• James Odene

Confession: it's time to set the record straight

So I do have a confession to make. It's a big one. And quite unpopular. But first, let me ask you to consider my pitch for an new media platform...

The pitch

I want to revolutionise marketing by offering a new media. I suspect everyone is going to love it, marketers and consumers alike. We'll all be able to get something out of it. In fact, it'll be so huge, most people will probably start to ask if everything else we did in the past is now dead. Bye traditional marketing, nice knowing ya'.

There is one catch. Only a small one though.... It truly will be a revolutionary media, and you'll spend sooo much money and time on it - but you'll only be able to communicate to one out of every 2,500 of your customers that you attempt to reach out to. That's 0.04%. Are you interested? Would you spend loads of money doing this? Want to know what it is, or have you already guessed- yes, it's social media.

And here comes the confession... I don't use social media in my personal life. No wait, there's more- I really dislike it and find the way a lot of organisations use it illogical. Sorry, I'll leave via the back door...

The usual story

Here's how it normally goes, we've decided an arbitrary number of posts that need to go out everyday and our resources are more weighted towards employing people to post and analyse than create content, so most of the time it's a case of rushing about to find some content, any content, to make sure that this regular dosing is being dispensed to our adoring public.

What content? Well, here's the best thing of all. Take a picture of anything, literally anything, stick it on Facebook and voila, it's called content.

Finally, our boss wants to know that it's really working and worth you spending all this time and money on, so they ask for metrics even though we've really tried to tell them that these offer little insight or real world value- engagement, likes, clicks, followers blah blah blah - you know this story right?

Right, I'm off the high horse, promise.

Let's sort this out over a cup of cold figures

Using data, it's possible to paint quite an alarming picture of social media. I am going to reference figures used by Professor Mark Ritson to express this point. He looked at what was revered "by many in the industry as one of the best real-time marketing efforts to date." - when in 2013, during the Super Bowl black out, Oreo tweeted this:

Figure me up:

When this tweet was sent Oreo had 65,000 followers. Now, at the time, it still wasn't possible to see picture on Twitter without clicking a link, so we need a CTR to know more. He uses a generous 2% CTR.

This takes the 65,000 followers down to 1,300 people who saw the advert. Then adding in the 15,000 retweets (x American average number of followers of 208 x CTR of 2%) we are back up to 63,000 followers. Okay, that's looking quite handsome isn't it? It's 96.9% of their number of followers!

Well that's not all the story actually.

In America, Oreos are purchased by a whopping 40 million people. Considering the above, 63,000 is just 0.02% of their customer base. 0.02%. That's really not looking so hot anymore and the truth is that if you look through all the biggest, most successful brands on the planet, their social media reach is nowhere near their customer base or target market. In truth, think of all the brands you use, buy and maybe even love - how many of them do you follow on social media?

Now of course social media is a useful tool and has certainly revolutionised the way that consumers communicate with each other. But has it does as much for brands? I'm really not so sure.

Look long-term

Social media tends to drive a propensity to be very short-term focused. Likes, clicks, engagement - it's all now and this month and last week. And by being so obsessed with social media metrics, we can find that we forget to actually think long-term in our strategy, and this can be fatal.

Get familiar with statistics

It can feel a bit of a headache at first, but it is super important to get to grips with statistics and crucially, statistical significance. This means, being able to tell if a statistic or metric really means anything or not. Here's an example...

You are asked to flip a coin 3 times: each time you get heads.

That's 100% heads - is it a weighted coin? How sure are you?

How about you flip it 100 times and get heads each time.

How sure you are now?

The key thing to understand here is statistical significance. For something to have significance, it is effectively saying that you are comfortable that the results represent the matter in the same way should it be conducted on a wider, say population, scale.

If after flipping the coin 3 times and getting heads you said that you were confident that everyone who flipped the coin would be getting the same result, you are likely to be wrong. After 100 times, you're much more likely to be right.

Think about social media 'insights'. Are we being mindful of their true statistical significance? So often we run some A/B testing for a few days and after a few hundred clicks, we call it and say 'yep, A is better than B. Let's use that one and double the money on it'. When in truth, there is likely to be next to no statistical significance to your assumption, and you could be wrong and wasting money.

Chasing the mythical engagement

My final point, although I could go on longer, is that in chasing engagement, you could be just posting a load of guff. Given that most of your supporters are unlikely to follow you and that those who do engage are just doing it because it's a cute picture, social media analysis is a Pandora's box of insight trickery. It leads you down a path of trying to optimise engagement by putting out more and more generic 'content' that doesn't necessarily communicate anything about you and only really gets engagement because of stuff that is largely unrelated to your brand. Your brand is not a free platform for light entertainment, so don't make it one!

Phew, I'm glad to get that off my chest.

So what should we be doing?

Here is a list of some things to consider:

  • Think long-term strategy, not short-term tactics.

  • Only consider the metrics that actually have meaning to you and ensure you view them in the wider context. Think 'are the right people seeing this stuff?' and 'are they then doing what we want them to do?' You could have millions of people engaging with your cute content, but are they actually the right people and do they engage with you brand beyond the fluffy posts?

  • Don't keep chucking content out as fast as you can. Instead try and deliver better, brand relevant and meaningful content. Everything else is ultimately a waste of your time. If this means posting only once a week, so be it. Of the very few brands I follow on social media, if they don't post anything in a while, I really don't care.

  • Marketing isn't just digital communications, so don't treat it as your only tool.

  • Beware of Goodhart's Law - making a metric a target! It can lead to some dodgy decision making.

  • Love your actual fans by giving them what they want. Meaningful content. Not more content. Or content that gets more clicks from uninterested users.

  • Remember, social media is for people to connect with friends and family. Not brands. It is a privilege to be allowed to be there at all, don't be arrogant by thinking that people want you there and are super willing to make your content viral for you. You've got to earn it.

For more reading and thinking I would recommend 'Eat you Greens', 'Fanocracy', this article or this article and if you have a few hours, watch some Mark Ritson videos, he's a character. There is much more on this topic, but this should kick start you nicely.

Good luck, much love and rant over.


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