I remember the moment well - it was 2007 and the agency was trying to help Governor Bill Richardson's Presidential Campaign in Iowa. Our Facebook guru, Max Bernstein, realized that we could use the new Facebook ad platform to target Democrats to attend a breakfast with Governor Richardson in a tiny town in Iowa. Later, we were told by Facebook that that was the first time their platform had been used for a political ad.
We were among the First In to Social Media for brands. Between 2007 and 2010, I gave presentation after presentation to clients about why they should use emerging tools and technologies such as The Huffington Post, YouTube and especially Facebook and Twitter. I told them success stories that we had experienced like the one for (RED) where Max was the one who actually started their Facebook page and helped it grow to over 1,000,000 fans - back when fans were fans and a million was a real number.
We had an entire presentation on how if you invest in channels, then you can activate the channels. As someone who had experience in traditional marketing, I also felt comfortable pushing social media not because it was the latest thing, or flashy and fun, but because it produced results. I was comfortable pushing clients, hard, to shift advertising and marketing dollars from other media to online and social. It wasn't the latest, flashiest new penny on the street - it was because it worked - nothing more - nothing less.
It's time to ask if it still works like it once did and perhaps, start pushing in a different direction.
I've started wondering a bit more about how and where the best places are to shift dollars and if we don't need to take a step back and look a bit more closely at the presumptions behind the shifts.
I do believe that Social Media has an important role to play in business - I'm just not completely sure that it is the role that it once played - nor am I sure that people have fully come to grips with the shifts that have happened.
For example, is Social Media Marketing or Customer Service? I think right now it's far more clear that it works better as a customer service model than it does as a marketing function for many major brands. That's just one thing that has been changing and, clearly, has changed.
CLICK POINT ONE - online, I think of everything coming down to the click. The click on the ad - the click on the image, the click to donate or buy so I call important moments, click points. The first one I have is that -
BRANDS INSIST ON COMPETING IN MORE SOCIAL NETWORKS THAN THEY SHOULD.
Marketing 101 says that not every medium works well for every brand. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, from whom we did a three year turnaround project for, has restaurants on major highways so they use outdoor advertising to great effect. Radio was a pretty smart choice for them as well. Local television ads wouldn't be so smart for them.
Each social media outlet is a medium - Twitter is different from Facebook. Pinterest is different from Snapchat. Just as a brand wouldn't test and try to compete in every traditional medium nor should they try and compete in every digital social medium.
But they do. Which is a mistake. First, it means that the resources are often scattered so sparsely that each medium is not fully developed or used. Second, it means that resources are often put into a medium that makes no sense for the brand - then, it doesn't work.
It's time for brands to look at Social Media and make choices.
Do you Tweet? Or does Facebook work better for you? Is Pinterest the way to go? Or should you be focused on blogging and creating great SEO content?
Don't tell me your brand works well across all the platforms equally well - it's impossible that a brand that benefits greatly from Twitter can be equally adept on Instagram. The platforms and the users combine for a completely different experience. Instead of spending 2 hours on one and 2 hours on the other, spend 4 on one and be great.
CLICK POINT TWO
THE SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING BUBBLE
I have always been a little leery of marketing conferences - I have often felt that it's more about people talking to each other about what they could be doing rather than people actually doing anything. In 2006 - 2008, there weren't a lot, any?, social media marketing conferences. Then there were some - now they are everywhere. To make it worse, everyone is talking about concepts and projects that worked back when there weren't any conferences.
Social media wasn't big business in 2006 and 2007. It was barely a business at all. Now, there are books, sites, companies, conferences.
CLICK POINT THREE
IRONICALLY WHAT CLIENTS WERE WORRIED ABOUT HAS COME TRUE.
The biggest concern clients had about Social Media in the early days was would they see the return - and back then, the answer was yes - you would. Now, I'm not so sure as there have been two fundamental changes in Social Media.
There are not only far more channels than there were when everyone was on Facebook and that was it, but now also the channels have been intentionally built to preclude marketing. Instagram, great visual channel, arguably strong for brand awareness but we have clients with thousands of followers and literally not a single click in site. (And yes, I know all the arguments about how it actually drives traffic - not convinced.) Snapchat? Pretty hard to use it as a marketing tool.
So what happens?
Back to my first point, arguably much of Social Media is much more of a customer service function. Like banner ads once were a solid way to drive traffic, but have fallen almost completely away, so too may social media go the same way as a marketing tool.
Second, there are ways of keeping brand awareness up strongly, like Instagram, but be careful on over-investing there because you have to have some return somewhere at some point. I just haven't seen any out of some channels.
I'm not positive of that - but I am positive about this. If you are doing the same things that companies and brands were doing in 2008 - 2012 when the world was really different and you could see return from Social Media, save your money.