Social Media Strategy, Social Media Marketing

When Will the Social Media Losers Emerge?

Today, social media is like a soccer league for seven year-olds: everyone gets a trophy.

The vast majority of press coverage and conversations around social media centers around the fact that businesses are DOING social media, not necessarily doing it EFFECTIVELY. Do you know why every article or blog post with even a scintilla of information about success metrics goes supernova? Because we’re still in the social media head-patting phase, and we’re handing out participation ribbons by the truckload. Thus, anything with real data snaps us to attention like a Taser.

social media losersBut not for long.

Killing the Golden Goose

Every company will eventually be social, whether they want to or not. Customers will demand it. There were businesses that didn’t want to use the telephone, or the Web, or email either. And they had to adopt and adapt because customers insisted that they be allowed to interact with companies via those channels.

It will happen again. And then what?

Social media will inexorably become about something other than special offers, because when every company has an offer, yours isn’t so special.

When every company is active in social media, and consumers are besieged by invitations to follow, fan, friend, subscribe, like, share, enter to win, create videos, author a haiku, or any number of other opportunities, how will you fare?

The day is coming when we’ll judge companies not on whether they have a social media program, but on whether that program is relevant, interesting, and financially successful. The day is coming when there are social media winners AND social media losers.

I give it 18 months. Are you getting ready?

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

  • Anonymous

    Already, we’re seeing a separation between the companies who really want to embrace social media — the ones willing to dedicate some resources to monitoring, participating, building & cultivating networks — and the ones who want to make a big splash. A fancy campaign can be a viable tactic, especially in the short-term, but when a customer has a problem, he won’t care about your campaign. Instead, he expects to have the ability to reach out to you and for you to respond. A giveaway — or that creative haiku contest — can’t help a company there. Campaigns can be a good start, but, I agree, it’s not *enough.*


    • jaybaer

      What’s the bellweather then of a successful program? Using social media to handle customer inquiries/complaints in real-time? Is that the bar companies need to clear?

  • Jon Thomas

    When having a website was the new, forward-thinking thing for businesses to do, you received a sticker just for being on the internet, even if your site was designed on Geocities. Now, it’s not enough to just have a website – it has to look great and cater to the customer. It has to have useful content and ways to learn and engage.

    Social Media will go the way of the website, where everyone is participating, but there are those who embrace it and those who are just “there.” Were already seeing it with companies who have a Twitter account or Facebook fan page, yet they make no effort to update either (even when customers are begging to interact).

    I still think there is plenty of time for businesses to create distance between themselves and their competitors by embracing their customers via multiple channels, especially social media, even if they have yet to make the first move. The ship hasn’t sailed, though I agree that the ships that have sailed are all being praised for just sailing as opposed to reaching their destination (defining “destination” as constant, effective engagement as opposed to a place where you stop, like the end of a campaign as mentioned by Heather)

    Jon Thomas

    • jaybaer

      You nailed it Jon. Thanks for the smart comment.

  • Colin Burke

    I give it a year or less. The winners already know this isn’t just about marketing, it’s also about interactivity and good customer service.

    I’ve been looking at companies with newly created, dedicated social media positions, dug alittle deeper with one company only to find they had pre-existing customer service problems. Poor customer service won’t vanish with the existence of a fanpage on FB or a twitter account.

    Predict companies that want to continue to be at arms length from their more challenging customers will find a way to have some presence on social media without it turning into an open air complaint department.

    • jaybaer

      That’s the challenge though, isn’t it? Being active in social media, but trying to not be “too active” is very tough. It’s hard to be half social media pregnant, which is why many companies are reticent about jumping in.

  • Info

    Well said Mr. Baer. Love the kids soccer analogy-so true. Being Canadian I liken it to hockey where indeed everyone gets a trophy, but there is usually one kid that stands out and they get the hardest worked helmet.

    There are already some winners and losers out there. The losers still have time to learn from their mistakes but not for much longer. I’m glad I’m on the consulting side of the fence as the pace of change is ferocious and will only get worse. I know companies and especially government agencies are wondering when and where to jump in. Let’s hope they don’t wait too long and start with a sound strategy.


    • jaybaer

      Thanks indeed. Great to see you last night too.

  • Anonymous

    We are already hearing about some social media failures, and many more are going unnoticed, but today’s social media failures are vastly different from advertising failures. Some are akin to failed viral videos, ineffective but unnoticed. Others stem from companies not yet understanding that the customer voice can be more powerful than their own and a new level of authenticity is required across their communications.

    Jeff Jarvis’s Dell Hell is an example from 2005, the Dell experience and the Dell image portrayed in marketing didn’t align. Since, Dell has embraced social marketing and they continue to work to align the customer experience with the marketing image. More recently, we have seen United and United Breaks Guitars.

    Social media incorporates functions that have historically been beyond the influence of marketing. These organizational failures, played out in social media, will continue to be the primary type of ‘social media’ failure we see, for more than 18 months.

    Why? First, without significant program inertia and forced distribution (advertising), most irrelevant or uninteresting social media programs will go unnoticed, and most self-respecting companies will quickly stop or modify course. Second, without transparency into investment, there are no colossal investment failures.

    The only example I’m aware of with a significant visible investment, a program versus ongoing engagement approach, is the Pepsi Refresh Project. Until we have significantly more visibility into investment, social marketing programs will be dominated by winners and invisibles, punctuated with at most a handful of visible losers.

    • jaybaer

      Exceptional comment. I love your thinking on social making stuff that previously wasn’t marketing’s purview not part of the marketing challenge. I agree 100%. And I concur that the lack of transparency into investment makes the “failures” harder to decipher, thus not great for people trying to sell newspapers, etc.

  • ryanzuk

    Agreed, the time is coming for organizations to do more than give customers a warm-and-fuzzy feeling about being mayor of their local coffee shop for an afternoon and for customers to do more than complain about or suggest the next flavor. Winning businesses and consumers will use social media as a standard channel for efficient engagement when solving each others’ problems. Bringing people together to solve them will be social’s acknowledgement; a nice hat tip without fancy ribbons attached. And that’s, OK.

  • ryanzuk

    Agreed, the time is coming for organizations to do more than give customers a warm-and-fuzzy feeling about being mayor of their local coffee shop for an afternoon and for customers to do more than complain about or suggest the next flavor. Winning businesses and consumers will use social media as a standard channel for efficient engagement when solving each others’ problems. Bringing people together to solve them will be social’s acknowledgement; a nice hat tip without fancy ribbons attached. And that’s, OK.

    • jaybaer

      What? Giving a coupon to your single most frequent customer doesn’t count as a full-blown business success? What? What? Heathen.

  • Maria Ross

    Amen. I think part of the problem is people are not even sure what to measure in terms of effectiveness, except the bottom-line uptick in sales. Which of course is what we’re all after, but not every tactic directly correlates to someone opening their wallet. As I tell my branding clients, it’s a process of courtship, the buying cycle, and you have different tactics or levers you need to pull to move a prospect down the path to purchase. The first date doesn’t always lead to marriage but are you measuring if you are moving in the right direction? For service businesses like mine, I’m see social media helping me with exposure, awareness and thought leadership. So I look to social media to increase buzz, increase speaking engagement inquiries, and get people to start engaging with my website, blog or newsletter. Do I think that every Twitter follower is going to call me for a branding project or purchase my book? Of course not. But I think the problem lies in businesses not being clear about what they expect social media to do for them, what role is plays in their overall marketing mix, and how it conveys/reinforces their brand to the public. They have simply jumped on the bandwagon. Businesses need to answer “Why are we doing this?” before any measurement tools will be effective. otherwise, any piece of data will look like a useful piece of data (ie, # of followers, # of retweets, etc.)


    • jaybaer

      Very well said Maria. I agree entirely. Way too many companies are active in social media, but really don’t know why. Which of course creates some pretty egregious measurement challenges.

    • themaria

      So true! I see so many expectations divorced from reality. “Let’s make a viral video and then we’ll have a ton of users and revenue!” Umm… not so fast… First of all, you don’t determine how viral a video gets, all you can do is make an excellent piece of content that actually helps people. Secondly, you still have ways to go to actual conversion. What makes things even more difficult are the community and influence models, where a tweet doesn’t go straight from you to the end user, but rather includes all these other peers and and “influencers” (I try to use that word sparingly) on the way.

  • John M. Hoyt

    I’m thinking 18 months may be too far out. Great post.

  • JonFMoss

    Your words are ringing in my head…like the Liberty Bell on Independence Day. I spoke recently to a college marketing class and was shocked to find very few of them embracing social media for personal use much less for marketing purposes.

    Concluded by telling them if they don’t want to get left behind to start engaging now by creating online profiles and building out their social networks otherwise they (like companies that continue to ignore new media) will get left behind.

    • Angelique

      I have noticed the very-young-don’t-socialize-online phenomenon at networking events, which strikes me as very weird, because my daughter and her college friends and classmates have all been using Facebook (and before that, MySpace) as well as personal YouTube profiles for years, starting in middle school, and some them participate in other social networks or forums as well. So how is it that the early-20-somethings that show up at networking events are completely out of the loop?

      • JonFMoss

        I’m not saying they’re necessarily out of the loop, but rather they won’t be as marketable themselves if they don’t have a grasp on social media as a tool of marketing or at the very least have little or no digital footprint.

        We’re hosting a social networking event this month that aims to bring together young, hip entrepreneurs with the more traditional suit & tie crowd.

        Working on a promo video spot that should convey the message clearly: an businessman dressed in a suit has an appointment with a promising entrepreneur to discuss a business idea. He climbs into his Mercedes while the scene cuts to the hipster dressed in jeans, t-shirt and puffy hair who hops on his scooter and rides off to the appointment.

        When they meet there’s a pause as they each look each other up and down so as to assess the capabilities of each other. The businessman takes out a business card and extends it to the young entrepreneur who in turn whips out his iPhone and proceeds to “bump” the older man’s biz card. The caption reads: See What Happens Next at “The Event”

        We’ll have the video up next week, and hope to have a good turnout at the event too.

    • jaybaer

      I’ve had the same experience when speaking at colleges. Makes me wonder if we’re not nearly as cool as we think we are, all cozy in our social media bubble?

  • Mikko Rummukainen

    Yes indeed. This seems to still be the time for experimenting and trying just about everything out, but it won’t take long until companies realize how expensive ‘just doing something’ actually is. Doing something effectively – as Jay capped – is indeed what makes the winners triumphant.

    One trend I would expect to see soon is companies taking a minute to look at their social media environment – instead of jumping head first to just about anywhere – and then setting actual objectives for what they expect to get in return from their social media endeavors. After objectives have been set, it should be a bit easier to decide on what to do and where to do it.

    • jaybaer

      I really, really hope you’re right. And I think you are. I often look back at the inception of websites for guidance on how this will all unfold. There was a period when companies rushed to launch websites, but for no defined reason. Then, they pulled back and added strategy to the mix. I think we’ll see the same pattern in social.

  • Craig Samborski

    Thank you for this. There are some great examples of companies that are active in social media and examples of just having a facebook account. I’ll bet that this piece will serve to start separating the wheat from the chaff.

    • jaybaer

      Facebook is one of the biggest issues. Lots of Yellow Pages 2.0 programs going on over there with ghost town fan pages.

  • Cardiogoop

    Posts like this is why Stratten says you’d be batting cleanup on his team. Thanks for peering into the future for the non-social media PhDs.

  • Cardiogoop

    Posts like this is why Stratten says you’d be batting cleanup on his team. Thanks for peering into the future for the non-social media PhDs.

  • Cardiogoop

    Posts like these are why Stratten designates you as his cleanup hitter. Thanks for peering into the future for those of us who are not Social Media Savants. Enjoyed it.

    • jaybaer

      Thanks goop. I appreciate that very much.

  • DNickerson

    I have a question for Jay, et al.
    How do you believe CSR will play into the future of social media as we move past this initial stage?

    • jaybaer

      It will become a bigger and bigger part of it. We’ll look back three years from now and wonder why we ever thought social media was an acquisition tool, when it so clearly is a loyalty and retention tool.

  • Christina Pappas

    You are absolutely right. Social media is something that brands will need to be a part of eventually. But the risk with brands just signing up for everything just to get on a bandwagon is that they may become fragmented. Just did a blog on this the other day. With multiple sites and fan pages running, does the customer experience the same brand as they navigate through or do you simply have a page setup to set one up.

    Btw – love that you are using the Wibiya bar! We put it on our Zmags too!

  • Ken Mueller

    I thought we were already there. Seeing plenty of success and failure stories, both on the local scale and a larger scale.

    • jaybaer

      Failure stories, or horror stories? I see plenty of “Facebook page was hijacked” type coverage, but not a lot of “this idea sucked, and nobody paid attention”.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Superb post. It’s already happening. And the winners will entertain, not a word common in business.

    • jaybaer

      Thanks pal. Would love to see a post from you about that angle (the winners will entertain).

  • jaybaer

    Thanks mucho. Just started messing around with Wibiya. It’s a cool tool.

  • Steve Allan

    Spot on observation. The bright and shiny objects that are the buzz of social media distract us from what we really need to do. Your post inspired me to write this:

  • Jason

    Love it. Once we get to that saturation point, where social media is as ubiquitous as the telephone, the companies and brands that are differentiated will largely depend on the person on the other end. Are they interesting, friendly, helpful? In short, is interacting with this person a pleasure, or a chore?

    Could it be that the hiring process will become more like an audition at this point?

    • jaybaer

      very good thinking. I like that audition concept.

  • Casey Valiant

    Over the many decades we’ve been in business we’ve spent countless hours deciding such critical issues as how big our newspaper ad should be, what our yellow pages ad should consist of, who should be the voice of our ‘on-hold’ message, whether to have a Second Life, myspace, or yelp presence, how often we should send out fax-blasts, e-blasts, direct mail ads, whether a pager is necessary for each of our sales people, whether an email address is necessary for each of our sales people, whether a smart phone is necessary for each of our sales people, how to answer the phone, how to answer emails and how to talk to people in our showroom.

    The question of how we ‘do’ social media can be answered the same way we’ve answered each of the questions above: Is it beneficial for our customers and community? Hopefully with that as our foundation, our efforts will continue to be profitable.

    • jaybaer

      That’s a helluva comment Casey. Well done!

      • Casey Valiant

        aww shucks. :)

    • Lbailey331

      Casey has it absolutely RIGHT! You have to know what your potential customers/audience wants to hear! Who cares if you’re upset with a customer, who really cares where you are “twittering from”? Bottom line is, you need to target your potential AND existing customers. You have to “post” information that you know is useful and pertinant. If used correctly, social media “can” be a useful tool. With that being said, there is nothing more powerful than referrals from your current and/or previous “satisfied” customers. If you don’t deliver what you “claim to be able to deliver” your social media efforts are useless! I don’t make a ton of money doing what I do, but my satisfaction comes from making a difference in this world and making sure that, at the end of the day, my customers are happy!

    • themaria

      Couldn’t agree more! Go where the customers are, don’t get seduced by the SNO (shiny new object), provide value, and measure, course correct and repeat.

  • samuraiwriter

    How long do you give Twitter? The teens I know see no point in using it… on a sample size of 5, admittedly. On asking why, I’m told that Twitter’s for “old people”. Go figure…

    • jaybaer

      True enough that average age of Twitter users are late 30s.

  • Sue Bates

    I also think a big factor in the change will be so many people not really wanting to have their own biz. At least not the small biz. It sounds so easy when we start, but then we learn it is a lot of work. It really does have to be a passion, I am learning that now. If I hadn’t already had a biz for 34 years and know I love what I do, I think it would be harder to keep going. I was just thinking about all this yesterday. What will happen to all the people who are lining up to learn how to do their own biz; I just don’t think this many people are going to continue to come forever. Maybe when the economy turns around? good conversation, and interesting… :)

  • Lucretia M Pruitt

    Running a tad behind here – but I love this post Jay (as well as the comments it generated!)

    I sum it up by saying we’re moving from the “Let’s do it!” phase to the “Wait, why are we doing that exactly?” phase.

    I love your soccer analogy – particularly because I’ve seen 7 year-old soccer. Usually, there’s one or two kids on each team who are totally getting it and working toward the goals, and a bunch of other kids running about and making noise. That there are goals? Seems to escape many getting on the “Let’s do Social Media! Yeah! Whoop!” bandwagons just as surely as if they were running around on a grassy field.

  • jaypiddy

    True enough. The average Facebook feed it getting pretty full of corporate fan page content. It’s getting trickier to convince consumers that they should subscribe/friend/follow your page on any of the sites. We are coming to the end of the novelty cycle and just like email lists it will become increasingly tougher to convince the consumers of your value. It’s getting noisy in the space and those without a strategy are going to be unfollowed/friended without question.

  • RED Brand Media

    I agree with your post. Any business that refuses to use social media will be left behind much like any person without a telephone or cell number. Businesses must be reachable, and accountable to the consumer, in a two-way engagement strategy. Once they realize that, then they will see that they need a social media strategist to help them obtain their goals and objectives in regards to a social media campaign. There is no denying that anymore, but I give it 24 – 36 months.

  • Anonymous

    So in 18 months, what is the bar for your social media? Or is the bar irrelevant because it’s different for every company? I think that as companies start to form complex and useful social media plans, they’ll be able to cater them to their needs, and every company’s needs are different. If that’s the case, maybe it isn’t 18 months from now…. It’s probably even closer.

    Great read.

    • jaybaer

      Indeed, the granular success metrics will differ. But ultimately, are
      you making money, saving money, or both?

  • themaria

    I think people still get confused about objectives because they don’t understand the difference between 2 types of social media presence. One is the unglamorous, daily, in-the-trenches, listening, engaging, responding, being close to your customers, helping, getting yelled at, getting complimented. One is proactive engagement with industry, journalists, bloggers, partners, etc. Those two you can’t really do unless you really commit (and not just money, but also process alignment, information and insights sharing). If you half-a$$ this, you will fail. There’s another methodology, which is the more campaign-focused type stuff, like the Old Spice Man — the creative and glamorous. When people think about social media, they think about the latter part, not the former two. But you can’t have the campaign without the underlying listening and response capabilities. Far too many people look at it as something you do, and then it does magic for you, and then you are done. It’s a long-term commitment — much like, you are right, the telephone and email.

    I agree that each company will be social (adapt or die, right?) — and social, rightfully so, will be a layer for every business process. Here’s a question… what do you think this will do to the social media strategist / manager position in the organization? Do you think it will be stripped of some of its significance, or do you think it will actually garner more attention and support? My thought is that it will play a different role: instead of fighting the battle of education and internal buy-in, it will be more of a cross-funcitonal leadership role — because so many more employees will be “social”, this person will ensure that everyone is on the same page and working from the same playbook. I’m thinking the title will change too.

  • Marla Levie

    You are so right. I don’t know about the 18 months, but I know I’m glad that I’ve been on the “social media” (now already being called “new media”) wagon for a few years so I’m ahead of the trend.
    Marla Levie, Focus on Aging

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