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Opinion Editorials

Why ‘stop doing it’ should be your brand’s social media strategy

Social media is completely saturated, so if you can’t follow the proper way to market today, the next best option is to quit. Read on.

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With the exception of ten brands who do a fantastic job with social media, the remaining 99.999% range from treading water to simply dreadful and some pathetic space in between. So if you’re a marketing exec reading this and wondering “why does my social media suck so bad and what should I do about it?”

I have a very simple answer for you: Do nothing.

OK – actually, fire your social media team and then do nothing.

Wait, they didn’t just go viral magically? Nope.

Social media is mostly used by brands for all the wrong reasons. The best social efforts are gluing together and amplifying an already successful integrated marketing campaign. But the mistake marketers make is they see social as a “free” channel, run by the cheapest possible labor (interns, some enthusiastic freelancer in east South Dakota…), with the delusion that the image they posted of a coupon for fifty cents off a five thousand dollar purchase will somehow go viral by saying “please share!!!!!” in the copy somewhere.

Back to the brands who do a great job at social — they do it really well because of one main secret ingredient I discovered after years of research that I’m going to share with you: CASH MONEY. Lots of it.

Because I can’t think of a single award winning social media case study I saw at Social Media Snoozefest Conferences that didn’t secretly use traditional media buys and public relation spends to support it, but pretended they just posted stuff and it went viral on its own because they’re all social media super geniuses.

How do the smartest of the smart succeed?

Yet, there are these rare models of awesomeness who actually hire and empower smart people to run their social, react in real time, engage their fans, offer great customer support, and fire up their influencers in a real and authentic manner, and this in turn spawned an entire multi-billion dollar ad tech industry designed around giving the rest of the brand’s expensive tools to fake it with.

When I spent my last two years at an ad agency big enough that ad tech vendors regularly wanted to ask me for time to demo their wares and send inedible cookies with their logo printed on them, I was probably pitched by a new platform designed to use some new creepy artificial intelligence algorithm to tell me which hot influencers my brands should bother talking to and which ones to ignore on a daily basis (unless it was Nuvi, which meant constant emails and calls from multiple people in their company sending me and anyone they thought could influence me (including my boss) emails who would enthusiastically forward me their email with “check it out!,” forgetting that he sent me the same email last week).

And this is why social is broken.
Often, I have clients come to my digital agency saying “we want to hire you to do our social media.” In that scenario, we’re in a position where we have to deliver value for our fee, often competing against a freelancer or an intern with substantially lower rates – but the reality is, no matter who takes the work, it’s just not going to, you know, do anything. 

Because without integrating social into a full plan that covers all business goals and marketing efforts, it will do absolutely nothing, the client will have a bad experience and we’ll lose the opportunity to do more effective work for them.

Picture this scenario…

Imagine you have a camper filled with people you need to get to the top of a mountain. Once everyone gets to the top of the mountain, they can all meet an awaiting helicopter and soar above the clouds to happiness and wealth forever more. But the people can’t walk up on their own, so you need something that can carry everyone up to the top. Also, there’s a competing trailer and they too want to get to the top before you.

So you decide “if I save money now, I’ll have even more wealth once I get to the top.” You put out an RFP and you select a proposal. You decide to hire an inexperienced freelancer, who brings a tired old donkey and ropes him to the front of the camper. He furiously whips the donkey, who struggles mightily against the weight.

Finally, after a week of whipping, alternating the whipping patterns, optimizing the time of day of the whips, when to feed it water, and some highly proprietary measurement tools, your freelancer produces a report showing you that the camper has indeed moved one millimeter, while the competitor’s camper has barely budged a quarter millimeter (they hired an intern, who is trying to push the whole camper himself). Therefore, according to another proprietary confidential calculator, we’re outperforming the competition by 400 percent.

But of course, like your brand’s social media efforts, you can outperform the competition by a wide margin, and have all the best tools and the best of intentions but you are still just not going anywhere.

Everyone is winning the world’s best worst social brand award. Any money spent on social without a purpose is money wasted.

Social has reached the saturation point.
Like the rise and fall of social platforms, social media itself has reached a saturation and maturity level that makes it just as, if not more difficult to navigate than traditional media. Being the first on a new, fast growing platform like Twitter five years ago meant it was easier for a forward-thinking company to get some attention. But as these platforms matured, not only did the signal-to-noise ratio become unbearable, but platforms like Facebook and Twitter realized they were giving brands too much value for free and crushed all the organic reach to zero.

But the uninformed marketer still thinks they can post their quota of two tweets a day and someone is actually listening
. They’re not, unless you’re paying for the exposure, just like an ad. Additionally, these platforms got discovered by big brands finally, so your CPC rate just doubled or tripled over the past year.

Continuing to post to social media without having at a million followers and not paying boosting your posts (and having a real integrated plan behind why you’re posting, who you’re targeting and what you want the customer to do) is as insane as these guys holding a meeting for no one. Because no one is listening, yet thousands of dollars are wasted by brands every month posting dreck that no one cares about just to be “active” in social.

Okay, I get it, this sucks, so what now?

What do you do if you’re a smart marketer? Here are a few options:

  1. Stop doing social media. If a brand stops posting and no one notices, does anyone care? From the myopic point of view of being inside one company for too long, it can seem like stopping your posting would mean hundreds and thousands of conversations like this at the dinner table: “Honey, you know what’s weird?” “Are you talking about my new bra? It’s supposed to lift and support…” “No, I just noticed that I hadn’t seen a tweet from Mediocre Farms Brand Lactose-Free High-Protein Greek Gluten-Free Certified-Organic Yogurt in forever. I wonder if they’re ok!”
  2. Ditch “social media experts” for integrated marketers.  In the infancy of social media, when a majority of actual people in marketing and consumers in general did not have social media experience, it might have made sense to have someone on the team who really “got” social. But now everyone is on it, so being an expert loses its meaning. Knowing social media should be table stakes for any good marketer, so instead, work with someone with an integrated marketing background who is thoroughly cross-trained. Because that’s the only way you’ll find the integrated strategy that will make social media efforts effective. Siloing your marketing into “the social team” “the PR people” “the SEO weirdos” is like throwing the parts of an engine on the ground and expecting it to run.
  3. Integrate social into the DNA of the business. Great social media blurs the marketing, customer service, research, and branding lines, which means everyone in your company needs to be included in social. Having a top down overarching strategy combined with the permission to run the channels without a great deal of friction is the fastest way to achieving the integration and authenticity “social media experts” yammer on endlessly about at their conferences. That means social media becomes a C-level priority, with its components trickling down from there and making it a function of the company, not a cost with no ROI in sight.
  4. Treat social as a paid channel. With the ability to target your audience so precisely, social media is a huge opportunity that’s often wasted on the notion that it’s free. If you can get over the fact that it is, in fact, not free and is even more expensive in some cases than traditional media spends, there’s the ability to microtarget your campaign based on an infinite combination of interests, geo-targeting, demographics, psychographics, and behaviors.

You can still get a lot out of social media, but if you don’t have the budget or the motivation to do it correctly, your next best option is to cease doing it at all.

This editorial first ran on March 28, 2016.

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Julie

    March 28, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    As a owner of a marketing, social media and PR company the best thing you could have said is #4. Unless you realize social media is pay to play you are going to not come out a winner. We no longer take clients who want us to manage their social media without having an adequate budget. PERIOD. We also require to understand the entire marketing pie. We want to know and understand exactly what your marketing goals/plans/strategy are and we also want to know if you don’t have one!

  2. Michael Romano

    March 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I think a simpler bit of advice for social media marketing would be, “Be more interesting.” We’ve all seen the painfully-awkward social media campaigns (the ones that look forced and out-of-place while scrolling through Facebook). But I’ve also seen some really clever campaigns, and I’ve had some limited success with a few campaigns of my own. For social media, your ads have got to have broad appeal and be equal to or more interesting than the other things on people’s feeds. That’s a challenge because social media feeds are created by some pretty sophisticated algorithms that have used feedback from the user to actually create an interesting feed tailored to that user. But the good news is that a platform such as Facebook allows you to really target a specific audience according to their “likes” and interests. I’d prefer that any day to the old days of radio, tv, or print media.

  3. Fran Stephenson

    May 2, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you for this- boring is boring. Would you mind if I tweeted this at all my clients? ;).

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t buy the hype that Google’s $13B investment is about creating US jobs

(EDITORIAL) Google has announced a massive expansion for their data centers and offices, but don’t buy into their hype that they’re saviors of the jobs market…

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Google is reportedly investing $13 billion in their data centers and offices this year in the United States. Most of that money will be spent outside of tech centers like Silicon Valley and Seattle.

Nebraska, Ohio, Nevada, and Texas will each be getting data centers. The centers in Oklahoma and Virginia will be expanded.

Google’s CEO , Sundar Pichai, writes, “These new investments will give us the capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees, and enable the creation of more than 10,000 new construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.”

The whole blog post is dedicated to how Google is connecting with communities and how it benefits the economy and supports jobs here in the U.S.

Is Google concerned about local economies?

Google does contribute to the community. I live close to a data center in Oklahoma, and I’ve heard how much it’s done for the economy in the town. I’ve also heard rumors that other communities are jealous. The company created jobs for locals. The schools are enjoying the benefits. Locally, when Google comes in, it can be a real blessing.

They want us to believe that they’re doing society a favor by “investing in communities and creating jobs.” But what are they really doing?

I believe that Google is simply spreading their tentacles further and making us more dependent on what they have to offer. According to Business Insider, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, “is a massive corporation that encompasses everything from internet-beaming hot air balloons to self-driving cars…” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What Is Google’s motive?

If you’re a business owner, when was the last time you made a decision that was altruistic only toward the community? Face it, whether you’re a DBA or major corporation, every choice you make has to benefit your bottom line. If it doesn’t, you might as well be a non-profit 501c3 organization.

Google may benefit local communities by creating jobs and paying taxes, but don’t let the hype fool you. They’re simply maintaining their stronghold in tech by investing $13 billion in their company. Their stakeholders are simply looking forward to the profits that investment will generate.

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Opinion Editorials

Are liberal arts majors about to dominate the next wave of tech entrepreneurship? Yup!

(OPINION EDITORIAL) What do Liberal Arts majors and tech innovators have in common? Everything.

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*This is a guest story from Austin author, Will Ruff*

Crossing lines

This is a purely speculative article coming from a liberal arts major, and I do have a dog in this fight. That is: I have a liberal arts background, and I want to tell you how we’re about to drive the next wave of tech entrepreneurship based on my own experience.

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Engineers have driven us forward at an incredible pace in the past few years, now it’s time for liberal arts majors to pick up the slack and tell everyone how incredible their work is. And that’s exactly what you can expect us to do: tell an incredible story.

Life comes at you fast

Let’s take a look at the past few years. Tech has moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Look at the smartphone’s evolution over the last ten years. Can you remember what kind of phone you had when an iPhone came out? I had a blackberry, and was doing door-to-door sales in college. I pine for that phone now, but they’re not really practical given how much screen I need.

In many cases, tech has moved so fast that the general population who buys a smartphone doesn’t really know what they’re getting out of a new upgrade and while they might adopt whatever new features are out there, their purchase is not driven by need.

Does a fingerprint scanner, or force touch really advance my productivity, or my security? No.

Whatever feature they’re selling you on this year will be equally underwhelming. And I would argue at best, because phones are all 99% the same, whether or not you want to admit this, that the companies behind them are struggling to differentiate themselves to their customer base, and they use features to do it. Features tell the story. The tech hasn’t really been revolutionary for years.

The big why

Think about the last time you had to buy a phone. We’ll assume that now you use one so much, you actually couldn’t imagine living without one. That’s me anyway. And we’ve all been there—the phone is locked up, or the screen’s cracked, the software upgrade shut it down, permanently, and now you have to get something new. But they should just replace it for free, I’ve been a customer for so long. Nice try. Maybe this time I’ll try an iPhone, or an Android. I’ve heard cool things about Pixel.

For whatever reason, we’ve decided to choose an operating system based on features we haven’t used yet, and this is driving up the cost of cell phones to be as expensive as a nice laptop. Well maybe they’re willing to spring an extra $200 for this new feature finally. Why wouldn’t I want this beautiful curved screen that has no edge?

For the record I’m an android user, but I could use any phone and be happy.

Now, I have nothing against advancing technology, despite my snarky tone, but the above illustrates a point of mine that is going to become more evident in the future.

Technology is only successful when you can tell its story to the audience who’s meant to use it.

It has to be clear, and it has to be on their terms. Engineers, and STEM workers absolutely drive all of the innovation, and it’s not a battle between the two, but we live in a world where billions of people have access to the Internet, and that means you have a lot more opportunity to build a business from anywhere. Not everyone is going to speak the language of engineers who build these incredible tools, and not every engineer is going to know their product can solve problems they didn’t even think of, because they can’t and shouldn’t spend most of their time talking to potential customers.

This is another area where liberal arts majors can excel.

They can look at these two groups: the engineers they work with, and the prospective customers who might use it, and they can figure out how the two are best introduced. What context they should meet under. This should always be how it works. Now, there is the rare breed of people who can be an engineer and a great sales rep, but the vast majority of people have to focus on one thing to do it well.

So, how do liberal arts majors climb into the driver’s seat in the future? I see two fundamental pieces that have to be in place.

Two steps

First, the ability to learn about technology and code is relatively cheap, and you can do it after school, and on the weekends. I did this myself after starting my career as a content strategist for a literary PR company who built sites in WordPress, and it led to designing/building/selling a website to a local business. I decided that wasn’t for me, but there’s probably some liberal arts majors out there who can do it much more efficiently than I did.

The more you know about how these things work, the more opportunity you’ll have to work for these growing companies.

The next piece is helping the next great tech company pitch their product to customers. It’s knowing how to find a potential market for something, and not being afraid to go up to anyone anywhere just to say hi, and to find out what they do. You can’t always be selling, but you can always ask questions, and maybe down the road you can help someone solve a problem because you connected with someone else who does that exact thing they need. Guess what, you’re their hero now.

Symbiosis

The shift between tech and humanities is cyclical and we absolutely will always need each other. That’s the point of this article. We’re not constantly aware of how to work with the other, but we’re getting to a point where it’s absolutely true that non-tech people have a role in spreading the reach of useful technology to people who didn’t have access a decade ago.

Things like WordPress, social media, and smartphones have made it easy to tell people how you’re about to change the world. And the next phase of this cycle is mass adoption, education, and communication among the crowds who haven’t quite figured out how to use all these cool tools yet. Strap yourself in, and hug a tech person, or a liberal arts major.

#LiberalArts

Will Ruff is the author of “The Tomb of the Primal Dragon: A Novel” which is available for Preorder on Amazon now. You can follow him on @twitter for crass and meaningless commentary, or sign up for his email newsletter and he might spam you with free books occasionally.

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Opinion Editorials

The case for using the Oxford comma

A humorous look at why a tiny comma can make a tremendous difference in your emails and marketing efforts.

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Depending on where you grew up, you were likely taught in grade school that in a list of three or more items, a comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction (“and,” “or,” and sometimes “nor”) in the list. Some were taught that this is mandatory, while others were told it is an irrelevant rule, and these conflicting teaching methods have led to a confused nation.

That comma is called the Oxford comma, and while some call it a serial comma, others still prefer the hoity toity title of Harvard comma. How the Oxford comma works is as follows:

  • With the Oxford comma: “I have lived in Nashville, Toronto, and Mexico City.”
  • Without the Oxford comma: “I have lived in Nashville, Toronto and Mexico City.”

You may read those examples and think that there is literally no difference. The Oxford comma was originally eliminated by publishers where each manually loaded character was questioned as real estate on a page was at a premium. Publishers looked at sentences like the two above and agreed that there was no difference. Therefore, the AP Stylebook, which is still followed by traditional journalists today (but rejected by AGBeat).

The Oxford comma is common in many non-English languages of Latin descent, like Spanish, Italian, Greek, and French, to name a few. So why do some so vehemently disagree with this tiny comma’s use? Some say it introduces ambiguity, it is redundant in situations where coordinating conjunctions already point out the logical separation between items, and it adds unnecessary characters to text (important in the original publication days, and now relevant again with Twitter users).

No one here is an expert in grammar. Several of us have English and journalism degrees, and we write thousands of pages per month, but we make just as many mistakes as the next person. Collectively, we have a select few pet peeves, such as ignoring the poor Oxford comma.

Take a look at the pictures below and tell us in the comments whether or not you agree that the Oxford comma is vital to the language:

oxford comma rules
using the oxford comma
tim tebow and the oxford comma
god and the oxford comma
lincoln and the oxford comma

This editorial was first published here in 2012, and we stand by it today!

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