Social Media: Does Its Value Equal The Hype?

Berlin, Germany - 05 28 2016:  Apple iPhone 6s screen with social media applications Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Youtube, Snapchat, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WhatsApp etc.
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In his first post for 2021, B&T regular Robert Strohfeldt points his magnifying glass at digital media’s hype and argues it’s possibly not cracked up to all it purports to be…

In the past few months, I have seen many CVs of young graduates seeking a career in marketing and/or advertising.  I could fool myself (and maybe a few others) saying this shows I am a person of wisdom.

The reality is more to do with age than sage -the children of friends and relatives are no longer “youngsters”, but you adults who think, “This old fart may actually know someone who can help me get an interview”.

Times have changed to when I finished university – there were more jobs than applicants and more often, you could pick and choose. What I hear now must be very depressing – “There are often 100 to 200 people just trying to get to the first interview stage.”

Professor Mark Ritson passed on some tips to job seekers in a recent Marketing Week article. “Bullshit when asked if you were a digital marketer”. My advice as well. I have often used the year 2000 as the start of the “digital era”. In the first few years of this century, “everyone” wanted to go into digital marketing. (Just as every nearly every company used China as a source of cheap supply. And look how that turned out!).

Ritson puts it so well, I may as well use his advice. I would be saying the same.

Q) As you know, the role of senior marketing manager at Acme will require someone who can develop and then execute a digital marketing strategy. Is this something that you have experience of?

A) No, because if I ever develop a “digital marketing strategy” I clearly have no idea what I am doing. For starters, the digital prefix is inherently tactical in nature and execution.

The tragedy is this is the correct answer, but it would result in the interview being cut short and you being asked to leave.

Talking specifically about Social Media, you will (odds of about 99%) be asked something like:

Q) A big part of the role will involve social media marketing and developing the kind of content that creates a dialogue with our customer base. We see this as the big part of Acme’s marketing challenge. Do you feel ready to manage that kind of work?

The correct answer, that would also see you bounced out before the interview finishes:

A) 2008 called, they want their clichés back. Anyone that still clings to the idea that organic social media is going to replace paid, targeted communications has missed a whole decade of effectiveness lessons.

“Developing social media content “ is one attribute that has been in every CV I have looked at. “Big Data” and “AI” are also frequently mentioned. Most companies cannot even get their “small data” working and “AI” is nothing more than a computer programme. But AI sounds far more advanced. Just as “algorithm” is a lot sexier than “equation”.

Social media has evolved since Six Degrees in 1997. But not until Web 2.0 was launched in 2004, allowing for ease of user generated content and the Facebook launch also in 2004, saw the uptake, uses and impact of social media explode.

The efficacy of Social Media for business has improved over the past 10 years. Though for Facebook, “Social” is still its primary use. The ability of Facebook (and all other platforms) to “micro” target is pushed as a major advantage. Want to reach one-leg, gay jugglers, with a predominantly  Welsh heritage, who are also male and 30 to 34 years of age, then Facebook can probably reach them, if they do exist. TV is derided as wasteful – though not attracting the audience size they did, prior to the “digital era”. And on a CPM basis, Facebook beats TV easily. But this does not consider the impact a well –  crafted TVC (also becoming rarer)  has. Big screen TVs with excellent sound are becoming the norm. In comparison to a Smart Phone screen, (often not showing the whole ad), give me wastage any day.

Engagement is the term most often used (as opposed to impact). Call me cynical, but I always thought Engagement was the second step in losing your house:

  • Dating
  • Engagement
  • Marry
  • Divorce

There is a formula used to “measure” engagement, though I am not sure why any Social Media platform would want to promote it:

Engagement (E) is calculated:

E = I/N x 100

I = Number of Interactions (Comments, Ticks, Hearts, Shares etc.)

N = Number of Followers.

I don’t think this gives much of a picture on its own. I would use:

N1 = Number of Followers

N2 – Number of Customers.

N2 is more applicable to businesses such as Banks, Telecoms, Subscription based businesses and businesses where the total market size and share can be accurately calculated such as Smart Phones, Tyres etc. The potential market for many FMCGs (say baked beans) is too difficult to calculate acurately and N1 is probably the better indicator.

Take Commonwealth Bank. Has around 15.9 million customers in Australia. Their Facebook page claims 755,893 people follow the page – this is 4.8% of the total customers, hmmm.

The “Merry Christmas” post received 367 interactions.

Based on N1:  Engagement is 0.05% engagement of followers.

Based on N2: Engagement is 0.0023% engagement of all customers

(The Christmas video gained 14,400 “views”, but only 367 interactions. A “view” does not mean the whole video was “viewed”, this is supported by the low number of interactions – 367, 2.5% of the “views’).

Working down the posts, they attain:

181 Comments     3 Shares    N1 =   0.024%    N2 =   0.0012%

111 Comments    3 Shares     N1 =   0.016%     N2 =  0.00071%

142 Comments      3 Shares    N1 =  0.019%     N2 = 0.00091%

45 Comments     3 Shares    N1 = 0.0064%    N2 = 0.00029%

It is a fair assumption many of the “interactions” came from staff, family, and friends.

Yes, Commonwealth Bank is but one example, but a bloody good one when considering the worth of social media in the communications mix. People today have so much content to choose from

  • Free to air.
  • Myriad of free to air digital stations
  • Freeview
  • Streaming: Netflix, Stan, Apple, Prime, ESPN etc
  • Foxtel
  • YouTube
  • Internet TV
  • Gazillion Websites from recognized publishers
  • Newspapers (hard copy & online)

With all the above choice (and more), people are going to seek out bank and other product social pages.?

There has been a shift to Social Media for products such as fashion and jewellery to show current, new and future collections.

Social media are also good forums to make complaints – have done many times and with most companies now using a “Press 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.” Each one of which take to another “Press 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5” and it may even go another round and then “Thank God for Covid” – “Due to the larger than usual number of calls we are receiving due to Covid, the wait times are much longer than usual blah, blah, blah”.  Much quicker to go to their Social Media and post a complaint. You do receive an answer faster than waiting on the phone to speak to a tele- service person offshore who can do bugger all to help. But guess what? The person answering the complaint on Social Media is probably in the same bloody building as the person on the phone.

And all of this from companies who bang on about being “Customer Centric”.

Social Media is also being used as a promotional medium – Coke, radio stations, the list of business categories who run promotions on their Social media pages is extensive.

Irony of this is websites could have served the same purpose for promotions and complaints.

So often, the reason for large spend on Social Media is “everyone else is doing it.: Take the Commonwealth Bank example – how many people, particularly as a proportion of the total number of customers, are interested in most of the Social Media “guff” – that is content that does not present the opportunity of a promotional win, or high image products (Fashion Jewellery, Cars the big 3)? The answer is five eights of fuck all.

Isn’t it time you reviewed your Social Media expenditure (nice term for “waste”) and spent the money saved on being genuinely Customer Centric, instead of trying your hardest trying to avoid them?

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Robert Strohfeldt

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