Social Media Strategy, Social Media Marketing

Nobody Said Social Media Should Be Simple

Social Media SimpleSimple isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Social media is unique in that it is the only medium yet conceived where companies are playing in the exact same sandbox as we’re playing personally. Your employees and customers aren’t making TV ads on the weekend. Nor are they making their own magazine ads for fun at night, while watching Real Housewives of Omaha (a new show where everyone is sensible and nobody wears makeup). But indeed your employees and customers ARE messing around on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs on their free time, the same space you’re trying to invade (and admit it, profit from) for corporate purposes.

That’s never happened before, and it puts marketers in the strange situation of not just littering the airwaves with TV commercials, or blighting the roadways with billboards, but of peeing in their OWN cheerios, of gumming up their OWN newsfeed with company messages of oft-dubious intent and relevancy.

Which Side Are You On?

I know the economy remains tight. I recognize that marketers are challenged with feeding leads and opportunities to the sales team like a mama bird regurgitating worms. But we have a once in a generation chance to set the trajectory for a new medium, and we’re blowing it.

Why? Because fundamentally, doing social media “right” with equal doses of speed, caring, delight, and panache is not simple. It’s both difficult and incredibly resource-intensive. As Gary Vaynerchuk said in a keynote once “Giving a shit doesn’t scale.” And he’s right.

Every time we opt for simple by pre-programming tweets, by purchasing likes, by turning our Facebook wall into nothing but a coupon machine, by using marketing automation software to auto-contact prospects in social media, we are flying in the face of what we know other social media users would prefer.

It’s up to the social media practitioners to fight back against this trend toward simplistic social marketing automation, the invitation avalanche, and buying love instead of earning it. We are trying to force social media marketing into an automated, customer acquisition focus that it wears like a suit of armor at a nudist colony. You can put a stop to it.

Killing the Culture of Simple

At every turn, you need to be communicating to your management that while indeed social media can generate incremental sales and leads, it is – at its heart – a loyalty and retention tool. You need to be communicating to your management that even though social media happens fast, benefits accrue slowly and cumulatively. You need to be communicating to your management that that numbers you need to be paying attention to are lifetime value of customers connected to your company via social media, not your total number of likes. You need to emphasize that none of this is simple.

Are those conversations easy to have, and is the instant gratification mindset taking hold in social media easy to dislodge? Nope. But the surest way to not change attitudes is to not talk about it at all.

NOTE: I’m not part of the social media unicorns and rainbows brigade. I’ve said forever that if you’re not profiting from social media, why are you doing it at all? But I’m also a lot older than many of the other social media gadflies, and I’ve seen this new medium movie before. I’m trying to make companies understand that social media is a long-term play about turning customers into advocates, rather than a short-term play about creating customers out of thin air with magic tweets.

Ask Yourself This Simple Question:

At the operational level, you can make a day-to-day difference in how social media unfolds and unfurls as well, just use this simple test:

The next time you’re thinking about what to put on your Wall, or how to get more likes, or what blog posts to green light, or anything else related to social media, ask yourself a very simple – but critically important – question:

“I use social media all the time. Would I personally respond to that? Does it make me care about this brand more?”

If no, then find another way.

Marketing has been historically hamstrung by the fact that the people doing the marketing were often intellectually and socio-economically different from the people to whom the marketing was directed. Today, that’s less true than ever. As social media reaches ubiquity, and we continue to use the same tools for business as we use for pleasure, your own ability as a marketer to define “effective” vs. “pointless” shouldn’t be discounted.

Run your social media decisions through that filter, and you’ll be amazed at how different your outcomes can be.

I grant you, none of this is a layup. But settling for simple is how we got here in the first place. Remember, nobody said social media was easy, just that it was awesome.

Are you ready to take a stand against simple? Can you?

Facebook Comments


  1. nrobins1 says

    Great post Jay. “loyalty and retention tool” is the argument I always make for Facebook. When asking what people’s business goals are, they say “More customers! More revenue. Let’s get on Facebook!”. Then I have to jump in and say “woah there Mr. Gordon Gekko. If more customers and revenue are your immediate goals, first off, you’re going to have to budget at least 6 months to 1 year to start seeing results. Second, I would argue that Facebook is the completely wrong channel for your business goals AND your audience (based on researching your current target market).”

    I think it’s the fairy dust concept that people really have to learn to get away from. Like you said, jumping in is quick and easy. Winning the hearts and minds of people is no simple task.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • says

      @nrobins1 Exactly. Mostly because regardless of what you do, the people that “like” you on Facebook already like you. It’s preaching to the choir for the most part. Doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, it’s just valuable in a loyalty way more so than an acquisition way.

  2. karenbdc says

    Great post Jay. I am not a social media person (I happen to be an accountant with a love of all things business), but I have spent hours and hours of my free time reading books and blogs and educating myself because this is a key business element. This weekend, a friend of mine who is the CEO of a small organization asked me where to start with social media. I gave him some recommended reading, and then asked him some questions – questions about who he was trying to reach, why, what messages, where were thoe people he wanted to reach (Facebook, Twitter, neither), did he want to dialogue or broadcast, etc.

    His response was “good questions but I think we’ll just hire a communications guy to write and dive into Facebook”.

    It might work but in my opinion, that is not exactly what is going to bring success.

    There are a few brands who I follow who do social media very well. Your Simple Question is very, very good and something I will share!

    • says

      @karenbdc Hey without accountants, how would we know how much money we’re making in social media? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I have some recommended reading for your friend too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And you are exactly right. HE needs to understand social media and Facebook. He doesn’t need to send every status update himself of course, but you can’t outsource your brand voice 100%.

  3. PJProductivity says

    “social media is a long-term play about turning customers into advocates, rather than a short-term play about creating customers out of thin air with magic tweets.” THIS, a few hundred times over. So many folks I talk to these days are giving up on the “whole social media thing” precisely because of this fundamental misunderstanding. If it isn’t working for you, and your expectations are appropriate managed, well, then, fine, move on by all means. But that doesn’t mean “it doesn’t work”, period. And while I agree that SMM/SNM when done appropriately isn’t “simple” there ARE ways and means to simplify the process of SMM/SNM activities. I don’t think it’s wrong necessarily to look for those simplification paths, unless you’re looking to shortcut (i.e., undercut) the entire experience altogether.

    • says

      @PJProductivity Yep. There’s a backlash coming in social media marketing, and it’ll be because it didn’t move the ROI needle overnight. “We can get X clicks and Y leads from Google Adwords,” they’ll cry. “Why are we spending time on this social stuff.” Just wait.

  4. DrewGneiser says

    “Does it make me care about this brand more?” So important! Guess what – most people don’t care that you were mentioned on the news again. Use those types of updates sparingly (it can be fun to mention these types of successes sometimes, but frame it in a way that shows how your audience was part of it). Help your fans have more fun, care more, and feel more connected to what your mission is.I’ll definitely be sharing this! Thanks again Jay.

    • says

      @DrewGneiser Exactly Drew. The tendency to make tweets and status updates a tiny press release is huge…..and the results are consistently lame.

  5. K Hickey says

    As a marketer, it’s hard to justify your extra time spent in listening and engaging in those conversations. But it pays off in that you are more engaged and sensitive to what you put out there. Having one friend tell me that they “unfollowed” me due to all the company tweets made me re-think both my personal “brand” along with the company brand. I have to make sure that everything I post, or that the company posts, has value to the reader. I’ve also defined the “voice” and messaging between the different social media vehicles. Since I enjoy helping people in real-life, I need to continue to do that virtually. I’m selective about what brands I follow on Facebook, so I want to make sure that I’m adding value to any followers that have chosen our company as part of their mix.

    • says

      @K Hickey How is it hard to justify engaging with your customers, if they indicate they want to engage with you? I’ll have to disagree on that point, because it’s really a “social media telephone” at that point. Now the combination of personal and professional is something that we all struggle with, and there’s no easy answer there. What I will tell you is that your real-life is more interesting than your business life, and that’s true for just about everyone except circus performers and astronauts. I would be more concerned if business people started to unfollow you because of personal content, more so than friends unfollowing because of business content, right?

      • K Hickey says

        Jay – we definitely agree – I didn’t state clearly. It’s harder (but not impossible) to justify time spent to executives looking at traditional measures that are battered by sales for more leads. However they can’t disagree with the amount of engagement with an audience, unlike any other medium. I watched Dan Zarella’s webinar last week, seeing research showing no correlation between leads and engagement, but that did not decrease my belief that the engagement leads to greater reach. Relevant, interesting content leads to greater engagements. For your 2nd, I was talking about my personal social media. My business has gotten more personal, and increased engagement. I noticed when my personal got more business and impersonal, then I was less interesting. I’ve changed that.

  6. kmullett says

    @michaelreynolds heh, maybe that should read “Too Many Proclaim Social Media Is Easy.” cc: @jaybaer

  7. ashleighallen says

    What an awesome post! Love this: โ€œIโ€™m trying to make companies understand that social media is a long-term play about turning customers into advocates, rather than a short-term play about creating customers out of thin air with magic tweets.”

    And love the filter: “Would I personally respond to that? Does it make me care about this brand more?” Great stuff!

  8. says

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. (And I’m charged with trying to put it better for a living.) I think there tends to be a stigma of miracle-ism that surrounds the perception of social media – lots of Twitter accounts for major brand businesses ostensibly appear to have thousands of followers overnight – followers that follow booming success and millions in revenue. Without really having an insight into the hard legwork it took to get those followers, it’s easy to dismiss social networking outlets as simplistic devices that bring in brand attention with little to no effort from the primary Twitter jockey himself. (As I like to call it.)

    • says

      @EmmaofCEM It’s all about miracleism right now, and I walk a fine line as a social media consultant. I tend to talk clients out of as much as I talk them into. I guess that’s why I’m the “hype-free” social media guy? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. MaureenB2B says

    I’m always ready to take a stand against simple.

    Wasn’t really sure if you’re talking more B2B or B2C here…My space is B2B and I’m a little tired of the patronizing thought leader view that “only fools, at this point, aren’t in social media.”

    Like any other tactic, new or old, it makes sense in some plays and doesn’t make sense in others.

    My compatriots too often favor the easy (and sexy!) over the challenging. Bravo you for pointing out the unclothed emperor.

    • says

      @MaureenB2B I would say every company – even B2B – will have to be involved in some form of social media eventually, because customers will simply demand that we interact with them in those venues. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a massively robust and expensive social media initiative, just that you have to answer the “social media telephone.”

  10. says

    Wow, more thought provoking stuff Jay.

    You are putting the burden of setting the direction for social media on today’s practicioners. Will they push back on short-term, non-social behavior in social media?

    Doing so seems altruistic today. It is for the good of the medium, but is it to the detriment of the individual marketer? Today’s automation and not-so-social tactics by one company will boost results, but as just one participant, they have a negligible impact on the channel overall.

    Unfortunately, the long-term view isn’t in vogue today with most companies. For that matter, with most senior marketers having a short tenure, true long-term views without significant short term wins are often not in a marketer’s personal best interests either.

    The question at the heart of it is: is there too much short term and individual company benefit when compared to long term and channel detriment to get social media marketers to be work towards the good of the channel? (I believe the answer today is “Yes”). More importantly then, what changes in social media will change this equation?

    mediasres has a couple really interesting posts that apply here. Here is an excerpt from the first of Kevin’s posts below, both are short and sparked a healthy comment debate. It is really interesting when you think about it in context of non-social marketing-driven behavior and the entire social media channel (in place of Triberr and Twitter).

    “There is an Ecological Argument for why we might object to Triberr technology and use. That is: The common retort that some Triberrists hold out, โ€œHey Iโ€™m just doinโ€™ my thing, this is a free world, just unfollow meโ€ just may not be the whole story. There is a level at which, what I would call the Ecological level, where we all have an interest in the entire realm of Twitter. When something proliferates that changes the norm of what is expected, when the medium itself is changing, at the very least we can prick up our ears and think about it.”

    • says

      @Wittlake Very interesting conversation about Triberr. I experimented with it myself for a while. I think you’re exactly right about long term not being valued in any way in most companies, because everything is set up to value short term. Makes social media’s job MUCH more difficult.

      • MarnieHughes says

        Thanks for the honest post. The ‘short term’ vs ‘long term’ comment is one I come across most often. As a small business owner, I believe that it takes time for a social presence to develop so I’m willing to put in the time and energy. I have colleagues, however, who ask ‘have you gotten any new clients from it’ expecting to hear a negative answer. Although that is my ultimate goal, my immediate intention is to develop relationships and raise awareness of my name and what I do. To that end, the short term goals are coming along nicely.

  11. teriel says

    Thought provoking post. I wrote an article a little while back on Biznik which argues social media can be simple: I’m not advocating for automation, which I disagree with, but I am advocating for figuring out what you need to do to make social media be effective. In any case, I agree with your point that social media is a cumulative effort…focusing on short term results doesn’t even begin to explore what social media can do.

      • teriel says

        @JayBaer I agree. It’s not necessarily easy and I think people trying to go for easy are fooling themselves in terms of what that will accomplish for them. Taking the short cut can be less helpful than people think.

  12. staffmember says

    This is exactly the refreshing and open truth about social media and the myths surrounding not only the medium but the industry as well. We can see the automated tweets, and I admit that yes I too use automation only to deliver top of industry news from reputable sources. Having goals and desired outcomes for social media campaigns are critical for success with them no doubt, how ever do companies really study the bottom line to see if the social media revolution is becoming a hindrance with marketing efficiency. @Drivinryan @Mymarketingstaff

  13. staffmember says

    This is exactly the refreshing and open truth about social media and the myths surrounding not only the medium but the industry as well. We can see the automated tweets, and I admit that yes I too use automation only to deliver top of industry news from reputable sources. Having goals and desired outcomes for social media campaigns are critical for success with them no doubt, how ever do companies really study the bottom line to see if the social media revolution is becoming a hindrance with marketing efficiency. @Drivinryan @Mymarketingstaff

  14. adamson says

    I wrote this recently Nothing social is impossible but everything is harder than it looks

    Your advice about each post is well said, mine is more about making it happen across the organisation.

    Walter adamson

  15. garious1 says

    That’s intriguing and I’d say social media is not simple for the fact that it involves the human psyche… and yes, they may argue about a collective brain, but I think that people should be educated properly when it comes to social media marketing. Alas, we’re all on-the-job training as social media is an ever-evolving sphere. On the subject of automation, I’d go for doing it responsibly, so long as you spend more time in conversations than trying to win some world book record on becoming the next human RSS feed. Love your insights, anyway.

    • says

      @garious1 Thanks very much for the comment. I agree that it’s almost entirely on the job training for now, but that’s going to change as the industry matures. What would you think of a Community Manager Academy, where companies can send their front line social media team to get trained on best practices and emerging trends?

      • ForrestBivens says

        Was recently reviewing the 12 components of Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends & Influence People over at Wikipedia, and it reads like a curriculum guide for a Social Media Community Manager Academy.

      • garious1 says

        @JayBaer I love your idea of having a Community Manager Academy… the only question is: how can you standardize something that’s so abstract as social media? You just can’t qualify the process and give it something like an ISO certification or the likes. Ah, we’ll get there, I guess.

  16. elliebpr says

    As a baby boomer I’ve come to accept that if I’m thinking something so are a whole lot of other people. In a way it’s kind of a confidence builder for my own thinking. A while back I wrote a post called How to Succeed in Social Media – But Not Without Trying. So I obviously agree with your post. It’s just very hard to promote the long term in a quarter-by-quarter economic environment, let alone one where fear resides. It’s always taken time for marketing efforts to pay off (Remember this agency-speak? “It takes at least seven ad impressions til someone notices you.”) The speed of the click and the ability to go direct to consumers has set unreal expectations. There’s still competition and there’s still human nature and there’s still something called a buying cycle. It’s a hopeful thing that I’ve read a number of posts on this topic lately by other respected voices. We need to have the conversation. I’m believing more and more that online marketing is at a crossroads in its evolution.

  17. says

    Rock on! What you mean by simple here, is “low effort,” right? Easy, cheap, and “my intern can do it” go hand in hand here. It isn’t low effort. No marketing is. Those who are great at it make it look easy. But bottom line is 0 effort = 0 results. When I tell clients that they get it. And those who don’t go off to DIY and prove it by getting 0 results.

  18. BarryJHammond says

    Great. Great. Great. I have turned into a broken record trying to get my clients to understand that social media is a social experience. No one interacts with the building that houses the company, they interact with the people. Look at the facebook pages for progressive insurance. Now look at the facebook page for flo the progressive girl and notice the difference in fan count. It takes real effort to engage as a person instead of a campaign. Getting my clients to understand this is a real battle. They have been pre-programmed to see marketing as a game of strategy and matrixes and statistics. Social media, for better or worse tosses most of that out of the window.

  19. letstalkandchat says

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out:

  20. Chris_Eh_Young says

    You had me at “Not part of the unicorn brigade”. I attended a social media breakfast yesterday where I was debating the merits of social media ROI vs the unicorn brigade. I do agree that social media is a long term investment. I also believe that as we shift from social media to social business, some kind of certification will need to be in place. As it is now, far too many in the space have no idea how a business operates. Without that knowledge, tying social media to solid business objectives is extremely difficult at best. We are at the point now where businesses are getting tired of being hoodwinked. They no longer want to hear about first mover advantage and early adopter benefits. They want to hear about how it will help grow their bottom line or, at the very least, positively affect their business in the long run.

    The emperor has no clothes and the unicorn is just a rhino in drag. We can now use the term US (Unicorn Sh*t) in place of BS when speaking of the social space.

  21. ttrujillo says

    This is awesome. You couldnt be more right about people training to force social media efforts to be viewed and measured as an acquisition tool. people don’t just automatically buy a product or become a brand advocate with one Facebook post, Tweet, pin, etc. Creating a long, loving, and lasting relationship with customers takes a lot of hard work just as you would do with your personal relationships.Thanks for posting this!

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