Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

webexsf2009_logo1Today at the Web 2.0 Expo, a panel of industry thought leaders – Peter Kim (Dachis Corporation), Charlene Li (Altimeter Group), and Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research) discussed “Why Social Media Marketing Fails  – and how to fix it.”

Keeping true to the spirit of social media, Peter Kim invited input for this session before the show, on his blog where folks responded with what they wanted to see at this session. Not surprising, it was standing room only for this brilliant panel of former and current Forrester analysts.

Here are the key highlights from this insightful discussion where panelists also provided concrete suggestions on overcoming major hurdles to social media success in companies.

#1 How do I get my culture to adopt? (Lack of buy-in from C-level executives)
This was quoted as the No.1 reason by the panelists for the failure of social media adoption and success in companies. Charlene Li bluntly stated that, most companies are not ready for change. “Big guns” need to get involved and for those executives to get onboard is show the connection to bottom-line/revenue. Li highly recommends “Go for the sweet spot”, which are corporate (financial) goals that the management is focused on and to demonstrate how social media can help drive those results.

Jeremiah’s experience was different in that executives are usually the last to adopt. Smaller groups at lower level management were more likely to drive social media adoption. However all three agreed on the need for a champion at the executive level to make social media successful in the long-term.

Peter Kim asked whether companies needed a “Chief Social Officer” to help social media adoption in companies?  Li disagreed and said that it was a fallacy. Social media shouldn’t be just one person and that it would be “dangerous” to have just one person responsible for social media. She believed that it’s everybody’s responsibility. She gave the example of Charles Schwab, which is focused on a customer engagement strategy and for them social media is just one of the many ways to achieve that strategy.  

Kim pointed out another dangerous fallacy and that was the perception  that social media ia young person’s game and many companies hire interns to do their social media strategy. Li thought a good practice she has seen is that many companies are pairing up marketing folks with younger people. Owyang suggested using the Hub and Spoke model, where various cross-functional groups drive the initiatives but coordination is done centrally. The other two models he discussed were: Tire – social media is initiated from the edges and grows organically without any coordination. Tower – social media is initiated from upper management levels and can be inauthentic.

#2 How do I make my campaigns work? (Using the “Campaign” model)
All three panelists pointed out that it was wrong and misguided for marketers to treat social media as just another “campaign”. Li said that attitude is the biggest problem, because social media is not a campaign. She went on to add that it’s about relationships and conversations,  not about technologies and she also said that very few brands do this right. 

Kim interjected with a question (and reality check) – How do we align the need for conversations in public companies with quarterly pressures, which necessitates focus on campaigns? To which, Owyang responded there should be a balance between business objectives and community objectives with equal counts of both. He cautions marketers against using campaigns, which are short-term and instead focus on long-term objectives of the company.

Kim pointed out there is need to change how public companies work and the way they think of their external and internal stakeholders including detractors. He also acknowledged that it’s a difficult road ahead. Li agreed and found that there’s much more collaboration going on. There are conversations already happening, folks are asking recommendations, and it’s all occuring very naturally for local brands and business.

He also acknowledged, the real fear for many traditional marketers, with this question – Should we get rid of the marketing dept? He was alluding to how social media is changing the role of marketers in the organization. To which Li responded that marketing is all about promotion and advertising. Social media helps get those other parts get elevated however, she also pointed out that advertising on social network advertising is a bad idea and it doesn’t work.

One interesting idea that came up was around some type of educational courses, credentials or “certification” for social media practitioners. Li was in favor of having some type of certification however, Owyang was against it, saying that he himself was a practitioner and believed that experience was more important.

#3 What should I measure? (Lack of measurement)
Kim pointed out that the biggest fail in social media and marketing in general is measurement.  Owyang said the traditional marketers measure using on dashboards that show them the page views, visits, and other metrics. However, he said that’s not very meaningful way to measure social media ROI. He advocates the use of a directional system, similar to GPS system rather than a dashboard. In order to measure social media success, he suggests using business metrics around what you trying to accomplish such as customer retention and satisfaction measures rather than web metrics.

Li brought a great point – start by asking yourself why are you measuring? Are you trying to decide the allocation of budget or do a comparison with other channels? She said that social media shouldn’t be measured in isolation but rather as part of the overall measurement of other efforts. She said, “How can you measure social media if you don’t measure in other areas?” She did an informal poll of the audience at the discussion and many hands went up when she asked how many were working on social media initiatives. It was very telling that very few raised their hand, when Li asked how many were able to measure their results.

#4 Does social media matter? (Real impact of social media)
This was yet another very interesting point that was brought up in the discussion. Owyang mentioned a recent informal poll by Adage, who asked mainstream folks about Motrin Twitter Moms controversy. Most hadn’t heard about the incident or didn’t know much about it, so that begged the question whether social media was even relevant to mainstream. One thing Owyang mentioned was that when social media buzz such as the Motrin Moms, starts getting picked up by the mainstream media, that’s when it starts becoming relevant. 

Li followed up with a fascinating perspective, that it’s failure in social media that really matters. She went on to say that it’s more important to understand whether your culture can adopt it. It’s also all about extending yourself and learning.  According to Li,  if you’re not failing, that means you are not doing anything and not learning anything in the process.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience on a variety of related topics. Some had questions around liability issues arising from social media activities especially, in sensitive industries like finance.  Li gave the example of Wells Fargo, who had recently launched a Twitter account. The panel agreed that it was all about experimenting and learning. Li cautioned against companies starting in social media with Twitter. Companies need to have some experience under their belt in social media, before they start on Twitter so they already have processes built to effectively engage their audience.  

Another question was around multi-national implementation. Owyang suggested using the hub and spoke where hub is corporate, while spoke represent the regions. Both Li and Kim suggested learning and aggregating learnings from other countries. Li also pointed out something interesting, which was that social networks might be global but folks limit their social media activity to specific geographic regions. Some exceptions might be industries like movies and media. Kim reiterated this by saying that rather than using global presence as a barrier, company should use it as learning opportunity.

Addressing the question around use of social media in gathering intelligence, Kim said that all the information in the world won’t help, if the companies are not willing to do anything with it.

Lastly, when someone asked about companies that gotten it right, the panelist mentioned Dell as an example of a huge social media failure but also as a success story as a company that also learned from those failures to get it right? Another example, Li gave was WalMart, who has been blogging since 2006. She commended how they keep trying and don’t give up. Overall, the panel was unanimous in that companies need to let go and that continues to be a challenge. 

You can follow the conversation around this panel discussion on Twitter #smfail.

34 responses to “Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

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  3. 1. How to get culture to adopt & get C level buy in: demonstrate the link between corporate value & social media the way that the link between brand & corporate value was established in the late ’80s. Brand value is now the 3rd most monitor benchmarks by CEOs.

    2. How to make “campaigns” work: agree, the campaign model is wrong. It leads to the wrong metrics, wrong strategy, etc. However, campaigns will work if corporations mobilize their internal & external networks toward the creation & defense of value.

    3. Measures should be derived from the academic work that has been done in quantifying social capital. Nan Lin’s network theory of social capital is a good place to start. Social network analysis also important to place to look for meaningful measures.

    4. Does social media matter? The shift to common perception shaped by broadband empowered networks is accelerating. Broadband connectivity is set to triple every six months and it is the key driver. The broadband trend, along with mobile comms & GPS integration is eliminating the boundary between the virtual worlds & the so-called real world, establishing the link between broadband empowered people and stable future earnings. Ultimately the ability to maintain margins is dependent on a shared perception of sustainable difference between price and costs. So yes – social media matters, very much, to every publicly traded corporation … in fact to everyone & it will only continue to increase in importance.

    • Thanks for the brilliant insights! You’re right, we should be looking at learnings from marketing history rather than re-invent the wheel.

  4. Pingback: Topics about Culture » Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

  5. In regards to #3, it would appear that a specific level of measurement needs to take place at the outset of a social media initiative. It is one thing to understand a community response as being “positive” or “negative” and another thing to understand why community members feel this way. Qualitative research should always be tied along with quantitative research. Once the numbers are collected, it becomes important to understand why the numbers are what they are.

    Listening and being receptive to the internal and external communities of an organization can result in a social media plan that is appropriate, conversational and effective.

    • Good point! Data by itself is meaningless and itt needs to have some qualitative intelligence behind it. Social media is a great engagement tool but the effectiveness depends on how companies use that information to listen and respond to their customer needs.

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  7. Pingback: Topics about Models » Archive » Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

  8. Thanks for all the information. Very interesting, helps me in my process of a new social media-social network site.

  9. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Corporate Social Media, and How To Fix It

  10. Pingback: Articles about Web 2.0 as of April 2, 2009 | The Lessnau Lounge

  11. Pingback: Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails « NRscope2.0

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  14. Pingback: ImpactWatch » Blog Archive » Top Social Media Monitoring & Measurement Posts of the Week

  15. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    • Hi Ruth,
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  16. If you’d like to know why C-level executives should care about Social Media refer to this Research Project released today by the Social Media Academy. It exposes real evidence of corporate vulnerability across all industries and the opportunity to use Social Media to solve it.

  17. Pingback: eTc :: El blog de Marketing en Español » Blog Archive » Cuáles son los desafíos del Social Media

  18. Pingback: Porqué el Social Media Marketing fracasa?, y cómo hacer para solucionarlo? | Juan Ortega | mi vida 2.0 a través de tags

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  23. Really nice post. I get your point:)

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  29. Peter Kim had a lot of really good comments on that Expo 🙂

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    Good post about the reasons social media fails 🙂 Totally agree 🙂

    More of they good post!!


  31. Is social media failing yet? This post is quite old, but it seems the experts were not 100% right – seems social media is thriving these days? With Facebook in the billion $ valuation market, they must be doing something right?

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