of lists. A starting point.

    I do see that some younger folks pitch for work without 1 email or ..gasp! a phone call. Remember the old ways while using the new.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      You’re right, the fragmented nature of social media and steep learning curve (for non-geeks like us) can slow down and even deter adoption. However, those who stick with it are ultimately the pioneers who blaze trails for others to follow.
      I fully echo your sentiment that the best media/channel is the one that’s most relevant to your customer, even if it is something outdated as a phone call 🙂
      Good luck in your social media learning quest! I look forward to hearing about your adventures in this space.

  8. Hi Mia: Great post. Do you happen to have actual suggestions/advice on how to address the 5 points you so beautifully illustrated? As a Community Manager, I also face 4 out of the 5 challenges you have outlined, but feel more immune to challenge # 2, since a successful community tends to stay around and be self-serving.

    • Hi Layla,
      Thanks for your comment! It’s good to hear from you 🙂
      #2 refers to the external social sites and you’re right, an internal community-powered site probably has more staying power.
      I am working on a followup post on addressing some of these challenges but here are few suggestions to start you off with.
      I can’t emphasize enough the need for evangelizing social media WITHIN the company, this is critical because social media requires a mindshift. Companies that typically don’t have a history of proactively engaging their users struggle when faced with the prospect of two-way interaction with their customers.
      Also, smaller companies typically have a easier time adopting new media but may not have resources while larger companies are more risk-averse but take longer to adopt change, so it will take a lot of patience and persistence to overcome resistance.
      Lastly, having clearly defined goals and objectives for your social media plan is essential to prevent it from becoming the dumping ground of all of your company’s customer engagement problems.
      Hope that helps! Good luck and I look forward to hearing from you and our other readers about their experiences and stories on introducing and implementing social media in their organizations.

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  10. There is a TON of experimentation going on in social media; the problem is that everyone is an “expert”. Another problem today is that only a few companies are on the radar screen, leaving the real winners in the dark. These companies aren’t the ones with angel or seed funding, but the ones with an idea or network that actually works. An idea or network that works must PROVE they can either a) provide substantial ROI for a company or industry, or b) monetize social media in general. The latter means any company in any industry (including social media companies themselves) can make profit from their dealings within this new medium.

    This is not to difficult for people to fathom. I hate to self-promote, but I feel forced to do it. Check out Business 3.0 applications and network. It allows companies to seamlessly engage with social network users (MySpace, Facebook and Bebo) from a single portal on the web. What’s more, these companies can sell directly to social network users without forcing them to leave their social network to checkout.

    By allowing the business world to seamlessly engage with users on social networks opens new dialog about ROI and using social networks for marketing and sales purposes.

    Does this make sense? It’s okay if not. Not a lot of people understand how to place the business world within social networks, but it will change the playing field for every business, worldwide.

    Michael Zeuthen

    Twitter @b3buy

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your comment! I understand your frustration. You’re right, shameless self-promotion is name of the game in this new space. That means that folks and individuals who aren’t touting themselves as ‘experts’ often get overlooked even when they are the ones with the real knowledge and skill set.
      There are plenty of companies who have real business models and are doing just fine on their own without the help of VC funding, but it’s the ones which get funded (even without a clear revenue model) that get the attention. I don’t agree with it but the reality is that unless companies like yours toot their horn, its highly unlikely they’ll ever get the limelight they deserve.
      I looked at your site and it looks interesting. To your point, not many people understand how social media can help their business and companies who are able to connect the dots for their clients will succeed in the long run.
      Good luck!

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