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

March 28, 2016
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The best way to suck less at social

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.

#StopSocial

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.

3 Comments

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

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