Does short term thinking miss the potential of social media?

The long term benefit of friends and followers exceeds the short term impact of a campaign

As more and more brands race into social media it appears they’re bringing with them the exact same short-term mindset that they apply to advertising campaigns. I hear it all the time.

“If we do this (fill in the blank: Twitter, Facebook, blog, whatever) how many (fill in the blank: clicks, inquiries, sales, customers) will we get and how soon?

“Because we need it right away. Like tomorrow. Or next week. Otherwise we can’t sell it in.”

Despite all that’s been written, discussed and in many cases proven (thank you Blendtec, Zappos and Gary Vaynerchuk)  regarding the long-term value of listening, engaging, building and mobilizing community, and engendering loyalty, lots of marketers still insist on applying the traditional advertising model to social media, demanding an instant correlation between spending and results.

For years, digital agencies have pointed out the shortcomings of advertising campaigns — they have to be repeated over and over to maintain visibility and impact — arguing instead for platforms that integrate into people’s lives.

Well people, social media is, in many ways, like a digital platform.

When it’s done right, if mirrors the tactics pioneered by none other than the Grateful Dead.

And it generates the same kind of lasting results. It produces an ongoing journey, allows the community to influence the experience, introduces like minded people to each other (a reason in and of itself to be part of a community) and rewards them in such a way that they want to invite their friends to come and join.

Consider all the press and pundits who’ve questioned the effectiveness of the recent “Hello Ladies,” campaign. (I wanted to write a post without saying the name of the brand behind it just to see if I could.)  A gazillion views and all anyone can ask is, “Yeah, but did it sell more product?”  In fact it did. But not because of the videos alone. Promotions and discounts buffeted the campaign, topping off the buzz with real incentives.

Still, half the world had nothing but praise, while the other half felt compelled to point out that video views (social media) don’t translate into revenue. Even Brian Solis, a social media pioneer, correctly predicts  that the videos will diminish in impact over time, but surprisingly suggests they should have included customized offers and discounts as part of their monologs.

You think so? I’m not sure incentives and offers in the videos would have aided views. Plus it misses the point. That being we should stop being so obsessed with the immediate impact of social media efforts. The real benefit of “Hello Ladies” is that like any good engagement advertising it generated over 95,000 new followers for the brand on Twitter and, combined with other marketing efforts, bumped its Facebook likes up to nearly 800,000. Those new community members are the real value. Long term value. Thousands of people who’ve opted in to be part of the conversation.

Engaging Brian Solis from EdelmanDigital on Vimeo.

Presuming that the “Hello Ladies” folks now engage with those fans and followers, they have something even better than a positive blip in weekly sales. They’ve got their equivalent of Dead Heads — people to whom they can market and introduce new products; a community from which they can crowdsource ideas and content; people they can mobilize to bring even more fans into the fold.

We all know that if you want to sell a lot of something you’ve got three things you can do.

One, do what Apple does and come up with an awesome product that everyone wants.

Two, run a promotion with incentives to try or buy the product.

Three, get good at contextual marketing so that you can push messages (don’t spam) to customers who’ve opted into receiving them on their terms.

And, if you really want, you can continue to use social media for short term, campaign oriented results. Give something away. Beef up your engagement ad budget. Incent people to un-friend or re-friend their friends.

But if your objective is to take advantage of social media, stop evaluating everything you (or others) do based on the immediacy of results. Long-term relationships are always better.

22 comments
AjayPatel
AjayPatel

Now a days every branded companies are ready to spend lot of money for advertising purpose and in the field of advertising the two source have boost power for easy sale of product that is television and social media marketing and networking. Social media is less expensive as compare to television that why most of brands give more importance to social media advertisement.
http://www.areyoudiabetic.net/

Steve Poppe
Steve Poppe

Hello Edward,

Social media really is about community building. Unfortunately, most brands today use it for promotion and customer care. I love your Dead Head analogy. The Dead Heads you meet/met along the way are as powerful and life-impacting as the Dead themselves. There is product and there is community. There is band and community. The two are threaded together but are not the same. Good brands (and bands) feed the community, they don't manipulate it for sales gains. The Dead got that. Pearl Jam gets that.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Edward, while I admire the spirit of this post, I think there are two enormous barriers to what you suggest - i.e, that brands take a long-term view of social media.

1. There can be only so many "platforms" in any product category. Brand platforms follow the power laws of positioning, in that there will be a No. 1 slot, No. 2, etc., and depending on consumer interest, there may not be room for many more. Think of Nike Plus. Now, quick, please name 10 other running shoe social media platforms. See? Nike Plus has the lead, there is one kick-ass platform, and consumers (most of whom find running gear of low interest and can't name more shoe companies than Nike, Reebok, and Adidas) don't really want to sign up for more.

So to suggest brands race to build platforms ignores the fact that their "position" in that space may already be taken. This is why most mobile phone apps, for instance, aren't used again after 48 hours, and only a fraction after three months.

2. Within platforms, consumers still chase a short-term view. There is incredible hunger for the new-new thing. Think of the tech blogs (Gizmodo), ad blogs (Brandflakes), tweets with the latest links, all a coolhunting rush for the new thing. Then think of the viral spike and collapse of most "viral hits," including Old Spice's bit.

The pace of messaging has sped up, there is hardly any doubt.

Put those two together -- crowded positioning in the platform space, and hyper ADHD for message consumption within it -- and brands/marketers/you face a challenge. I'm not saying it is insurmountable. But you should address that steep hill straight on, because the path to social-media success requires overcoming it.

How do we position our platform against others in our space? And how do we build relationships with consumers who really don't care, and instead want the new-new thing?

Jenifer Olson
Jenifer Olson

Hi Edward,

I'm afraid I'm one of those short-sighted souls who was hoping to see a measurable, immediate ROI from the Old Spice campaign. Not because I don't think there may be even greater longer-term benefits and results, but selfishly because I was hoping for a social media case study to help me convince reticent clients that social media can generate results across the board.

I also have questions about whether a product so firmly entrenched in another era can really reinvent itself to generate interest in a new target market - and whether engagement and resonance can be translated to sales (somewhere down the road). I'm hoping the answer is yes, since that might suggest it's possible to expand markets incrementally via social media.

I agree with Brian that we probably need to view social media as more of a continuum than a campaign. With this in mind, I look forward to seeing whether Old Spice can maintain their campaign momentum and ultimately move the dial on their demographic to drive healthy profits.

Thanks for another great post!
Jenifer @jenajean

Howie G
Howie G

I personally think 90% of all brands in each of our lives across all categories, we don't want to talk to. We are so busy in our everyday lives there is no way that every brand we like and buy can engage with us. And it is still a crap shoot of getting your message to people via social media. The more friends we have or fan pages we are part of, or twitter accounts we follow the lower the likelihood of each individual post to those feeds. So each time I Like a new page there is now a reduction in what I see in my feed.

This is no different than any other marketing channel. I don't know the answer. Most product categories are doomed for social. I don't want to talk to Old Spice. But if they give me funny content I might want to see it. I don't want to talk with someone who makes spark plugs, canned beans, or plastic bags. But I cut their coupons on Sunday and I see them in the store and I see their ads on TV.

My point is each brand and product category has a reality and each ad campaign, marketing plan and media plan has to reflect reality. As you can see Cisco's Old Spice copy didn't work very well. People say they didn't spend millions prepping with TV spots. But fact is I bet its because most of us just don't want to talk to Cisco. I know they make my life easier. I like them. But I want to talk with Jet Blue, Zappos, Guinness, my favorite restaurant.

David A. Lee
David A. Lee

Great point! I find that more and more public companies look short term due to the need to meet quarterly results. Companies have stopped looking long term (ok...maybe that is an exaggeration, but it feels that way).

I spoke at a recruiting conference today and a major trend surfaced in our discussion that demonstrates short term thinking in regards to social media marketing:

Companies fail to see the connection between HR and marketing and therefore there are two marketing efforts going on within the same organizations without any integration.

My thoughts:

1. For many companies, prospective employees are prospective customers. Don't let HR actions adversely affect your brand.

2. HR and marketing both need to know what is being said about the brand. Negative comments about the company will affect the potential employee pool.

3. Many companies fail to educate employees on social media and/or do not include them in the social media effort. In a good company they are your advocates, why not let their voice be heard?

4. For those focused only on ROI. Do some math. Look at your annual report. Take the # of shares in the company and multiply by the current price per share. Subtract the value of company assets (buildings, etc). Subtract surplus cash. If this number is positive it is because there is an added value from the quality of your employees. Leverage this asset!! There should be the foundation for your social media communities.

Seeing the advantages of social media companies are creating Talent Community Managers but in most cases this is disconnected or discouraged by the marketing team. This is an alarming trend from short term thinking.

As you stated, long term thinking of generating communities will pay bigger dividends in the end. Building brand ambassadors has long term affects. It is time to bring HR and marketing together at the social media table!

SchneiderMike
SchneiderMike

There is a lot of talk about Social Business and Social CRM - the idea of being able to take what is happening in conversations and give sales people the tools they need to start or pick up a conversation that will lead to a sale.

That stuff cannot even happen until you start to think of your site as a media channel. So start with engagement. Get that right before you start thinking about sales. Indeed, it takes a lot of time. And in the meantime, you might actually learn how important engagement is.

Brian Solis
Brian Solis

I believe that we need a variety of videos that cater to the varying needs of the individual roles of the social consumer. In this video, a sampling of ROI was the context of that recommendation...

Steve Poppe
Steve Poppe

"Social is better for the longer term" is a bit contrarian. And a deft observation. Me needs to think about that one. Thank you.

edward boches
edward boches

Short term thinking is something that began in the '70s. Prior to that most companies thought more long term and didn't have the pressure of Wall Street to deliver quarterly results. We are victims of that mindset now. Not suggesting we shouldn't deliver short term performance, too. Just that there are tools and tactics designed for each. Social is a better one for the longer term.

edward boches
edward boches

First inclination is that it's best for loyalty. But can work for acquisition, too. Though hard to scale acquisition with social alone. Will think on it.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Edward,

To your point, perhaps social media platforms are best suited as a retention "sticky" device for current customers vs. an acquisition marketing campaign tactic. If I buy something, and you engage me with an ecosystem that builds frequency and repeat purchases, you can succeed even if the "positioning" is crowded for that product.

I'd love your thoughts in a future post on whether social media is best suited for current customer loyalty/growth vs. new customer acquisition.

Howie G
Howie G

I think you are both right. Just not sure which one of you is Mr. Myagi and which one Yoda.

I think Edward your Garmin point is the Grateful Dead marketing tactic. And while I might have said earlier I don't want to talk with Glad Bags, doesn't mean they couldn't have some sort of strategy using social that would hook me as a customer and not jump to Hefty. The question for Glad going to Ben's point is what would it take to build such a platform vs what they already have going on to determine if the investment is worthwhile. Would I as a consumer or Glad as a brand want the payback faster that is necessary to build something lasting.

edward boches
edward boches

Ben:
Not disagreeing that the consumer only has so much time for any one commitment and first to gather has an advantage. But my point was more to the fact that it's possible Hello Ladies could get as much or more out of hundreds of thousands of committed, opted in fans (who might actually like the brand rather than just the videos) if it views that community as an asset worth investing in. The value of Nike + isn't that it was first, it's that it is a barrier to exit for its members. I have a new Garmin 705. Thought I was buying a device to prevent getting lost on my road bike. But to my surprise, I have actually purchased a community of world wide cyclists all willing to share routes, rides, tips, etc. That, my friend, is even more valuable than the device. If Garmin works that community effectively, over the long term, it has a loyal customer base, a future sale stream, and word of mouth advocates. They could run a short term ad campaign to promote the 705, but it may not be as effective as a longer term social outlook. As you know and you know that I know, it all has to work together. I stand behind the idea that advertising and promotions are better for short term and that social media, while sometimes effective re the goal of immediacy, is a better long term tool and tactic. Thanks for making think harder than I really like to.

edward boches
edward boches

Jenifer:
I think that there can be results. And clearly, Hello Ladies saw some, combined with offline efforts. My premise was that we are prone to reinforce the same old same old. We bring all of our old metrics to the new space rather than exploring and developing new ones. Every brand, marketer and agency needs to generate results behind every dollar spent. But there are as many lessons to be learned from long term thinking as short.

David A. Lee
David A. Lee

I faced this same problem when I was running the Army Strong campaign. Today Soldiers and prospects interact with each other every day talking about the Army. I was told that my metrics would be leads generated. Using case studies I demonstrated reasons why this was not valid for social media and even TV ads, which were for awareness. Pay now or more later!

Your CMO friend should ask the CEO if he should ask Google to remove them from search results. That's basically what he is doing by keeping the company out of social media. Not to mention the messages being said without their knowledge in the virtual realm.

edward boches
edward boches

I have stories I wish I could tell. Anyway, we'll all be fighting it for a while. Had long talk with CMO tonight who shared horror stories of CEO who was demanding instant sales and results from any social media investment. The challenge of convincing him that it takes time to build and mobilize community was falling on deaf ears. Then again, other brands are getting it right.

Howie G
Howie G

Matt great response. Sometimes my posts are not off topic but expand a level above 'big picture' than whatever wonderful thoughts Edwards shares.

My apologies Edward when my thoughts seem a bit unconnected to what you write. It's usually my writing that is unconnected vs the thought process! LOL

My point was everyone jumping on board with the same narrow mindset and short term views. I call them lemmings. Everyone thinks now they can do what Old Spice did. See Cisco. But not view the long term relationship building. Joseph Jaffe calls social a customer retention tool vs a sales tool. I think it can be both.

But I do agree that every business can use social media technology in some way. Its technology in my view. Whether its providing an internal forum for people to communicate and share ideas, cross location external communications for real time data, or ways you actually involve current and future customers. Based on the realities it should be implemented. Loved your blog post btw of the life's lessons/social media marketing parallel.

Mat
Mat

Great points Howie. I like your comment and your reply to yourself. I think your one caveat is more than a caveat it's like a crater. I think that is the whole point of social media. Like you, I'm not going to friend, like or follow every brand that comes along, but those brands that I might be interested in I'll likely engage with. I think a perfect example for me was Einstein Bros. and the launch of their FB fan page. They had 176k fans in just under 24 hours just because they were giving away a free bagel. I used to frequent them often, but it had been years since I'd been there. As a result of me following them on FB I've now been back 3 times in a few months and spent an average of $13.

Edward, I have to agree with you too often companies want immediate ROI from social media because they feel the paradigm that has been established, much like my Einstein Bros. example, is huge followership that translates into top line revenue contribution almost immediately. Long term relationships that can generate a steady pool of potential leads is a much more fertile ground in which to advertise to and can actually make traditional campaigns that much more effective.

Howie G
Howie G

One caveat here. Every brand has people who really really like them. These people need to be found via social because someone out there LOVES GLAD TRASH BAGS! And will tell everyone for Glad even if most people don't want to talk to Glad about Trash Bags! =)

edward boches
edward boches

We haven't even begun to see the value that companies can generate if they free their employees to practice SoMe on their behalf. That's coming.

edward boches
edward boches

That makes sense as a test. My gut tells me it would have been too much sell in an execution which was as much about the "gift of entertainment" as about selling. That "gift" is what generated buzz, views, likes, followers and heightened awareness that helped the effectiveness of offline and in-store promotions. They got the formula right, letting each medium do what it should do. It's the critics and naysayers whose insistence that social in general needs to work like ad campaigns that I question.